Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Exodus 21

Exodus 21: Various laws; the concept of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is introduced

There will be a lot of chapters in the Old Testament covering a lot of laws, and I haven’t yet really decided on a format, on how to cover them in this blog. So you’ll have to bear with me, for a while, until I get into a “law blogging groove”… For the time being, I’ll just put a law (or a couple of related laws), and give my thoughts on it. There won’t be as many specific links to specific verses listed here, so you can click on the link to the entire chapter, to read it, if you wish.

I was a long time putting this post together, because I had thoughts on every single law. I don’t know if that will continue or not; if it does, it means I’ll be posting a lot less often than once a day, for a while!

Synopsis

This chapter is a continuation of the commandments that the LORD is passing down to the Israelites. He hands down some rules regarding servants, and personal injuries.


  • When Hebrew male—as opposed to a foreigner—becomes a servant he is not a servant for life. He is to serve his master for 6 years, and in the seventh year is to go free. There are some additional aspects to this rule:
    • If he was single when he became a servant, he goes away single, and if he was married when he became a servant, than his wife will go with him when he goes free.
    • If he was single when he became a servant, and then his master gave him a wife, who bore him children, when he goes free, the wife and children do not go with him.
    • If the servant does not want to go free, he can declare that, and become a servant for life. His master will bring him before the judges, and pierce his ear with an awl, in a ceremony that declares this.
This partially makes sense to me, but not completely. It makes sense that Hebrew servants are treated differently than other servants; the Hebrews are God’s chosen people, and are to be set apart from the other peoples around them. This should instill a sense of community among the Israelites—just because your brother is down on his luck, and has to become a servant, it doesn’t mean you should be looking down on him.

What doesn’t make as much sense, on first reading, is the case where the single man becomes a servant, is given a woman for a wife, and has children, but then has to leave them behind, when he is set free at the end of his six years. (I guess it’s better for a Hebrew servant not to marry, while he’s still a servant!) My assumption is that this has to do with the issue of “property”; when the servant leaves his master, the master would be losing two servants, the man and his new wife.


  • If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she doesn’t go free in the seventh year, as men do. There are some specific aspects to this:
    • If she does not please her master, he must let her be “redeemed”. (This means he must let her family buy her back.) He is not allowed to sell her to foreigners.
    • He can select her as a wife for his son, in which case she must be given all the rights of a daughter.
    • If he—I assume “he” is referring to the son, who married the woman—marries another woman, he is not to deprive the first woman of her food, clothing, or marital rights. If he does, she must be set free, and she doesn’t have to pay anything.
Again, we have a case where some of this makes sense to me—and even seems somewhat progressive—and some seems very backwards. Already we can see that women in this society didn’t have the same rights as men, and that the law treated them differently. We also see, though, that there is concern that they might be mistreated, as a result of this; so, the part which makes sense to me is the part which says that a woman servant who marries her owner (or owner’s son) is to be given the same rights as any other woman who marries him; she is not to be treated any differently, once she becomes a wife, just because she used to be a servant.


  • Anyone who commits murder is to be put to death.
    • “Murder” meaning killing someone on purpose. If you kill someone by accident, there will be designated places where you can go, to hide from anyone who might come looking for revenge.
  • Attacking your father or mother is punishable by death.
  • Kidnapping is punishable by death.
  • Cursing your father or mother is punishable by death.
Again, some of this makes sense, and some doesn’t make as much sense. Having the death penalty for murder, kidnapping, or even attacking your father or mother, makes sense. (This law also introduces the concept of a “city of refuge”—although it doesn’t actually use that term in this passage—where people can go, if they’ve killed someone accidentally. The idea is that they can hide from relatives of the killed person, so that they won’t kill the accidental murderer in revenge. There will be more details about cities of refuge later on.)

Having the death penalty for cursing your father or mother seems a bit more extreme, until you take into account what the word “cursing” actually meant, to the Israelites. This wasn’t just mouthing off to Mom and Dad; a curse was akin to a prayer to God, asking Him to perform this harm on the person. In later chapters, there will be other people that the Israelites are not allowed to curse.


  • If two men are quarreling, and one of the men is confined to bed because of his injuries, but doesn’t die, the one who injured him is to pay for the time lost, and help the injured party get better.
Now how’s that for a strange law? If this law was actually enforced, I’m sure it would have drastically reduced fist-fighting for the Hebrews! Get into a bar fight, and end up caring for the person you fought!


  • If a man beats his slave to death, he is to be “punished”.
  • If a man beats his slave badly, but the slave is able to get up after “a day or two”, he is not to be punished, since the slave is his property (verse 21).
These laws seem horrible, to me. First of all, it’s good that people are to be punished if they beat their slaves to death—I’m sure other nations of the day didn’t have laws like that—but it’s not even specified how the person is to be punished. It just says that the person is to be “punished”. And then it says that the person has the full right to beat his slaves, as long as they don’t die from it! It surprises me, when reading these laws, that they were written this way. (It sounds like I’m questioning God, and that’s not my intent. I know that these laws were good, because they were instituted by Him—I just don’t understand them. See the General Thoughts section, below, for additional thoughts on that subject.)


  • If two men are fighting, and hit a pregnant woman, causing her to give birth prematurely, one of two things might happen:
    • If there is no serious injury—I assume this means that the baby and mother are both fine—then the one who hit her is to pay “whatever the husband demands and the court allows” (verse 22).
    • If there is serious injury, the concept of “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” is introduced:
      But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise. (verses 23–25)
I find this one interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s so specific. Second, I find it interesting that, for the case where there is no serious injury, the fine is “whatever the husband demands and the court allows”. That’s pretty vague, and so it gives the court a lot of leeway, in deciding what will be paid! This indicates, to me, that God is treating this as a very serious matter. In many ways, women in the Israelite society—just as in the societies around them—were given less rights than men, but this also makes them more vulnerable to be taken advantage of. The Hebrew laws often take that into account, as this one, which is looking out for pregnant women.

And, of course, the concept of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is introduced. Normally, when people use this term, it’s in relation to revenge, however, that’s exactly what it’s not in the Bible. The “eye for an eye” concept is only used in the Jewish law, and its express purpose is that the laws should be fair. Some of the punishments may seem harsh to our eyes, but you won’t see people getting the death penalty for stealing; the general concept is that if you murder, you’ll be killed; if you steal, you’ll pay it back (with interest); if you cause injury, you’ll be caused injury.


  • If you seriously injure your manservant or maidservant—the passage specifically mentions destroying an eye, or knocking out a tooth—the servant is to go free, as compensation.
I suppose this relates to the law above, which has to do with seriously beating a slave; the master is not to be punished, but the slave is at least granted freedom. That being said, the earlier passage used the word “slave”, and this passage uses the words “manservant” and “maidservant”—it might not be the same thing.


  • If a bull gores someone to death, the bull is to be stoned to death, and its meat is not to be eaten. In this case, the owner is not to be held responsible. However, there are some exceptions:
    • If the bull has gored people in the past, and the owner didn’t do anything about it, then the owner is to be held responsible—and stoned, along with the bull.
      • BUT, if payment is demanded of him instead, he can redeem his life by paying it. It says by paying “whatever is demanded”, so there is no set limit, in this case.
      • Verse 31 says that “[t]his law also applies if the bull gores a son or daughter”—which means, I guess, that other laws treat children different from adults.
      • If the bull gores a slave, however, there is a set price to pay: 12 ounces of silver.
Again, in this part we see slaves being treated differently from everyone else.


  • If a man opens up some kind of pit—either by creating it, or by uncovering a pre-existing pit—and someone else’s animal falls into the pit and dies, the man is to to pay the animal’s owner for the animal. However, when he does, the dead animal will be his.
  • If a bull gores another bull to death, belonging to someone else, the two owners are to sell the live bull, and split the proceeds evently, and also to split the dead animal evenly.
    • Again, there is an exception: If the guilty bull had a history of goring, and the owner didn’t do anything about it, then he is to pay the entire cost of the dead bull, and the dead bull will be his.
I find these last laws interesting because they give a peak into the lives of people who depended on their livestock for their living.

General Thoughts

In Exodus 20, the LORD gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments, which we’re all familiar with—or at least know of—but we have to remember that God wasn’t just giving the Israelites some moral guidelines; He was turning them into a new nation, and giving them their national set of laws. In Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers, God will hand down a lot of laws—613, altogether, according to a note in my Bible at home—but these laws cover moral rules (like the 10 Commandments), religious laws (for the Jewish “religion”, being instituted), and civic laws, for the Jewish nation. So, really, 613 isn’t all that many rules for a nation, if you think about it.

Some of these laws don’t make sense, to me. In fact, some even seem abhorrent, because they’re so outside of my normal context; in some cases, I can see how the laws are very fair to people like servants and slaves, where other societies at the time would not have been, and in other cases, it really doesn’t seem like the case at all. Just the fact that slaves/servants are treated differently in the law, or don’t have as many rights, seems “wrong”, to me. (“Wrong” isn’t the right word, of course; I don’t believe that any of God’s laws would be wrong. But that word had the right emotional impact, so I used it.) However, I don’t live in a society that has slaves, so I don’t even have the right context for judging this.

Many Christians have a concept that God has gradually brought us to understanding about some things. (For example, in the Old Testament times, it wasn’t specifically considered wrong for a man to have multiple wives, whereas by New Testament times, it was.) Which is fine, to a point, but even if that is true, God wouldn’t have handed down a law to the Israelites which would make them do something immoral. Again, using the polygamy example, if we assume for the sake of argument that polygamy is immoral, but for whatever reason God didn’t explicitly make a law against it, because He wanted to gradually reveal that through the course of history, He still might give a law saying “if you are going to have multiple wives, then this is how you have to treat the situation”. He would not, however, say something like “if such and such happens, you must marry more than one woman”—if polygamy is wrong, then God would not make a law which makes you do it.

All this to say this: If I’m reading one of the laws, and don’t understand it, usually my first response is to try and understand the situation at the time. I may not understand a particular law about slaves, but first I have to put myself in the mindset of a society that has slaves, and then put myself in the servant’s place. That’s how I try and approach these laws, but that’s not to say that I always come away with an understanding of why God instituted the law.

Why is this important? Well, it’s very true that the laws laid out in this chapter don’t apply to me, personally. However, these laws give a view into what God values. The “eye for an eye” concept was very progressive, for those times, and made sure that the punishments in His laws fitted the crimes. I may not understand some of the laws, but part of the reason is my own ignorance of the times, and part of the reason is that we have a God who is unfathomable. In fact, it’s fairly likely that I think I understand some of the laws, and am wrong!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Exodus 20

Exodus 20: The 10 Commandments

Synopsis

In this chapter, God presents the 10 Commandments to the Israelites. (I don’t know if I have to keep capitalizing “the 10 Commandments” like that, but I will.)

In the last chapter, God had the Israelites prepare to meet Him. Moses consecrated them, they washed their clothes and abstained from sexual relations, and prepared for the third day, when God would speak to them. When God does speak, He first reminds them about who He is: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (verse 2). He then gives them a set of rules by which to live:
  1. He is to be their only God—they are not to have or worship any other gods
  2. They are not to create any idols (to God or any other god). In fact, He even gives His reasoning, for this commandment: “…for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments” (verses 5b–6).
  3. They are not to “misuse” the name of the LORD.
  4. They are not to do any work on the Sabbath. Actually, the wording that God uses is “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” (verse 8–10). Again, God gives a reason for this commandment: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (verse 11).
  5. They were to honour their fathers and mothers
  6. They were not to commit murder
  7. They were not to commit adultery
  8. They were not to steal
  9. They were not to lie—to “give false testimony against [their] neighbor” (verse 16).
  10. They were not to covet. (If you’re not familiar with it—although I’m sure it’s very common—the word “covet” means to long for, or crave, something that doesn’t belong to you. According to wordnet.princeton.edu, “especially the property of another person”.)
After the LORD has handed down the 10 Commandments, the people just can’t take it anymore:

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

(verses 18–21)


This should have been enough for the Israelites to be sufficiently awed about the God who had spoken to them, but God gives one last reminder to Moses: “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold’” (verse 22–23).

Finally, God instructs Moses to build an altar of earth, where they are to sacrifice burnt offerings. He also gives Moses instructions, for the future, for altars made of stone: they are only to use “undressed” stones, because if they use a tool on it, they will defile it.

Thoughts

The thing that worries me, when I write about the 10 Commandments, is that a lot of people think that this is what Christianity is all about. “How do you go to heaven? Well, you follow the 10 Commandments!” But that’s not what Christianity is about at all; you get to go to heaven when you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and accept the gift of grace; then Christ will take the punishment you deserve, for all of the times that you didn’t follow the 10 Commandments. And, actually, the part about going to heaven isn’t the good part, the part about having a relationship with God is the good part; going to heaven is just a side issue (which helps with the relationship, because you’ll be there with Him).

That doesn’t mean that the 10 Commandments are irrelevant, of course. Reading God’s law—including these commandments—is one of the best ways to get to know His character. If I, as a Christian, am to strive to be like Him, then I need to know what He is like. The first four commandments teach me about who God is—not just that He is Holy, but also the fact that there is no other god—and the rest of the commandments show me some of the things He values. As I’ve mentioned, probably over and over, and will continue to mention, we don’t get to God by obeying His commands; His Son did all of the work for us, to get us into our relationship with Him. But if any person is truly saved, then that person will want to obey God, and try to be like Him. (We will never actually be like him, even when we die and go to heaven as sinlessly perfect creatures, but that’s what we strive for.) If you don’t want to be like Him, it means that you’re not saved.

When the 3rd commandment talks about “misusing the name of the LORD”, we tend to think of using His name in vain—like if someone hits their hand with a hammer, and shouts out His name. But this verse covers more than just that; if someone does something sinful, or teaches something false, and claims to be doing it in the name of the LORD, that is also misusing His name, and is a very serious offense, because it misrepresents who He is, and what He stands for. In a figurative sense, you could argue that any time a Christian doesn’t live up to the faith, s/he is misusing His name, because they’re calling themselves “Christians”, but not living in a way that properly represents Christ.

The 4th commandment is about more than just taking a day off, and resting. God calls it a “Sabbath to the LORD” (emphasis added) in verse 10. This wasn’t about God forcing them to take a well-deserved day off, that they otherwise wouldn’t have taken, it was about taking a day out of every week and devoting it to the LORD. As I understand it, the rest isn’t the important part; it’s just that you need to stop your work in order to properly devote your attentions to Him.

You may also notice that the 10 Commandments can be broken down into two categories: first, rules that concern the Israelites’ behaviour toward God, and then rules that concern their behaviour toward each other. I always relate this to the time that one of the Jewish teachers of the law asked Jesus about the most important commandment:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.

(Mark 12:28–34)


Incidentally, while we’re on the topic, you’ll also notice that neither of the commandments that Jesus quoted were from the 10 Commandments listed in this chapter! The first is Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”), and the second is from Leviticus 19:18 (“Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”)

Finally, although I have some theories, I’m not really sure why the Israelites were not to use tools on altars they built out of stone. Later on, when they build the temple, God will give instructions on how to build the altar—we’ll see the first example of this in Exodus 27:1–8, when God gives instructions on creating the altar for the tabernacle, and I believe He has more instructions later on, when they build the temple.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Exodus 19

Exodus 19: Moses consecrates the people, to prepare to meet with the LORD

Synopsis

The Israelites have now been out of Egypt for three months—to the day (verse 1)—and are arriving at Mount Sinai. (The mountain, not the hospital.) God is now going to meet with His people, and, among other things, give them the 10 Commandments. (Everyone knows of the 10 Commandments, but many people, when they try and recite them, realize that they don’t actually know what the commandments are. If you’re one of those people, you’ll get a refresher course in the next chapter.)

But first, He needs to remind His people of His Holiness. It seems, to me anyway, that the Israelites in the Old Testament still sometimes view God as just another one of “the gods”; He often reminds them that He is more than just “one of the gods”, He is the only true God.

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (verses 3–6)

So Moses tells the people, and they respond “We will do everything the LORD has said” (verse 8). Moses brings this answer back to the LORD, who tells Moses that He is going to speak to Moses from a “dense cloud”. He wants the people to hear Him speaking to Moses, so that they will “always put their trust in [him]” (verse 9). Once the people have seen the LORD speaking directly to Moses, they will realize that he has a special relationship to God, and should be followed.

So, in order to prepare the people, Moses is to consecrate them, and God will meet with them on the third day. When God comes, the mountain is covered in smoke, because the LORD has descended on it in fire, and there is thunder and lightening. Not surprisingly, everyone in the camp is trembling. (This is all described in verses 16–19.)

God has instructed Moses that he is to cordon off the mountain, so that nobody can approach it. If anyone does, s/he is to be put to death. What’s more, the person is to be put to death in such a way that the people performing the execution are not to touch the person—they should use arrows or stones, to kill the person. (Otherwise, I’m assuming, anyone who touches the person should also be executed.) So on the third day, when God comes down to the mountain, the first thing He does is remind Moses about these rules, and Moses confirms that this rule has been laid down. So God instructs Moses to bring Aaron up with him, but nobody else is to approach the mountain, or God will “break out” against them (verse 22).

Thoughts

Once again, we’re coming across the word “consecrate” (for which I copied and pasted a definition, in a previous post). In verse 10 the LORD tells Moses to consecrate the people, and in verse 14 it says that “he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes”. What I’m curious about, however, is how Moses consecrated them. What actions did he take? Did he anoint them with oil, or wash them, or wave his staff over them, or pray over them, or something else? It’s not just the washing of the clothes; the passage makes it clear that the people washing their clothes was in addition to the consecration; “he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes” (emphasis added).

To add to the confusion, in my mind, verse 15 also tells us that the people were to “abstain from sexual relations”, in preparation for the event. I’ve often wondered about this; why would abstaining from sexual relations help to prepare the people to meet with God? We’ll see this numerous times in the Old Testament: when the Israelite soldiers are preparing for battle, one of the things they’re to do is abstain from sexual relations; when God lays down the various rules, regulations, and laws for the Israelite people, there are many laws regarding sexual relations (or byproducts of sexual relations) making people “unclean”. On the other hand, the Bible definitely does not indicate that sexual relations are inherently bad; on the contrary, sexual relations between husbands and wives is not only commanded, it’s seen as a good thing. For example, Song of Solomon (also called Song of Songs, in some translations, I think) is an entire book of the Old Testament devoted to the beauty of physical love between a husband and wife (see below). And in 1 Corinthians 7:4–5, Paul says:

The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

There are those who would try and claim that sex is inherently evil/sinful, but in order to do so, you have to ignore various parts of the Bible which contradict that. There are also those who would go the other way, and say that anything goes, and you when it comes to sex, you can do what you want, with whoever you want, but again, you have to ignore other parts of the Bible which contradict that. The Bible doesn’t take either of those views; sex is to be between husbands and wives only, but between husbands and wives, sex is something to be treasured and enjoyed. But it still seems strange, to me, that it is often something that the Israelites are to abstain from, when they are striving for holiness. If sex—between a husband and wife—is a good thing, as I’m arguing, then why would abstaining from it help prepare the Israelites to meet with God? The odd thing is, it sort of makes sense to me, on an intuitive level, but on a cognitive level, when I try to reason it out, it stops making sense.

Oh well. We’ll see it again, in future books, so I’ll have ample opportunities to explore this topic again, in the future.

Regarding Song of Solomon: Just to pay lip service to people who don’t hold my viewpoint on the book… Some regard this book to be entirely allegorical, describing the relationship between God and His people, and rejecting the idea that the book describes physical love between humans. I think there is validity to the allegorical viewpoint, considering that the church is described as the “bride of Christ” in the New Testament. However, the language of the book seems to me to indicate that this is, if anything, a secondary aspect. The book is primarily concerned with the physical act(s) of love, between husbands and wives. From there, in a general way, it could be expanded to show that the relationship between a husband and a wife is a representation of the relationship between Christ and the church, but I think you’d really be stretching logic to the breaking point, when you start trying to apply some of the verses in this allegorical way.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Exodus 18

Exodus 18: Moses’ father-in-law gives him some advice

Synopsis

In this chapter Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit him. He brings with him Moses’ wife and sons, and they meet Moses in the desert, where the Israelites are camping. (I’m not 100% sure, but based on what I’m reading in verses 1–6, I think that Moses had sent his wife and sons to live with Jethro, when he returned to Egypt. And now that he has left Egypt, they are reuniting.)

After Moses and Jethro have greeted each other, Moses tells Jethro about all that the LORD has done for the Israelites, and when Jethro hears it, he is “delighted” (verse 9).

He said, “Praise be to the LORD, who rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians and of Pharaoh, and who rescued the people from the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the LORD is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.” Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God. (verses 10–12)

The next day, Jethro accompanies Moses “to work” (not a quote), and watches Moses serving as judge for the people. Any of the people who have problems come to Moses, and he seeks God’s will about it. When Jethro sees this, he suggests that Moses appoint others who can help in the task of judging; they can handle the easier disputes, and bring the more difficult ones to Moses. This way, Moses doesn’t have to wear himself out solving every single problem that every single person in Israel has.

So this is what Moses does. After that, Jethro heads back to his own country. (I assume that Moses’ wife and children stay with Moses.)

Thoughts

I don’t have much to say about this, except that Jethro had some good advice for Moses. Advice that many of us could/should take; people often have trouble delegating. The direct application of this passage would be for church ministry leaders: just because you’re the “leader”, doesn’t mean you have to do all of the work. You should be letting other leaders, and members of your ministry, help in the work. You may have special gifts, that enable you to carry out your ministry, but you can also use those gifts wisely to find people to help you with it.

Just something to think about.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Exodus 17

Exodus 17: Water from a rock; the Amelekites defeated

Synopsis

The Israelites are still wandering around the desert. In fact, you should get used to that, because they will be for the remainder of the book of Exodus.

They are travelling out of the Desert of Sin—I honestly don’t know why it’s named the “Desert of Sin”—and eventually get to a placed called Rephidim, where there is no water. So the people trust in the LORD, knowing that He will provide for them, as He has been all along. Giving them manna from heaven and all of that.

Ha! No, just kidding, of course. They start quarreling with Moses, and demand that he give them water to drink. Moses’ response seems, to me, to be quite understated: “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” (verse 2) I can almost hear the weariness in Moses’ voice, as he says this.

Moses then cries out to God—“What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (verse 4)—and God instructs him to bring the elders with him, and go and strike a particular rock with his staff, which will then produce water. He does, and it does. Moses then gives the place two names: “Massah”, which means “testing”, and “Meribah”, which means “quarreling”, because the people had tested and quarreled with the LORD.

While the Israelites are still camped at Rephidim—now named Massah or Meribah—they are attached by the Amelekites. So Moses sends Joshua to command the Israelites in battle against the Amelekites. As Joshua and the Israelites are fighting the Amelekites, Moses, Aaron, and Hur go up to the top of a hill, overlooking the battle, and Moses holds up his hands; as long as his hands are held up, the Israelies win the battle, but whenever his hands drop, the Amelekites start to win. Eventually, Moses’ hands get tired, and so Aaron and Hur find a stone for him to sit on, and stand on either side holding his hands up for him.

When the battle is over, and the Israelites have defeated the Amelekites, God tells Moses to write down what has happened, “as something to be remembered” (verse 14). (Something to be remembered? You’re telling me. It’s a pretty strange story, to my ears!) God specifically tells Moses to make sure that Joshua hears about it, because He is going to “completely blot out the memory of Amelek from under heaven” (verse 14).

Thoughts

When I started this post, I was wondering if the Desert of Sin was so named because of the Israelites’ sin there, but according to a Wikipedia article, it may be named after a god named Sin. Of course, since this came from Wikipedia, you should take it with a grain of salt.

Remember Joshua’s name, because you’ll be seeing more of him. In fact—spoiler alert!—there will be an upcoming book named after him.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Exodus 16

Exodus 16: Manna and Quail

Synopsis

For the last couple of posts, I’ve been mentioning judgement. Specifically, the fact that we should learn from the actions of the Israelites in the Old Testament, without falling into judgement. But, as this chapter illustrates, it can be very hard, sometimes…

To illustrate this, I give you a point-by-point listing of what happens in chapter 16:
  • The Israelites grumble, because they don’t have enough food. “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (verse 3). First of all, I don’t think this is actually true—I think they’re painting the picture of what life was like in Egypt a bit too rosily. But second of all, they’re grumbling against the LORD, which probably isn’t a good idea.
  • The LORD tells Moses—who passes the message on to the rest of the Israelites—that He will send food for the Israelites. He will, in fact, send quail for them to eat, and then rain bread down from heaven for them.
  • As promised, that night the camp is covered in quail, and the Israelites eat meat.
  • The next morning, there is a layer of dew around the camp, and when the dew lifts, bread appeared in its place.
  • The Israelites are commanded to gather it up; about 2 quarts per person.
  • The Israelites do as they’re told; some people gather a lot of bread, some a little, but when they actually measure it, it turns out that they each end up with about 2 quarts of bread.
  • The Israelites are commanded to eat it all that day; they’re not to keep any of it until the next morning.
  • Some people don’t listen; they try to keep some bread for the next day, but when they wake up the next morning, the bread is full of maggots and begins to smell. Moses gets angry with them for not obeying.
  • They are commanded to gather twice as much bread the sixth day, because the seventh day will be a day of rest—a “holy Sabbath” (verse 23)—and they are not to gather any bread on the seventh day.
  • Again, some of the people don’t listen, and they go out on the seventh day to try and gather bread, only to find that there is none. And in verses 28–29, it says “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? Bear in mind that the LORD has given you the Sabbath; that is why on the sixth day he gives you bread for two days. Everyone is to stay where he is on the seventh day; no one is to go out.’”
The Israelites name the bread “manna”, which means “what is it?”, because that was their reaction when they first saw it. So if you didn’t already know, this is where the term “manna from heaven” comes from.

Thoughts

In my mind, this chapter is basically about faith. The people grumble against God, because they don’t have faith He’ll provide food; when He does, they try and save their food longer than they’re supposed to, because they don’t have faith that there will be more the next day; they aren’t able to keep the Sabbath for the same reason that people throughout history haven’t been able to take a day off: “if I don’t work, my family won’t be fed!”

Well, okay, maybe that last one’s a bit of a stretch. Maybe it’s not faith that causes them problems for obeying God in regards to the Sabbath.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Exodus 15

Exodus 15: the song of Moses and Miriam; the waters of Marah and Elim

Synopsis

In the last section, I theorized—tongue planted firmly in cheek—that the rest of Israelite history would be a bed of roses. That’s not quite what happened.

This chapter starts out pretty good. Verses 1–18 are a song, sung by Moses and the people, which praises God for saving them from the Egyptians, and then verses 19–21 are another song, sung by Miriam (Aaron’s sister—which would either make her Moses’ sister, or his half-sister) and all of the women sing another song to the LORD.

The end of the chapter, however, gives a bit of a warning signal, in my mind—a signifier of things to come:

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.) So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

Then Moses cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.

(verses 22–25a)


According to the NIV footnotes, “Marah” means “bitter”.

After this, the LORD brought them to Elim, where there were springs and palm trees.

Thoughts

I don’t know from poetry, so I never really have much to say about the songs and poems in the Bible. Sometimes they touch my heart, and sometimes they don’t—probably depending on my mood, more than the quality of the poems/songs—but I am never able to articulate why. So I don’t have much to say about verses 1–21.

It always used to boggle my mind, when reading the account of the bitter water at Marah, that the Israelites would have the nerve to grumble at God. Let’s recap:
  • God has just sent incredible plagues against the Egyptians, and done it in such a way that there can be no doubt it was done by Him
  • He then proceeded to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, and, somehow, managed to cause the Egyptians to be favourable to the Israelites
  • He then parted the Red Sea, to let them through, and closed it back again upon the Egyptian army
  • And, let’s not forget, He is constantly traveling in front of them, as a pillar of cloud or a pillar of fire
And yet, when they go a few days without water, they still have the nerve to grumble about it. I say this used to boggle my mind, but it doesn’t anymore, because I’m getting better at putting myself in their shoes. First of all, it’s very easy to read the account in Exodus, and see it all as one big story, and condemn the Israelites, but in their defense, three days without water really is a long time! (I’m guessing they probably had a supply of water with them, but after three days it was probably getting close to running out.) And, again, how many times have I suffered from things that were much less serious, and still given in to grumbling?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, the trick, when reading about the Israelites in the Old Testament, is to try and learn from their mistakes, without falling into judgement.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Exodus 13:17–14:31

Exodus 13:17–14:31: The Red Sea

Synopsis

The Israelites have escaped from Egypt, and they are now going to face their first test as a nation. Unfortunately, right at the beginning of this passage we see warning signs that the Hebrews are not fully ready to trust God:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. (verses 13:17–18a)

The part that gives the warning signs is that God is thinking that the Israelites might rather go back and be slaves than go to war. (And the reason this is bad is that it means they don’t trust God to help them win a war.) However, regardless of how much faith they had that God would save them in a battle, they never had any problems believing that He exists:

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people. (verses 13:21–22)

When you’ve got a big pillar of cloud guiding your way—or a pillar of fire, when you’re travelling at night—it’s not hard to believe that God exists.

In previous chapters, we’ve seen that the reason God orchestrated the events in Egypt the way that He did was because He wanted to demonstrate to the Israelites—and to the Egyptians, and other nations—aspects of His character. He’s not done doing that yet. He leads the Israelites to a particular location, in such a way that the Pharaoh will think they’re wandering aimlessly around the desert—once God has hardened his heart (verse 14:4)—and, when he sees this, will decide to go after them. And this is what happens.

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him. He took six hundred of the best chariots, along with all the other chariots of Egypt, with officers over all of them. The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, so that he pursued the Israelites, who were marching out boldly. The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon. (verses 14:5–9)

Unfortunately—I’m probably going to use the word “unfortunately” quite a bit, for the rest of the Old Testament—the Israelites are not ready for this test:

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (verses 14:10–12)

They’re not just scared, they’re terrified. (And they’re also putting their powers of sarcasm to good use.) But God and Moses are having none of it:

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

(verses 14:13–19)

And now comes the parting of the Red Sea. What you might not realize, if you’ve only seen dramatizations of the event, and haven’t actually read it, is that the parting of the Red Sea doesn’t happen instantaneously. Moses stretches out his hand over the sea—just like in the movies—but it actually takes all night to happen. While the sea is receding, the pillar of fire (God) stands between the Israelites and the Egyptians. The next day, the Israelites go through the sea, on dry ground, and then the Pharaoh’s army follows. However, they’re partway through—meaning that the entire army was on the dry land where the sea used to be—when God causes the wheels of their chariots to come off, so they can’t drive. But the Egyptians know what’s happening; in verse 14:25 they say “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”

They come to this realization too late, though. God has Moses stretch his hand out over the sea, again, and it closes in on the Egyptians, who perish.

Thoughts

I’m probably being a bit hard on the Israelites. The reason they wouldn’t trust God to help them win a battle is because they haven’t seen Him do so, to date. They’ve seen Him do a lot of other wonderful things, so they should probably be able to figure out that He’d be able to help them with anything else, but the point is that we can’t judge the Israelites too harshly. The truth is, any modern-day Christian abandons God on a regular basis, when faced with problems that are far less daunting. The trick is to learn from the mistakes of the Israelites in the Old Testament, without judging them.

So the Israelites are now out of Egypt, and their problems are over. I’m sure the rest of the Old Testament will probably consist of a series of genealogies, and probably some poems.

Right? Right?!?