Exodus 19-21

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Hey! Back to a more decent hour of posting. What’s that bright thing outside the window. It’s the sun!

So, I’m taking a gander at Exodus 19-21

God meets Moses on the mountain. He commands that no one, nothing else, is to be on that mountain.

My guess is this rule didn’t apply to animals already present on the mountain, such as squirrels and mice and hyraxes and such likely weren’t evicted.

So, what is up with that? Why such strong rules, and strong barriers, and absolute insistence on a precise order?

What happened to the God who walked in the garden with Adam and Eve? What happened to the visits we see in Genesis?

It makes me consider the centuries between Joseph and this new work of God. It’s almost like God is reframing himself. Not changing but rather he put a huge distance between his foundational work of calling the Patriarchs and now this present work of building a people.

The task is different here, and now God is starting from a new beginning, which means first off creating a renewed perception of who he is. This is revelation in action. These people were called by God but they didn’t know God. They knew the gods of Egypt, who were of an entirely different sort and character. So God begins the lessons.

First lesson, on the mountain: God is great. Rather greater than great. Really, astoundingly great, beyond compare. Don’t mess with him. Don’t let your animals mess with him. Don’t think you have any rights whatsoever. Don’t be the least bit presumptuous. His greatness and his holiness go together. He is powerful. He is mighty. Next to him nothing has glory so don’t even think about trying to put other things in his category. He is his own category.

He is not tame.

This is a surprisingly hard lesson to learn. Takes a while to teach it. Much of the Old Testament, in fact. It’s important they learn it because they are a nation of priest. The whole bunch of them are representatives of God now, and how they act reflects back on the God they serve. Not only in their worship, but in every nook and cranny of all of life.

Which means there has to be some guidelines put in place. Those who are his representatives must live lives who fit within God’s revelation and identity.

How, though, does a person represent God to the world if they do not really know who God is? They can’t really. So God shows them how to start. He gives them the Law. These guidelines are not just random rules meant to restrict. They are laws which themselves speak of the God who gave them. Because the people don’t know him, they need a framework which illustrates God’s emphases and character, so that they can grow up into knowledge of Him. With the Law people can reflect God even if they don’t know him. It’s a starting point.

The starting point of the starting point is the Ten Commandments.

I first notice God’s self-identification. He does not define himself in the same terms we find in a systematic theology class. He doe not get into the philosophical “proofs”. He defines himself as the God who acts.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt. He frames the whole giving of the Law, his expectations for his people, on the basis of his act of liberation and salvation. He choose Israel. He brought Israel out of Egypt. As Paul the Apostle will later say, “therefore…”

Therefore… have no other Gods. Therefore… don’t make an idol. Therefore… don’t use God’s name in vain.

Therefore… remember the sabbath.

Now this one catches me. The Ten Commandments are all the rage in conservative Christian circles. Post em in schools. Post em in courts. Post em in the city square and wherever there’s a spot. Post em all over the place.

How many people who want to post ’em really follow them all. Sure, the no idols one isn’t hard. Who, though, does absolutely no work whatsoever on a Saturday? That’s the sabbath after all. Sunday is a holy day because of the resurrection, which has a different symbolism. We can, and the early church did, work on Sundays. Saturday though is tied to creation. It is tied to God’s work, and he rested on the seventh day. So, do nothing on Saturdays. And by nothing, that means nothing (except healing maybe, as Jesus noted).

That is the teaching of the commandments. And if a person wants to post em all over the place they need to model them before they salute them.

Otherwise it’s religiousy and empty rhetoric which makes God into a figurehead for a vague morality rather than a specific God who acts in specific ways and gives specific ways of reflecting him.

Course, I do a bit of work on Saturdays. But I’m a firm believer in other kinds of divine reflections, namely the Spirit, who isn’t really as interested in posting signs, as much as my becoming a sign.

Though, it is curious that while most folks who demand courts have a ten commandments do work on Saturdays, most every court, even those without Ten Commandments, don’t work on Saturdays. I think there’s a parable in this.

Well, again, the Lord God brought you out of Egypt. Therefore, honor your mother and father. We can all agree to that. Though honor, as Jesus taught, isn’t blind subservience. Honoring God is at the beginning of this list, and so takes priority if there is a conflict.

Therefore, don’t murder. Alright.

Therefore, don’t commit adultery. Fine, fine.

Therefore, don’t steal. Okay.

The LORD your God brought you out of Egypt, therefore, don’t give false testimony. Even if it’s just business or for a perceived better good.

When I read this I can’t help but think about politics, and how much false testimony flies from both sides of the political aisle. This verse doesn’t say “false testimony in an official court of law.” It says don’t give false testimony. It’s a bridle for our tongues.

Therefore, don’t covet your neighbor’s house. Or wife. Or business. Or employees. Or education. Or salary. Or car. Or looks. Or sense of humor. Or his stereo. Or his suit. Or his friends. Or his power. Or his easy going lifestyle. Or his church. Or his vacations. Or his investment portfolio. Or his lawn. Or his non-receding hairline. Or his weekly tithes. Or his position on important committees. Or his influence in society. Or his intellect. Or his dog. Or his… well, nothing.

Therefore, don’t covet. Because God brought you out of Egypt. Funny, I do see a lot of coveting going on among most everyone I know, including myself. Might be a good thing to preach on someday. Maybe before the building committee meeting.

So, those are the Ten commandments. That’s the beginning of the beginning, not only of this particular method of God’s revelation. It’s also the beginning where reading the Bible in a Year encounters a bit of tediousness. It’s the Law. Oxes, and slaves, and pits, oh my!

So, a little suggestion for myself along the way. I think it’ll be good to not only look at what is given in the Law but to see how the Law reflects back onto the giver. I’m going to start asking how these laws seem to illustrate God. If they are meant as guidelines for his priests, so they will live in accordance with the God who has brought them out of Egypt, then these Laws aren’t just about things to do. They are about the God who is, sharing with us his values, and cares, and interests, and priorities.

With that in mind, it’s time to leap into the Law.

Exodus 16-18

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Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

Now in the wilderness the people see needs beyond their slavery. They used to be slaves, and while slaves they had no freedom. But they had food to eat, and water to drink, and places to sleep.

Now they had freedom, but food was elusive, water was often bitter, and my guess is they didn’t have fresh straw beds every night.

They were God’s now, not the Egyptians. The Egyptians were a lot more predictable. Predictable is satisfying. Freedom is dangerous and filled with risk. Yet in freedom one can take the leap out and journey to the place of blessing, the place of God’s promise. God isn’t predictable, even though he does promise. He’s not predictable because he is the daily God.

He is also the God of holiness. What is curious about this is the idea that his holiness is tied up in his creation and his holiness is reflected not in our busyness but in our rest. The manna comes, comes after complaints and more whining. It is the daily bread.

Yet there are those who want to run things their own way. On the one hand are those who will gather two days worth. They do not really trust God so they horde, just in case.

They think they know better.

On the other hand are those who cannot rest. On the day of holiness, when God seeks all to stop, these people continue their habits, not turning to God but still turning to their own interests. They work even though God said stop.

They think they know better.

The first group gets maggots for their hording. The second group gets nothing for their work. Only God’s will can be done on the way to the promise.

And, take note of 16:36 — “An omer is one-tenth of an ephah.” I think that cleared things up. It is interesting, though, because it appears to be a footnote to the text, for a later generation who needed earlier weights and measures explained, just as my footnote at the bottom says an omer is about 3 pounds, making an ephah about 30 pounds.

In 37 the folks get thirsty. Again with the complaints. They blame Moses and wonder why he brought them out of Egypt for “this”. Things really are worse. They feel their loss without seeing the promise in full. Sure there are miracles along the way but what are miracles when thirst comes?

They don’t have any trust. They don’t have any courage. They don’t have any hope. Imagine if they had gone the short way and faced battle right off.

But God provides. They begin to trust.

Battle comes to them now, a brief test. Still they cannot stand on their own but need the power of Moses, in whom God worked clearly, to be their morale. They were full of fear, except when Moses stood for them.

No wonder he didn’t really trust anyone else to help lead.

The people were weak and worried and fickle. So the one man who was strong thought that all the burden really was on him, confirmed by the fact the people proved this over and over.

He thought himself indispensable. He was Moses after all. Who else was standing up?

But that’s not the way of God. Only God is indispensable. And so Jethro gives some solid advice. He’s a wise man to be sure, even though he’s not one of the Hebrews and not within the covenant.

“Slow down, Moses,” he says. “Remember your calling, and do that. Don’t get so exhausted doing everything that you lose sight of what only you can do.”

Don’t collect two days worth of manna, and don’t collect it on the Sabbath. Don’t be greedy in power, and don’t assert more power than God asks. Let others participate.

In these passages, with the most basic aspects of life we are reminded of our daily bread. We are reminded of our place before God and our place among others. We are reminded to do what God asks, not too little or too much. We are asked to trust. We are asked to let go. We are asked to be generous and courageous.

Somehow I think these verses are not just a good story meant to remind us of God’s work many, many centuries ago.

I think God has reminded us in this present moment through these words. And he expects us to listen.

Exodus 13-15

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One of my struggles is that I don’t often see God’s hand working visibly in my life. That’s a long story and not one I’ll get into, but I often wonder why God so clearly works in and among others, but not in me.

There are some general reasons this might happen, but while I’m not perfect, I really have thrown myself into God’s service in every way I can. I have tried, and studied, and wrestled constantly in prayer. But it’s so dry. Why? That question is at the heart of my occasional moments of near despair. Why do I seem to have more walls go up?

Then I read this verse. There’s the long way and the short way. The long way is the way in which God shows his glory, does mighty miracles, acts in the cloud and the fire, and the drowned Egyptians. It is the way in which God moves to their rear and destroys their enemies. This is the dramatic God, the God I want to see.

The short way leads to the Philistines and to war.

Who does God pick to lead in these various directions? Those who might run away from battle, and give up, are given time and space and signs. They are shielded from the war and their own responsibilities for a time. They will see the dangers. They will feel the hunger and the thirst. But they will be given miracles.

Those who are strong enough, who would not shirk from duty, but would fight are led the short way. They experience the bite of the sword, the exhaustion of battle, the weariness of constant harassment, but they continue to fight, and continue to overcome, entering into the Promised Land quickly.

Do I want to be in the Red Sea walking on dry land and see the mighty power in action? Or do I want to fight the Philistines and claim the Promised Land?

I want to fight. I want the short way. Which explains a good bit to me now. I’m not going to turn away (“where else will I go, Lord?”). So God threw me into the mix.

I love the song of Moses here. Not least because it is such a wonderful prayer, a sung prayer, that celebrates what God has done because of who he is. I think it would be fun to make worship songs more like this — tied to specific moments in our shared history, or more personal family songs we can sing in praise that truly remembers and does not just recite a bit of vague theology or praise.

I also enjoy Miriam. Throughout Genesis women aren’t exactly models of awesomeness. They are sort of what we would expect from the curse of Eve, and don’t stand out as people particularly chosen by God to do anything other than be married and have babies.

But then here’s Miriam, a prophet. Were there other mentioned prophets before this? I need to check that. She’s definitely among the first with the title, and that means she is uniquely called as a speaker for God. Plus, she dances and plays an instrument.

A model of worship? I think so. This is one of the greatest moments in the Bible, and here we have the leaders responding in ways that are to be models for the rest of the history of God’s people.

But then 15 ends. The people are thirsty. Three days after their salvation the people grumble again. But, I’d grumble too if the only water was bitter. This is one of those things that seems to be justified grumbling, and their not really sure how it’ll be worked out.

Imagine if they had to strap on their swords and face a more numerous foe? Yeah. They’d definitely have gone back on the short road.

But God fixes the water by having Moses throw a piece of wood into it, making it sweet (another bit of symbolism to look up).

Then he makes a speech. We’re not said by what means, but likely through a prophet.

“Listen carefully. Do what is right. And you won’t get the diseases.”

I’m reminded here of the walk through the Red Sea. God let them walk on dry land, with walls of water on both sides. The Egyptians who came from behind were caught in the waters.

God’s people are not to go to the right, or to the left, or behind. They are to continue to walk forward in the protection of God’s grace. If they do not they will get caught up in the swirling chaos.

First the physical lesson in the Red Sea, and now the spiritual lesson.

Watch yourselves, God says. He says it still.

Exodus 10-12

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Though being late I now realize why my intent was to do this first thing in the morning. I’m a bit of a sleepy head right now, and my “Nighttime” tea isn’t helping.

I’m first struck by Pharaoh’s attempts to offer a compromise. Isn’t that how it works, not only in our lives in this world but in our spiritual life. I think of sins and remember the times I congratulated myself for a little good, and let that justify a little wrong. I think of Romans 7 and 8 (am I allowed to do that? Or is jumping ahead wrong). We were slaves to sin. But the Spirit has given us freedom through Christ. Sin lies to us, though. Tells us that we can’t really do this or that, or have to fall in this way or that way. Sin has a hardened heart and doesn’t want to release us, even in the face of God’s power. Yet, unlike Moses I’ve compromised.

“Well, I guess,” I say figuratively. “Only the men? Well that’s not really the promise and all, but that sounds good.”

“Women and children can go too? Great! I guess I don’t really need the livestock. That’s fine.”

So I leave parts of myself behind, out of fear, or weakness, or sadness, or frustration, or just plain rebelliousness. I guess even after seeing God’s power I’m still not sure he has power enough to get me all the way to fullness.

At the end of 10 Pharaoh tries to assert his power. Moses agrees with him, and puts up no fight. This is not a battle between Moses and Pharaoh. So Moses doesn’t have to prove himself, or his intellectual superiority, or anything. God is the God who will do the proving. This is between God and Pharaoh, for the People. Moses is a messenger who knows when to get out of the middle.

Which leads to the plague of the first born. This is brutal. No getting around it. God kills the first born of every family in the land, throwing everything into chaos. I’m hit by this right now. How much death went into shaping the situation for freedom? How much death was needed? Pharaoh sought to make a power play, so as to keep slaves and servants under his power, and the cost of that was beyond description. Absolutely brutal. Especially for that female slave, who would rather like to be free herself. But chaos catches many in its nets and there’s no getting around the fact that the suffering was enormous among those who had no voice in the matter.

God was doing a work, and his work is focused so that the story as a whole comes to a completion. The power of this moment, however, is revealed in the fact that it led to the most important holy day in Judaism. Passover.

Now, the customs and meanings of passover are many and they are extremely interesting. Rather than attempt to describe them myself, which would be a poor description indeed, I heartily recommend doing a search and reading about each symbol and each moment. More so I recommend attending a Seder if you can. This is one of the great moments in the history of God and of this world. God defines himself from this, and it is important we don’t lose sight of it. Indeed, I’ve attended a Messianic seder a few times, where Jewish Christians walk through the meal and reveal how many elements point to Jesus. It’s a powerful thing.

I also read through this thinking of our own Passover, the Lord’s supper, in which we eat and drink, commemorating the death of the first born that allowed me salvation.

In Exodus 12, after 450 years, the Israelites find freedom, the power of their master crushed. They feast in this moment, and prepare for a new life.

Exodus 7-9

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Here we go.

Now the action starts. All the set up is done.

Let the plagues begin.

Funny thing about these chapters. Nothing particular stuck out to me. Maybe it’s because these are the chapters we all know and love. They are what we think of when we think of Moses. They are taught in sunday school and so are quite familiar.

The scary thing, of course, is Pharaoh’s situation in this. It’s weird because there’s an odd interplay between who exactly is doing the hardening of his heart. It’s him. It’s also God. God in a way commits him to disobedience. But, my suspicion is this almost entirely a matter of God pushing Pharaoh to the extent of his own already existent disobedience. He is going to break his will, and lets him not only be stubborn, but increases the stubbornness to a greater degree.

This is a curious thing really because I wonder if God still does this. I wonder if he still commits people to their tendencies, and hardens their hearts so that they will be broken even more by his glory.

Also worth noting is the magicians. Magicians are clearly capable people. They match Moses along the way. They too can do miracles. They too can do things that give the appearance their gods are in control. They have a significant amount of power.

To a limit. Moses blows away that limit. The magicians couldn’t match that gnats.

Through these plagues God was not only competing with the magicians, he was showing his power over all the various gods. The Hebrews were a weak people so must have a weak god. The Egyptians were a powerful people so must have powerful gods. God showed this to be a mistaken assumption by facing down those gods in their exact places of supposed superiority.

Like in the beginning of Genesis, God here is shown not only to be a god among gods, but God above all.

In the process we’re also seeing Moses become a man. Sure, now that he’s eighty it seems about time, but that’s how God works, and as he works through Moses, we see Moses becoming more and more of who is is supposed to be.

It’s nice to see the good guys winning finally.

Exodus 4-6

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For Exodus 4-6 we have a lot to work with.

First off we continue from yesterday the conversation God has with Moses. God keeps telling Moses more and more. In the beginning of 4, Moses has yet another question.

“Well, um, okay,” he stammers. “What if, well, what if they just don’t believe me? What if they say, ‘Yeah right. God appeared to you. Go away.’ What do I tell them if they go and say something like that?”

Moses in Exodus chapter four is not the Moses we were taught about in Sunday school. This guy is, well, Moses is not the guy a pastor would choose to lead a new ministry. He’s nice and all. But really, no initiative anymore. The guy just doesn’t have a passion for it.

Where’s that old Moses? He wouldn’t be questioning God. He’d already be back in Egypt chatting with Pharaoh.

God doesn’t give up though. “What’s in your hand,” he asks.

“Well golly, God, it’s a staff.”

“Throw it down.”

“Yaaack! Snake.”

“Pick it up Moses. By the tail.”

The staff became a snake, the snake became a staff, a normal hand is diseased, a diseased hand is made whole. Water is turned to blood.

Who is God? I AM. I AM is in control of all the elements. I AM is the master of everything. There is no pantheon needed. He is in charge of the water. He is in charge of healing and disease. He is in charge of matter and animals. God is lord of it all. Through signs and wonders he shows his mighty power to this mighty man of God who will go forth and lead the people from the bondage of slavery.

“Um, well,” is how Moses replies. “That’s fine. But, um, I’m not so good at speaking. Not at all good with words or phrases or… well, those sorts of things. I’m a little slow, so…”

“Who makes a mouth?” God asks. Again with the “it’s not you, it’s me” routine.

“Oh, alright,” Moses answers. “I get that. Well, um, then. You know, you should send someone else.”

Remember, Moses here is talking to a burning bush, having just seen a staff become a snake and his hand diseased and healed.

Clearly, though, it’s God that doesn’t know what he’s doing. Moses knows full well who Moses is these days. He’s just not leader material. Maybe back in the day, well then he was full of fire and brimstone. Not anymore. No, those days are past. Thanks God, but you don’t know who I am, so I decline the honor and thank you for asking.

“Well, if you put it that way,” God doesn’t say. “I guess you’re right. You really are a goofball. Don’t know what I was thinking with this. ”

No. He doesn’t say that. God gets mad. Who is Moses to tell God anything. Who in God’s name is Moses to say should be chosen. God’s name chooses Moses.

Moses here is a broken man. He’s crushed in spirit. He really does seem out of place. But that’s not at all the point. Who cares? The point of Moses isn’t that he was a great and natural leader, full of obvious gifts and wondrous ways with words. No, the point was that God chose him.

Why do we talk of Moses. Because God chose Moses. That’s it.

Moses was broken enough that he was barely able to listen. He was broken enough that he wasn’t going to go and give Pharaoh any of his own words. He was so broken that he was resigned to doing whatever God wanted.

Moses was broken. God chose Moses. And that’s that.

Fortunately, God understands and also sent his brother along to help out, you know, right at first.

In 4:18 Moses doesn’t quite lie to his father in law, but he certainly fudges the whole truth a good bit. He gets permission to go back to Egypt. God gives Moses the first few instructions. Then we get to 4:24.

Do you have any idea what is going on in 4:24? I don’t. Sure we can make guesses, but the fact is this is just a plain odd few sentences and if anyone tells you otherwise they are more confident than they have a right to be. Your guess is as good as mine, and pretty much as good as any scholar out there.

It really should be cut out. But, I guess no one saw fit to do that, so I won’t.

At the end of chapter four Moses speaks to the elders who are so overcome by joy that God has finally heard them they fall down and worship.

In chapter five things get a lot worse for the Hebrews.

Moses talks to Pharaoh. This is one of those cases where overtranslation takes away some of the effect. In our Bible we read, “The LORD.” That’s not what the Hebrew says. There’s a word for Lord, but that’s not what is in this verse. No, Moses is using God’s given name here, the name God told Moses to use. Pharaoh isn’t saying, “I don’t know God.” No, he is much more bold than that. I don’t know anyone by that name, he says. Who’s that. Never heard of that god. Egyptians have all sorts of gods with different names. Who is Moses to come in and make demands from a god no one has heard of. That’s silliness.

So he sends him away, and because Pharaoh really has no regard for whats-his-name, but quite a bit of confidence in the gods he can name, he makes the Hebrews work harder, and drives them deeper into despair.

That’s just not right. Things shouldn’t happen that way. But over and over again they do. On the very eve of salvation things get worse. The burdens are heavier. The weight is crushing. Problems increase, difficulties rise.

“You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh,” the Hebrews say to Moses. And the fact is they’re absolutely right.

Which makes it odd when we see troubles as being a sign that God isn’t listening. Could be God really is.

Why? Because God likes a good show. He likes to really, really save his people, and crush the wills of those who oppose him. He does this even if we would sometimes accept a little less glory and get to work a little before the straw is also taken away from our brick making tasks.

Things do get a lot worse. What must Moses be thinking? I bet he didn’t blame God. Aaron might have. Moses, I bet, blamed himself.

“See,” he may have said. “I told you I wasn’t any good at speaking. Now I’ve gone and made things worse. I told you God. You picked the wrong guy. Now see what happened. Just let me go home now. Please.”

We know he does cry out to the Lord and asks, “Is this why you sent me?”

The answer in chapter six of Exodus are some of the most important words in the entire Bible. You do not know God if you do not understand what he is saying in these verses. In Exodus 6:2-8 God reveals himself in a completely new and powerful way, the exact way we can depend on him today.

He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But to them he was a name. He was the source of a call. “But I did not make myself known to them,” God tells Moses.

In chapter six, God makes himself known. He is the God who is. But, more so, he is the God who acts. From this point on God’s self-definition changes. From now on God defines himself by what he does.

We do not read here a systematic treatise on the nature of God, including all the omnis and various proofs that of Prime Mover, Uncaused Cause, or the rest. God does not give a lesson in apologetics, or sit Moses down for a good lecture on impassibility.

God reveals himself here, and it is this revelation that we have what we know about God.

“I will free you. I will redeem you. I will take you as my own. I will be your God. You will know this is true because I will bring you out from under the yoke of Egypt. I will bring you to the land I promised. I will give it to you. I am I AM.”

Moses passed this on. The Hebrews didn’t believe him. God, you see, hadn’t done any of that yet, so they had no reason to believe. God defined himself in terms of his promise and his actions.

So doubt remained.

“Sheesh, God,” Moses says at the end of the chapter. “The folks won’t listen to me. Why would Pharaoh listen?”

In chapter six we have God defining himself. From now on we have God working out this definition not in philosophic or rhetorical terms. No. God is very, very literal. He is the God who does bring his people out of Egypt, and so they shall be brought out of Egypt indeed. God chose Moses to speak, and so Moses will in fact speak. God is the God who is, but he insists we relate to him as the God who acts and the God who does. It’s his word, you see. Powerful and effective, not just convincing and inspiring.

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.

Interesting.

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.

Genesis 48-50

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Here we are. The end of the first book of the Bible. It is interesting how it wraps up themes presented throughout.

This section opens with a marvelous personal look at Joseph and Israel. There is such a powerful bond between father and son, once separated and now joined back together after long giving up hope. Very touching and real.

In 48 we also have the blessing of Joseph’s sons. Joseph is Jacob’s chosen, and he gives to him a double portion of the inheritance. Joseph is represented by both his sons, each of whom will be a tribe of Israel. Notice here a very interesting thing. The younger is blessed with the right hand, the elder with the left. The right hand denotes priority (sorry, left handers out there). Again the younger is given more importance, and here it is especially interesting because there is no reason given for it other than Israel’s own inner motivation. Assuming, as we should, he is really in touch with God at this point in life I’m certain the repetition of this theme isn’t an accident. The younger, throughout, is chosen over the older. There isn’t a clearly defined reason for this, though a few do come to mind.

In 49 we have the blessing of all the heirs of Jacob. Earlier we saw the blessing of Ishmael, and it seemed his “blessing” was a little mixed. Same thing here. Some of the sons are given really odd “blessings”, a sign that a blessing isn’t just a religious term for encouragement. It is also a seeing, an insight into the personality and motives. Very interesting.

What stands out to me is the blessing of Simeon and Levi. “I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.” Now, I’m getting ahead of myself but it really is interesting to read this knowing the later history of Israel. Levites were the hereditary priests and servants of God. They were set apart from the set apart nation. The reasons for this were that later on in the story during a time of almost civil war and rejection of God from other tribes the Levis strapped on their swords and fought for God, purifying the nation anew. Here their warlike tendencies are condemned but later on they turned their passion towards God, and so fought for God. The blessing here remained true, except that instead of being negatively worked out it was transformed into becoming a major positive and symbol of righteousness.

Then we come to the end. The story of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob becomes the story of the 12 tribes of Israel. A man has a son, who has a son, who has a nation.

And yet, the sons of Israel don’t really trust. Joseph is doubted. Sure he saved them once, but was he sincere? They know all too well how they would act in his position.

But, Joseph is a man of God who responds to his brothers with hope and with peace. He asks them, “Am I in the place of God?”

He recognizes God’s work in his life. He recognizes their evil was transformed into a blessing. He realizes that even with all his power he is still a servant. He is a servant of God, and does only what God has given him to do.

This is a wonderful lesson for us who also encounter evils in this life. People do bad things, say bad things, offend us as Christians or offend us as non-Christians. We are tempted to argue for our rights and make our claims for justice.

Yet, we are not God. God is the judge who makes all things right. Our call is to be who we are supposed to be and at each step offering a hand of peace. Because in that, in keeping our eyes on God, we participate in the redemption of the world. What is “our rights” compared with that?

Joseph knew and so he became a symbol to all of us of a man who truly reflected God to his world, even to our own generation.

Genesis 46-47

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Resolution. That’s the theme of these chapters. All the chaos, all the problems, all the frustration find a strong measure of peace and resolution.

These are chapters of quiet, almost exhausted, joy. Profound joy.

Personally, I like reading chapters like these.

A few things stood out to me.

The first is how much Jacob is still a new man. I have emphasized Joseph throughout these chapters, but I am now seeing how much Jacob too must have been tested. I’m just now reminded of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac for God, but then didn’t have to. Jacob was given the gift of Joseph, and then ended up having him sacrificed. Not killed, but certainly taken from his life. He felt the loss Abraham avoided. There’s something powerful in that, in which the sacrifice made, the suffering it caused, and now the restoration of what was considered loss are tied together within the saving covenant of God’s active work in bringing life to the world. Jacob suffered in a different way than Joseph did, but he still suffered. And in that suffering it seems he along with Joseph maintained his faith, and grew up from his deceitful youth.

This verse I sat on for a while: “As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.”

Beautiful.

Another verse which stood out to me was in the conversation Joseph had with his brothers about their move to Egypt. He told them to say they are shepherds. Saying this would get them a reason to be settled in what I guess was a more rural part. Why?

Because shepherds are detestable to Egyptians. That’s a verse, isn’t it? Especially when we are saved by the Good Shepherd, and shepherd imagery runs all through the New Testament.

Shepherds are detestable to Egyptians.

That’s something to keep in mind.

I also love the conversation with Jacob and Pharaoh. The most worldly powerful man meets the most called by God man in the world. Jacob answers about his age, then in a wonderful move Jacob blesses Pharaoh. What a wonderful interaction.

Finally, I took notice of 47:21. “Joseph reduced the people to servitude from one end of Egypt to another.”

I don’t know why this is interesting, but it strikes me for some reason and I feel there’s something to consider in that.

There you go. My noticings of the day.

Genesis 43-45

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The wrapping up of Joseph’s tests of his brothers, who now prove a loyalty to their father and brother they betrayed years before. It is a great story, and it’s interesting to me how we are now focusing so long on such specific events. Genesis has been a funnel of time, first dealing in broad narratives and covering centuries in the space of a few chapters. Then we get tidbits of specific families and people, never spending too much time on any single point. Here though we’re focused for five plus chapters on a single story, emphasizing Joseph and bringing him back into the folds of his family. He receives his brothers, but they are the representatives of Israel, who holds the covenant. Joseph was received back into the covenant in the greeting of his brothers.

I don’t know if this is a valid comparison but it popped into my head as I was thinking about how Joseph deceived his brothers to test them. I got to wondering if this is how God works too. He puts us in difficulties not because we are despised or because he is powerless or vengeful but because we are being tested for our loyalties and reactions. If we show ourselves to be faithful to him, he reveals himself as our Father and lets us in on his glory. If we falter, he brings us through the ringer again, testing and helping, testing and helping so as to focus our attention on true righteousness. Joseph is the righteous one here, the one who was sacrificed and suffered, but in his suffering was victory and life for many.

I guess I am seeing a presage of the Gospels here, and our Christian life. Something which I think is allowable in these stories, as God’s work often echoes into the past and into the future.