Exodus 1-3

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Onwards then to Exodus.

One of my goals this time around is to try to see how I would read if I didn’t already know the story. Sometimes I can’t do this well, but today it hit me.

If I was given the task to write the book that followed Genesis I would not have opened it like Exodus opens. Totally unexpected. What happened?

Genesis ends with peace and blessing and reconciliation. The chosen ones of God are living together and were saved from disaster. All seems well.

Exodus changes this right off. The new king has forgotten Joseph and sees the Israelites as a bother. They are slaves. They are oppressed.

What happened? We’re not told. And that makes Exodus a really odd book. It’s so sudden.

But, in a way they are blessed. They are blessed with babies, that constant problem in Genesis. But their blessing becomes a point of attack. The king of Egypt orders the midwives to kill all the boys.

The midwives, however, don’t listen. They ignore the order. They lie.

This is another interesting point and it goes to the heart of how we understand ethics in the Bible. Lying is a sin, right? Well…

Sin is not simply a list of wrongs and rights in the Bible. Sin is always understood as an orientation. If an action is directed towards or for God it is righteous. If an action is directed away from or against God it is a sin. Usually this fits into our lists. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The midwives lie to Pharaoh. “So God was kind to the midwives…”

They were blessed because they acted in a way that preserved the babies.

And so we have the birth of Moses. He was from the house of Levi. Now looking back to the “blessings” in Genesis 49 we should get a bit of a preview of what Moses will be like. Genesis 49:5 tells us all about the family of Levi. Not good.

But first we have the salvation of Moses. A prophet of God swooped in and brought fire down upon the Egyptian soldiers, and rescued all the baby boys, announcing the words of the Lord as he did it. Well, not really. Not at all.

The salvation of Israel, the savior of the greatest leader in Jewish history came about because of an Egyptian. Pharaoh’s daughter, who certainly knew the laws in place, happened to see the floating basket. She knew it was a Hebrew baby. She did not kill it or send it to anyone who would.

Why? We’re not told. But, I think the Spirit was working, alongside and outside the normal channels. The Egyptian woman saved the Hebrew baby. The woman outside of the covenant was the one God used to bring salvation to those within the covenant.


Moses was still in the house of Levi, however. And so in chapter two we see it worked out. “Of course,” I say. “Moses kills the Egyptian. That’s so what Jacob said in his blessing.”

Simeon and Levi are brothers
their swords are weapons of violence.

Let me not enter their council,
let me not join their assembly,
for they have killed men in their anger
and hamstrung oxen as they pleased.

Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
and disperse them in Israel.

Moses sees a wrong and seeks to make it right. Not from the counsel of God but out of his anger. He acts. He does what he thinks is right. He doesn’t shy away from the problems but instead responds with a quick solution.

Moses is a very pro-active, initiative taking young man.

His motives were to save his people from their suffering. Only he wasn’t enough of a person to do it. His efforts were wrong headed and ineffective, serving only to inflame not only the Egyptians but also the Hebrews. He made things worse.

I can’t help but think of all the times through history the Church has sought to act in this world for God but ended up making things worse. We still bear the shame of some of these events, and have to answer questions a lot like the Hebrews ask Moses. “What about the crusades?” “Slaveowners used the Bible for slavery.” “What, are you going to silence free speech and burn us at the stake?”

Hyperbolic, yes? But it contains enough real truth that we are silenced in attempts at moral posturing. The Church has killed more than its fair share of Egyptians in its anger.

I have too.

Moses runs away. Rather, he’s driven away.

Such a Levite he is.

Goes off, finds a wife, has a son, leaves behind his old life and his people. He gave it a go, and clearly God wasn’t with him. So that’s that.

Except for another odd event.

God doesn’t leave Moses behind. God chooses this Levite to be something more than what was in the “blessing” of Jacob. God chooses this Levite, this man of violence and rashness, to be the one.

The bush burns. The bush speaks.

“Well, then,” Moses said, “What an odd thing. I think I will check out this bush.”

I bet there was a little more emotion than what we are told. But Moses’ reaction isn’t the point. The emphasis here is on that bush, and on the One who is speaking.

God is speaking. God has heard the cries of his people. After hundreds of years of listening God has finally decided to act. God has decided enough is enough, the Almighty will not be mocked by the Egyptians any longer. God is the God of all things, everyone. He is the Creator. The Lord. The Alpha and Omega. So he acts.

By speaking out of a burning bush to a guy that’s rather a bit shy.

“Uh, thanks,” Moses says. “But who am I?”

God responds, “Doesn’t matter who you are. It’s who I am.”

He says that every day still to every one of his followers in this world.

“So, alright, then,” Moses replies. “I get that. Well, um, let’s see… uh… God… okay, but suppose the leaders ask me who you are? You’re there and all doing the work? But what about me? They see me. What do I tell them?”

God tells Moses, “I AM”. Which is really a curious thing to say really. “God” is such a more tame word, very understandable and approachable. “I AM” implies a lot, because it doesn’t seem containable. I AM what?

That’s it really. I AM. Are you, God? Yes.

The first big theology lesson of the Bible, and one we still wrestle with. What does it mean that God when asked his name answers, “I AM”. That’s the question we will get an answer for throughout eternity. I’m not sure we will ever find the complete answer, though each day we can get another piece and be amazed by it.

At the end of chapter three God tells Moses what’s gonna happen. The people are going to be saved, given their own land, brought out of Egypt to a place overflowing with milk and honey.

At the end of chapter three God tells Moses what to say. He is not to tell the Egyptians about the land, milk, honey or being moved forever out of Egypt. No, God tells Moses to say, “We want three days to go out and do some sacrifices. No big woop.”

He is told to lie.

I would not have written it this way. It’s just too theologically complicated and messy.

But, I’m not writing this story.

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