Saturday, May 26, 2007

Exodus 19-40: The Covenant

I'm going to finish Exodus today. It's 22 chapters - wow - but I'll try not to write a novel.

Mostly what happens is, Moses talks with God and gets a bunch of commandments - kind of an overview of what we'll see in the next few books of the Law. The people say they'll obey everything God tells them to do, so then God starts telling Moses about how to build the tabernacle and priestly garments, which takes about seven rather lengthy chapters. Meanwhile, the people down in the camp go ballistic and have Aaron make an idol for them. God gets really mad, and Moses goes back and freaks out and kills a bunch of people. Then Moses goes back up on Sinai for a while and gets more instructions, and then the people make the tabernacle, and then we have a short scene describing God's presence in the tabernacle by day and by night.

So here are some thoughts.

1. I went to a synagogue once when I was staying with my Jewish friends for a weekend. My friend's Sunday school class (yeah, they have Sunday school too) was going over the Ten Commandments. The way they number them is a little different: the first commandment to them is "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt" (Ex. 20:2). I'm not really sure how that's a commandment, but that's how they have it. Then they merge what we consider the first and second commandments into one: no other gods. I just think that's interesting.

2. Murder is punishable by death if the victim is a man, a woman, a child, or even an unborn baby - but not if it's a slave. Why is that?

3. A lot of sins were punishable by death according to the Mosaic Law. If we applied all of them today, we would have the death penalty for the following:
a) murder
b) manslaughter, but you could get asylum
c) kidnapping
d) being an obstinately rebellious son or daughter
e) having a dog that has a habit of biting people and you didn't put him down and he bites somebody and they die
f) being involved in Wicca, astrology, palm-reading, tarot cards, the occult, etc.
g) bestiality
h) adhering to a religion other than the state religion

And that's just from two chapters; there are a few other things that could get you executed. Nobody crucify me here, but I think it's funny that people point to the Law for the reason why the death penalty is in effect today, but only where murder and perhaps rape are concerned. Not too many people want the death penalty to apply to witchcraft or rebellious children. Take that however you will; it's just an observation.

4. The other day I was rereading my very early IM conversations with Justin. It was funny to compare our relationship now to our friendship back then. One thing I noticed is that certain things that we thought would be potential issues back then, did become issues when we started dating. I also saw that even in IM, the same weaknesses and tendencies which each of us has today were present kind of as seeds at the very beginning. Not that we haven't worked through any of those things, but I'm just trying to use an analogy for Israel right here. Right away, as soon as they're out of Egypt - actually no, even back when they're still in Egypt - we can see a pattern of distrust and unfaithfulness. They believe in God, they don't believe in God. They obey Him, they disobey him. It becomes much more evident in chapter 32 - it was only a few weeks ago that they said "All that the LORD has spoken, we will do!" - and already they're saying, "What happened to Moses? He might not come back. Let's make a god we can see instead of the scary cloud on the mountain." This is really foreshadowing what the rest of Israel's history will look like. Like I said last time, yo-yo.

5. This is something I got from my Bible teacher. I don't know how intentional it is in the text, but give it some thought. When the people told Aaron to make them a god, what they meant was a god they could see. They had a god, but He wasn't really tangible. So far, their way of knowing God came by hearing God's word through Moses. Is it any coincidence, then, that when they told Aaron to make them a visible god, he had them take the rings off their ears - a symbol of hearing? Just like Eve in the garden, who heard God's command not to eat the fruit, but saw that the fruit was good, so she ate it. Actually, you could say that a lot of themes in the Bible have to do with seeing versus hearing. "We walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Cor. 5:7) and "now faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Rom. 10:17). Or, as someone once said (I really wish I knew who it was), "In the beginning was the Word, not the video."

6. God told Moses he would kill all the Israelites and then make him into a great nation, and Moses seems to talk God out of it. I mean, the text actually says, "So the LORD changed His mind" (32:14). Was God -really- going to kill them all? Considering that God has been so determined so far to keep His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I doubt it. Was He perhaps testing Moses then? And if so, what if Moses had said "sure, go ahead and kill them all"?

7. Aaron's a lousy excuse-maker. I don't understand him. The future high priest of the LORD is the one who makes this gold calf thing. Yet when Moses questions him, he makes it seem like the calf made itself - he says he threw the gold into the fire, "and out came this calf." Whoa, strange coincidence! What's weird is that Aaron still gets to be the high priest later.

8. Even after Moses intercedes for the people and asks God to be merciful to them, he has the Levites kill about 3000 people. Was he supposed to do that? God didn't tell him to. Personally, I think Moses has a hot temper. In chapter 11, when Moses warns Pharaoh about the last plague, it says he goes out from Pharaoh "in hot anger." I don't believe that phrase is used anywhere else in Scripture. Then with the golden calf incident, he gets so mad that he breaks the stone tablets that have the words of the covenant written on them. Then he tells the people to kill each other.

9. Right after Moses has the people kill each other, it says that God punishes everyone who was unfaithful to Him by "smiting" them. At first I thought that meant He killed them all, but when you think about it, if the vast majority of the people died, that wouldn't leave very many - and we find out in chapter 38 that there's over 600,000 men when the tabernacle is built. Also, Aaron was unfaithful, and clearly he's still around after the calf incident. Turns out the word use really means "to strike," not necessarily to kill. Personally, I think maybe God hit them with some kind of plague-like thing, even though in the laws He just gave Moses, it says that worshipping another god deserved death. So again, even in His judgment, God is showing mercy.

10. How big is this group of people right now? A lot of estimates say over a million, but critics say that's crazy because there simply wouldn't be enough room for them; I mean, we know from the beginning of the book that they outnumbered the Egyptians, but we don't know by how much. More importantly, though, is that a line of a million people, even if they were walking ten abreast, would be over 90 miles long by my estimation. Yet in chapter 38, it says that the men over age 20 numbered 603,550. Can somebody explain to me how this would work?

Okay, I'm sorry I made that so long, but seriously, it's 21 chapters.


Michal said...

Well, Zoe, you also have to consider that God fed them with manna and kept their clothes from wearing out for forty years.

Short answer: it was a miracle, and the people didn't deserve it. I've had lots of miracles happen to me, and I know I didn't deserve them. I'm about as hardheaded as they come, and as oblivious.

Might be a lesson about grace in the midst of the law.

An interesting note is that the golden calf is actually one of the gods of Egypt. Aaron didn't make up an idol out of his head. It just goes to show how much of Egypt was still ingrained in Israel.


Ben said...


Thanks for the read and the comment. I like your commentary; it made me laugh out loud a couple times (not sure if that's laudable for a Bible commentary, but whatever). I'll keep reading if you keep posting!


Michelle said...

I just finished Exodus and I am so glad I have you to "share" it with. Thank you for paragraph 5. I never saw that conection before between hearing and seeing. #6 This senario reminds me of when Abraham interceeds on behalf of Sodom, and "changes Gods mind" I don't think Gods mind can be changed he knows the outcome. I think that both of these stories are in the Bible to demonstrate the depths of Gods mercy. I mean, how cool is it that we can ask God to forgive our sins AND the sins of others?! As for paragraph #7....Aaron is an interesting charecter at best. I beleve that Aaron was kind of a punishment for Moses. Aaron would not even be there had Moses not argued so much with God in the first place. Moses practicaly insisted that God provide him with someone to help him talk instead of trusting that God would give him the ability to speak well. So, I think Aaron was Gods way of saying "well, you asked for it!" Thanks again for writing this it is nice to hear your thoughts and opinions, you have given me tons of topics to discuss in my Bible study group.

Zoe said...

#5 was an insight I actually got from my former Bible teacher back in high school. It struck me as really interesting, but when I thought about it, it really goes along with what is in Scripture: faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God; blessed are those who have not seen, and believe; we walk by faith, not by sight; etc.

That is a very intriguing thought about Aaron, by the way. That makes sense.

VertigoJon said...

"In the beginning was the Word, not the video."

This is from Ravi Zacharias.