Friday Bible Blogging - Exodus 21 to Exodus 30
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).
Chapters 21 through 30 aren't particularly exciting. They cover mostly rules for the Israelites, and instructions on a sanctuary and its accessories for worshiping God.
The Ten Commandments were just given in the previous chapter, and this one continued on with more rules. These included rules on slavery, murder, assault, ox gorings, etc. There were a few passages that stood out.
First were the verses on slavery. Hebrew slaves, at least, were only slaves for a limited term, unless they decided they liked their masters, in which case they could become slaves for life. Their wives and children, on the other hand, if the wives were originally the masters' property, remained the masters' property. There were also guidelines for "When a man sells his daughter as a slave" - she was at least a bit better off than male slaves. There was also a pretty explicit statement that slaves were property, and that it was okay for their owners to beat them, "When a slave-owner strikes a male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies immediately, the owner shall be punished. 21 But if the slave survives for a day or two, there is no punishment; for the slave is the owner's property." There were some limits to how much a slave could be abused, however. If they lost an eye or a tooth, they were allowed to go free.
Two verses (strangely separated by another verse) showed harsh punishments for disrespecting your parents, "Whoever strikes father or mother shall be put to death" and "Whoever curses father or mother shall be put to death."
There was also a rule that would seem to undermine the anti-choice crowd, "When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no further harm follows, the one responsible shall be fined what the woman's husband demands, paying as much as the judges determine." When killing a person was punishable by death, and even lashing out against your parents could get you executed, saying that causing a miscarriage was only punishable by a fine seemed to indicate that the writers of Exodus didn't consider fetuses to be worthy of the same rights as fully developed people.
More rules. Many of these had to do with livestock and crops, which makes sense considering that most of the Israelites were shepherds or farmers.
Here was one that caught my eye, "When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins." It just reinforces the concept of women as property.
Here are two more, unrelated verses, that stood out, "You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live" and "Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death." God was pretty big on the capital punishment back then.
There were a few good rules in there, too, such as not mistreating resident aliens, widows, or orphans, and not allowing you to keep "your neighbour's cloak in pawn" if it's too cold.
And more rules. And again, lots of rules pertaining to livestock (though not all of them).
The chapter then moved on from the rules back to foretelling of the promised land, taking it over from the current residents. As in other parts of the Bible I've read to this point, there was a passage that seemed to show polytheistic origins, "When my angel goes in front of you, and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I blot them out, 24you shall not bow down to their gods, or worship them, or follow their practices, but you shall utterly demolish them and break their pillars in pieces."
God called Moses and the elders up to Mt. Sinai. But first, Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain and the Israelites offered burnt offerings and a sacrificed ox. Moses took the blood from the ox and spread it several places, including dashing it on the people.
Once they went up the mountain, the elders saw God. He was described in very anthropomorphic terms, even with hands and feet. The continuity became a bit hard to follow at one point, possibly from the blending from different source materials.
Moses was called up to the top of the mountain to get the now famous stone tablets, though he won't get the tablets for a few chapters, yet. God appeared as a cloud, as a fire devouring the top of the mountain, and we were told that Moses was on top of the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights.
God gave Moses many instructions on how to build a sanctuary for the Lord. This chapter and several others that followed were rather boring and tedious. First, Moses was to collect offerings from the people - the resources he would use to make the sanctuary. Then came the instructions for the Ark of the Covenant, which was to be made of acacia wood, covered with gold and with various other details. Then were instructions for a "mercy seat", or cover, with cherubim for the ark. Then came a table, plates, dishes, etc. Next was a gold lampstand, lamps, snuffers, etc.
God continued giving Moses instructions for the sanctuary. This chapter covered the tabernacle and its curtains, the tent and its curtains, and various other details, including how everything should be arranged inside the tent.
More instructions on the sanctuary, including an altar of acacia wood and all the accessories to go with it, a "court of the tabernacle", pillars, and utensils. Also, the Israelites were to bring olive oil to keep the lamps lit, and Aaron and his sons were to tend to the flame in perpetuity.
God gave instructions that Aaron and his sons were to be priests for Israel. Then came instructions on their sacred vestments, "a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a chequered tunic, a turban, and a sash." The instructions were fairly detailed. And to be honest, the vestments sounded a little gaudy - with hanging pomegranates and bells. The reasoning for the bells seemed a bit odd, "Aaron shall wear it when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the holy place before the Lord, and when he comes out, so that he may not die." How do the bells protect him? Would he startle God otherwise? There were also instructions for making linen undergarments, "Aaron and his sons shall wear them when they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place; or they will bring guilt on themselves and die." I guess being a priest back then was a little more dangerous than now.
God gave Moses instructions on how to consecrate Aaron and his sons. And of course, it involved offerings and animal sacrifices, and detailed instructions on what to do with the blood, entrails, fat, and various organs. As an example, here's one passage out of many.
You shall bring the bull in front of the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull, 11 and you shall slaughter the bull before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 12 and shall take some of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and all the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the base of the altar. 13 You shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, and the appendage of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and turn them into smoke on the altar. 14 But the flesh of the bull, and its skin, and its dung, you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin-offering.
God gave even more instructions on an altar, this one for burning incense, along with the animal sacrifices to go with it.
Next came some odd instructions for taking a census, "When you take a census of the Israelites to register them, at registration all of them shall give a ransom for their lives to the Lord, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered." The ransom was to be half a shekel for atonement.
Then came more instructions on things to build to use for worship - a bronze basin and stand for washing, and a special blend of oils and spices for a holy anointing oil. And God was serious about this particular composition, "It shall not be used in any ordinary anointing of the body, and you shall make no other like it in composition; it is holy, and it shall be holy to you. 33 Whoever compounds any like it or whoever puts any of it on an unqualified person shall be cut off from the people.' " Next were instructions for a special incense, with the same type of admonition not to use it for any other purpose.
The first few of these chapters, the rules, were the most interesting, though still not riveting. However, the rules are odd, being particularly harsh for some crimes, while allowing other behaviors (like slavery), that are unthinkable to a modern reader. The chapters on the sanctuary, clothing, and accessories were pretty boring. This isn't beautiful literature.
I was struck by all of the animal sacrifice, and the detail instructions on what to do with the body parts. It seems particularly primitive and barbaric.
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.