Friday Bible Blogging Archive

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Leviticus 1 to Leviticus 10

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).

BibleLeviticus continues on with the story of Moses and the Israelites. However, it focuses more on rules than the narrative, dealing with quite a few that have to do with animal sacrifice.

Leviticus, Chapter 1

Chapter 1 started right off with describing animal sacrifices. To give a taste of how these sacrifices worked, I'll quote the entire set of instructions for one particular type of sacrifice.

3 If the offering is a burnt-offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. 4 You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt-offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you. 5 The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron's sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6 The burnt-offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts. 7 The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9 but its entrails and its legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt-offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odour to the Lord.

The chapter went on to describe burnt-offerings from the flock, and burnt-offerings of birds. The bird offering included a couple grisly details. The priest was to wring off its head by hand. And in verse 17, he's directed to "tear it open by its wings without severing it."

Leviticus, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 covered grain offerings, including those "baked in the oven", "prepared on a griddle", or "prepared in a pan". These offerings were to be unleavened. Although a portion of the offering was to be burned, the remainder went to feeding the priests. Interestingly, for an offering intended to be burnt up, "You shall not omit from your grain-offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt." Apparently, the Lord doesn't like bland grain smoke. The end of the chapter covered grain offerings of "first fruits".

Leviticus, Chapter 3

This chapter was back to animal sacrifice with sacrifices of well-being. It covered offerings from the herd, offerings from the flock, and offerings of goats. It contained details on what to do with livers and kidneys, along with entrails and other parts of the animals. As elsewhere in the Bible, it prohibited the Hebrews from eating fat or blood.

Leviticus, Chapter 4

Chapter 4 discussed sin offerings for people who have sinned unintentionally. The specifics of the sacrifice were different depending on who had committed the sin. The first was for an anointed priest. This continued the theme of people being guilty for other people's actions, "If it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull of the herd without blemish as a sin-offering to the Lord." The other categories included the whole congregation of Israel - requiring a bull, a ruler - requiring a male goat without blemish, or an ordinary person - requiring a female goat or sheep without blemish.

Leviticus, Chapter 5

The first set of sacrifices presented in this chapter covered a variety of sins, from failing to testify when you know something, to touching unclean things, unclean people, or uttering rash oaths. The preferred sacrifice for these case was a sheep or goat following the procedures from the previous chapter. However, if people couldn't afford a sheep, they had the alternative of offering two turtle doves or pigeons - one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. If they couldn't afford even that, they had the option of giving an ephah of choice flour as a sin offering.

The closing verses covered unintentional sins again, but apparently a different class of sins, though it's not entirely clear how they're different. Or maybe these are sacrifices in addition to those already described. At any rate, these require guilt-offerings of a ram without blemish, "convertible into silver by the sanctuary shekel" in one case.

Leviticus, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 started with robberies, frauds, or other deceptions. First, the guilty party was to add one fifth to the cost and pay it to the victim. Then they were to offer a ram as a guilt-offering, after which they were forgiven. It's interesting to note how quickly one was forgiven of their crime - no jail time or even community service. In fact, those types of punishments don't appear at all in this book.

Next, God gave Moses specific instructions for Aaron and his sons on how to perform rituals, including burnt-offerings, grain-offerings, sin-offerings, and the offering for the day that Aaron was anointed. These were supplemental to the rules already given, covering the undergarments and vestments the priests should wear, how and where to eat their portion of the sacrifices, and other details. It seems a bit odd that these supplemental rules would be given removed from the other rules pertaining to those rituals. Perhaps this is another relict of this book being compiled from various sources.

Leviticus, Chapter 7

This chapter contained more details on sacrifices and offerings, some of it supplemental to information already given, some of it new. It started with guilt-offerings and sin-offerings. It then moved on to offerings of well-being. These could be for a variety of purposes, from thanks-offerings to votive offerings or freewill-offerings. They were to include different kinds of cakes of leavened or unleavened bread, sometimes mixed with oil. Depending on the purpose of the sacrifice, there were different rules on how and when the priests could eat their portion.

There was a brief digression into dietary regulations prohibiting the consumption of fat, blood, or flesh that had touched an unclean thing, or from eating of the sacrifice of well-being while unclean. The punishment was severe - being cut off from your kin.

Then it was back to more details on the sacrifice of well-being, and how to divvy out the portions, along with a description of an elevation-offering.

Leviticus, Chapter 8

Chapter 8 moved back into telling the narrative, describing the anointing of the tabernacle and tent of meeting. It was largely repetitious of previous passages that had described what was to be done, but now describing it as it was done. This included Moses washing Aaron and his sons, then Aaron putting on his priestly garb, then anointing the tabernacle, tent, and accessories with oil, then anointing Aaron with oil, then Aaron's sons putting on their garb, then a bull as a sin-offering, a ram as a burnt-offering, a second ram as the ram of ordination, some grain offerings, more sprinkling of oil and blood, and finally cooking and eating their portions of the offerings. Verse 24 caught my eye, "After Aaron's sons were brought forward, Moses put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet; and Moses dashed the rest of the blood against all sides of the altar." At the end of the chapter, the Lord told Aaron and his sons to "remain at the entrance of the tent of meeting day and night for seven days, keeping the Lord's charge so that you do not die..." Like I've written before, it seems that being a priest back then was much more dangerous than today.

Leviticus, Chapter 9

It was now the eighth day, and there were more sacrifices - "a bull calf for a sin-offering and a ram for a burnt-offering", "a male goat for a sin-offering; a calf and a lamb, yearlings without blemish, for a burnt-offering; 4and an ox and a ram for an offering of well-being to sacrifice before the Lord; and a grain-offering mixed with oil." There were several verses detailing those sacrifices. And then, at the end of the chapter, the Lord finally revealed himself to the Israelites, "23 Moses and Aaron entered the tent of meeting, and then came out and blessed the people; and the glory of the Lord appeared to all the people. 24 Fire came out from the Lord and consumed the burnt-offering and the fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces."

Leviticus, Chapter 10

This chapter started with a bit of excitement. Two of Aaron's sons decided to present their own offering of fire to the Lord, but this wasn't one of the offerings that God had prescribed. So, "fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord." Their bodies were carried away, and Aaron and his sons were instructed not to mourn nor leave the tent, lest they be killed, too.

Then it was back to normal instructions and actions. The priests were told not to drink wine or strong drink when entering the tent of meeting, and to teach all future generations the Lord's statutes. Then were a few more offerings.

Moses discovered that the priests had not eaten the goat of the sin-offering, and was upset with them for not following the Lord's instructions. Aaron responded, "See, today they offered their sin-offering and their burnt-offering before the Lord; and yet such things as these have befallen me! If I had eaten the sin-offering today, would it have been agreeable to the Lord?" to which Moses agreed.


If you put yourself in the mindset of the ancient Hebrews, these chapters don't seem so strange. Their conception of God was different from what most people think of today. The sacrifices weren't merely symbolic. God lived in the tabernacle, and he was literally consuming the sacrifices. The smoke from burnt-offerings would float upwards to God in Heaven.

But with how most people conceive of God in this day and age, these types of sacrifices make no sense. There can be nothing that an omnipotent god would gain from the offerings. I could perhaps understand some symbolism behind the offerings, giving up what is precious to the offeror, but there's nothing in these verses to indicate that these offerings are symbolic. And it's especially immoral to kill animals, and then waste portions by burning them. I know that we still kill animals for many purposes in the modern age, but at least we do our best to use every portion of the animal, to make it go as far as possible, reducing waste and hence the number of animals that must be killed. The type of waste prescribed in the Bible guarantees the slaughter of more animals.

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.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friday Bible Blogging - Exodus 31 to Exodus 40

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 31 through 40 are the final chapters of Exodus. They deal mostly with the details of the construction of a sanctuary and its accessories for worshipping/housing God. There was a brief interlude for the story of the golden calf, and a second trip by Moses to the top of Mt. Sinai for the making of the second set of stone tablets.

Exodus, Chapter 31

Chapter 31 continued with instructions on the Tabernacle, with God calling out by name the artist who was to work on it, Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur.

Next came some instructions on keeping the Sabbath holy and sacred, including a command to put to death anybody who worked on the Sabbath.

In the last verse of this chapter, God gave Moses the famous "two tablets of the covenant, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God."

Exodus, Chapter 32

This chapter contains the story of the golden calf. Moses was taking so long up on top of the mountain that the Israelites decided to make their own god. They gave their gold to Aaron, who melted it down and made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship. God was furious, and was going to kill all of the Israelites save Moses, until Moses convinced God to spare them. When Moses got down to the bottom of the mountain and confronted the Israelites, he was so mad that he threw the stone tablets and they were broken. He had the calf ground up and mixed with water and made the people drink it (the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) implies that that may have been a type of trial by ordeal). Then came a particularly bloody passage. He called on the sons of Levi, and told them to take their swords and "each of you kill your brother, your friend, and your neighbour." At the end of the slaughter, he told them that they'd ordained themselves and "brought a blessing on yourselves this day". The chapter closed with God sending an unspecified plague to punish the Israelites.

Exodus, Chapter 33

God gave the Israelites instructions to continue on to the promised land "flowing with milk and honey". However, I have to admit to being a bit confused - the continuity was hard to follow. At first, God said that he would not go with them, because "I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people." But a few verses later after talking to Moses, God said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." But immediately after that, Moses seemed to still think that God was refusing to go with them, when he said, "If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us?" After that, God said, "I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name," which I assume means that God will go with them. It's possible my confusion comes from the NRSV translation, but my guess is that it's confusing due to mixing various earlier sources.

The closing verses of this chapter presented a very anthropomorphic God with real body parts when God told Moses, "...while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."

Exodus, Chapter 34

Since the stone tablets had been destroyed, it was time to make them again. God started off saying in verse 1 that He himself was going to write the tablets again, but in chapters 27 and 28, He had Moses do the writing. Most of this chapter was a repeat of rules and commandments that had been given previously with the first two tablets, though not with exactly the same wording.

There was an interesting passage, that whenever Moses went in to speak to the Lord (presumably in the Tent of Meeting), his face would glow afterwards.

Exodus, Chapter 35

This chapter got into explaining all the details of building the Tabernacle, Tent of Meeting, and all the associated accessories. It was largely repetitious of the passages where God explained how to build those things in the first place, but with names given to some of the people performing the work.

Exodus, Chapter 36

This chapter continued on with the details of making the sanctuary, and was also largely repetitious of previous chapters.

Exodus, Chapter 37

More details on the making the sanctuary and accessories, more repetition.

Exodus, Chapter 38

And more details and repetition, along with the tabernacle itself.

Exodus, Chapter 39

More details, more repetition, including the clothing for the priests.

Exodus, Chapter 40

Now that everything was made, the Lord gave Moses final instructions on how to set everything up and to properly consecrate and anoint everything. "Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." And from then on, the Israelites used the cloud as their signal - when it covered the tent of meeting, they knew that God was in the tabernacle and they stayed put. When the cloud raised up, they continued on their journey.


The book of Exodus felt a bit divided. Around half of the book was a narrative, detailing the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. But then the other half was all rules and instructions. Although this book didn't seem as disjointed as Genesis, you could still sense in places that it came from more than one source, and that this book was a result of mixing together those sources. For the most part, Exodus continued on with the conception of God from the end of Genesis - less anthropomorphic than the God strolling through the Garden of Eden, but still a physical god who made his presence manifest. Also in keeping with Genesis, this book doesn't present a particularly good god. He caused a great deal of suffering of innocent people, and the rules he gave the Hebrews weren't all the best examples of morality. Through the first two books, the Bible has presented a god to worship out of fear, not a god of love.

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.

Friday, December 14, 2012

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).

BibleChapters 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.

Exodus, Chapter 21

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.

Exodus, Chapter 22

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.

Exodus, Chapter 23

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."

Exodus, Chapter 24

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.

Exodus, Chapter 25

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.

Exodus, Chapter 26

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.

Exodus, Chapter 27

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.

Exodus, Chapter 28

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.

Exodus, Chapter 29

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.

Exodus, Chapter 30

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.

Friday, December 7, 2012

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.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Bible Blogging - Exodus 1 to Exodus 10

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).

BibleWith the first book of the Bible behind me, it's time to start on Exodus. The first ten chapters of this book introduce Moses and cover the beginning of the Passover story.

I apologize for not posting an entry in this series last Friday, but with Thanksgiving and the short work week, I just didn't have time.

Exodus, Chapter 1

The book of Exodus started with a brief mention of Joseph, but quickly transitioned to the story that would be told in its pages. Joseph and all his brothers died, but their progeny were very successful, "But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them." A new Pharaoh came to rule Egypt, and he was not pleased with the Hebrews, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land." So, the Egyptians treated the Hebrews badly, forcing them to work hard labor.

The king of Egypt also tried to control the Hebrews in an even more brutal way - he commanded the Egyptian midwives to kill all male Hebrew babies, but allow the females to live. Luckily for the Israelites, the midwives disobeyed Pharaoh.

So, in the closing verse of this chapter, Pharaoh followed on with another dictate, "Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live."

Exodus, Chapter 2

This chapter contained the famous story of Moses being hidden among the reeds of the Nile, in response to Pharaoh's command from the previous chapter. Moses was found by the daughter of Pharaoh, who took pity on him and raised him as her own. But for a princess, raising somebody as your own means hiring a nurse to take care of the job for you, and it just so happened that the nurse was Moses's biological mother. So, for the early years of his life, Moses was raised by his biological mother.

This chapter also included the story of Moses killing an Egyptian after seeing him beating a Hebrew, and Moses's subsequent fleeing from Egypt because of it. Along the way, he helped some girls who were being harassed by shepherds, allowing the girls to water their flocks. The daughters turned out to be those of the priest of Midian, and Moses ended up marrying one of them, Zipporah, and settling down in that region.

The final verses of this chapter caught my eye, "After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them." These verses really make it sound like God had forgotten about the Israelites. It was only their 'groaning' that made him take notice and remember his covenant.

Exodus, Chapter 3

This was where God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and told him to go back to Egypt to rescue the Israelites, promising that " I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey." This is also where God got his Popeye moniker when Moses asked what he should call Him - "I am what I am", or more commonly translated as "I am who I am" or "I am who I will be". Though I suppose Exodus was written just a bit before Elzie Crisler Segar created Popeye.

Exodus, Chapter 4

Further preparing Moses to head back to Egypt, God told him what to say and miracles to perform to convince the Israelites that he really was being sent by God. The signs included turning his staff into a snake, putting his hand into his cloak and pulling it back out leprous (and vice versa to restore it), and pouring water from the Nile onto the ground and having it turn into blood. Honestly, if I were looking for evidence of the divine, I'd want to see 'miracles' a bit tougher than what I could see at magic show at a kids birthday party.

Being worried about his speaking skills, Moses convinced God to send Moses's brother, Aaron, to speak for him.

In verse 21, we get the first mention that God is going to be the one hardening Pharaoh's heart, so that he won't let the Israelites go. Granted, in other verses Pharaoh will 'harden his heart' on his own, but about half the time it's God perpetuating the situation and prolonging the Egyptians suffering.

Verses 24 through 26 are just weird - "24 On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met him and tried to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin, and touched Moses' feet with it, and said, 'Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!' 26 So he let him alone. It was then she said, 'A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.' " First, keep in mind that "Moses' feet" may be a euphemism for Moses' genitals. But the overall theme of the story is odd - why did God try to kill someone he just asked to perform a mission?

Exodus, Chapter 5

Moses and Aaron met with Pharaoh and began their 'negotiations' to free the Hebrews. In this chapter, there was no threat of miracles or plagues against the Egyptians, yet. It was just a request to let the Israelites have a few days off to go into the wilderness and pray to their god, lest He punish the Israelites. Pharaoh was angered by the request, and so he commanded the Israelites, who had already been making bricks for the Egyptians, to gather their own straw for the task, and to still complete the same quotas. This was obviously impossible, and the Israelites were punished accordingly.

Exodus, Chapter 6

God reassured Moses that He was going to free the Israelites, but when Moses relayed the message, the Israelites didn't believe him, given their conditions. Then followed a section on genealogy, and then God talking to Moses some more.

Exodus, Chapter 7

Moses and Aaron went to talk to Pharaoh, and the story finally got to the miracles and plagues that are so well known. First, Aaron threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Pharaoh's magicians were able to perform the same feat. I guess, just to show that the Israelites were still the heroes, Aaron's snake ate the magicians'.

Next, Aaron held his staff over the Nile and turned the water into blood, killing everything in it and making the river undrinkable. But Pharaoh's magicians were somehow able to replicate this feat, as well. I'm not really sure how, given that the entire river was already supposedly turned to blood.

But none of this changed Pharaoh's mind. His heart was still hardened.

Exodus, Chapter 8

This chapter continued on with more plagues. First came the frogs, which Pharaoh's magicians were also able to conjure. Then came gnats (lice in the KJV). This one was a trick Pharaoh's magicians weren't able to match, which caused them to claim that "This is the finger of God!" Because apparently, conjuring frogs is easy, but conjuring gnats is a miracle. Then came flies. These appeared to change Pharaoh's mind initially, but once the pests were gone, he once again refused to allow the Hebrews to leave.

Exodus, Chapter 9

The next plague afflicted the Egyptian's livestock, "all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but of the livestock of the Israelites not one died." Next came 'festering boils' on all of the people and animals. There's no mention made of the Israelites, but I think it's safe to assume that they were spared.

The plague after that had a few points worth calling out. This was a plague of "the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now." Any creature left out in the open would be killed. So, "Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place," while the other officials left theirs in the open. When the hail struck, all of the slaves and livestock left in the open were killed, along with smashing all of the plants and shattering the trees. Pharaoh once again gave Moses permission to leave while the plague was still ongoing, but changed his mind once the hail and rain stopped.

The first point to question from that story is where the livestock came from, since they were supposedly killed a few verses before in this very same chapter. The other point is who was killed in this plague. It wasn't Pharaoh, his officials, or well to do Egyptians. It was their slaves. And it was a horrible death, being pelted to death by hail stones. If God actually existed, this would reveal a horrible cruelty on his part. As it is, it shows the mindset of the writers of Exodus - slaves were simply property, and their death was a punishment on their owners. (Not to mention the suffering of the livestock)

Exodus, Chapter 10

This chapter started with another explicit mention that God was hardening the heart of Pharaoh and his officials. So the reason that all these bad things were happening to the people of Egypt and their slaves had nothing to do with free will, as some apologists like to argue in regards to theodicy. In this case, it was basically God showing off, "that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I have made fools of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them--so that you may know that I am the Lord."

This chapter continued on with the plague of locusts, and then a plague of darkness. But in both cases, the Lord had hardened Pharaoh's heart, and so he didn't let the Israelites leave.


The thing that stood out to me the most while reading these chapters was something I mentioned a few times above - the cruelty and callousness of God. He brought all these plagues that caused so much suffering - not just among Pharaoh and the rulers of Egypt, but amongst the people and even the slaves. And there's not even any good reason for why the suffering was so prolonged. When given the choice to let the Israelites go, which would presumably have stopped the plagues, God himself hardened Pharaoh's heart so that the suffering would continue. And even if the Egyptians were being punished because of how they treated the Israelites, what about all their other slaves? They weren't going to be a part of the Exodus like the Hebrews. They were still going to be stuck in Egypt once this story was over. Granted, I know that if there's any truth at all to this story, it's nowhere near as grandiose as the Biblical story (maybe just a small group who managed to escape), but taken at face value, it doesn't present a very flattering view of Yahweh.

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.


Selling Out