Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Exodus 1-4

Exodus, chapter one, continues the story of the Hebrews in Egypt, right from where Genesis left off. The descendants of Jacob/Israel are prospering in Egypt. Eventually, Joseph and his brothers and that whole generation dies, "but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them." The Pharoah also died, and a king came to power in Egypt who didn't know Joseph, didn't remember what he had done to save Egypt, and saw the Israelites as a threat to the Egyptians. So he had slave masters put over the Hebrews, and they were used for forced labor. "But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly."

Still seeing a threat, the king of Egypt, called the Hebrew midwives (Shiphrah and Puah) and told them that if a boy was being delivered, they were to kill it, and only let the girls live. The midwives "feared God" and did not do what the king instructed. When he asked them why, they told him that the Hebrew women were different than Egyptian women and had their babies before the midwives arrived. And God propered them and gave them families because of what they had done. The Pharoah, though, ordered all of his people that male Hebrew babies should be thrown in to the Nile.

In chapter two, a Levite woman gives birth to a son. She hid him, but when he reached three months, she could hide him no longer. She put him in a basket coated with tar and pitch and put it into the reeds along the bank of the Nile, with his sister watching at a distance to see what would happen to him. The basket was found by Pharoah's daughter, who had gone to the river to bathe, and she felt sorry for him. His sister asked Pharoah's daughter if she would like to fetch one of the Hebrew women to nurse him, and when she said yes, the boy's sister fetched his mother. Pharoah's daughter paid the woman to nurse the baby, and when he was older, she got him back and named him Moses.

When Moses was grown, he saw an Egyptian guard abusing a Hebrew. Looking about him, he killed the guard and buried him in the sand. The next day, seeing two Hebrews fighting, he asked one "why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?" The man asked, in return, if he were going to kill him like he did the Egyptian. Moses feared for his life, and fled to Midian before Pharoah could kill him.

In Midian, he aided the seven daughters of a priest of Midian in drawing water from a well for their father's flock. When he heard what Moses has done, he invited him in to his home. Moses stayed and took the man's daughter Zipporah as a wife, with whom he had a son, Gershom. During his time in Midian, Pharoah died but the slavery of the Israelites continued. God heard their groaning and remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

In chapter three, Moses is tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro on the far side of the desert when he sees a bush burning without being consumed on Horeb ("the mountain of God"). As he approached, God spoke to him from within the bush. God told him to remove his sandals and not to come any closer, as it was holy ground. He then told Moses that he was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Moses hid his face. God told him that he had seen "the misery of my people in Egypt" and "heard them crying out because of their slave drivers." Moses wanted to know who he should say had sent him, and GOD replied, "I AM THAT I AM." So he was sending Moses to Pharoah to bring the the people of Israel out of Egypt. Moses resisted, offering excuses and reasons, to all of which God said "I will be with you."

In chapter four God offers Moses signs. First, he has him throw his staff to the ground, and turns it in to a serpent. He then told Moses to put his hand inside his cloak. When he withdrew it, it was white and leprous. He repeated the process and saw it back to normal. Moses continued to resist, saying that "I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." When Moses asked God to send someone else, "the LORD's anger burned against Moses." Despite that, he acquiesced and chose Moses' brother Aaron to assist him.

Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and told him that we was going to go back to Egypt to see whether any of his people were still alive. Jethro told him to go and wished him well. Moses took his wife and sons and put them on a donkey and traveled to Egypt.

On the way, at an inn, the Lord "met him and sought to kill him." But Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off her son's foreskin and tossed it at Moses' feet, saying, "surely, a bloody husband art thou to me." Then he let them go.

The LORD then went to Aaron and commanded him to meet Moses in the desert. So he went and met Moses on Mt. Sinai in Horeb, the "mountain of God" where Moses had earlier seen the burning bush. Moses told Aaron all that the Lord had said, and what their mission was. And they went and gathered together all of the elders of Israel. Aaron spoke and showed them all the signs that GOD had said, and the people believe, and worshipped GOD.

Thoughts, questions, issues

  • Exodus is the second book in the Pentateuch, the five books of Moses, the Torah. It follows the stories of the patriarchs from Genesis, which ended with Israel in Egypt. When Exodus opens, Israel is not longer a welcome visitor, but a captive people. Exodus is the story of how they are delivered from bondage in Egypt.
  • I'm not sure what to make of the midwives. On the one hand, the king is concerned that the Israelis outnumber the Egyptians. On the other, there are two midwives for the Israelis, and they are named in the text. Are they meant to represent a large number of midwives? What is the significance, if any, of the names?
  • In chapter 2, the man with the daughters is called Reuel. In chapter 3, the same man, unless I'm badly mis-reading something, is called Jethro.
  • When GOD called Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he went up to the mountain, bound his son, and raised the blade before God stopped him. When GOD called Moses to lead the Israelis out of Egypt, Moses begged him to find someone else. And even after seeing three miraculous signs, he still wants more.
  • God names himself "I AM THAT I AM." One of the issues in philosophical debates is whether the universe requires a creator, a first cause, an uncaused cause. Logically, there is not effect without a cause, and everything we see is an effect. What is the cause?

    "I AM THAT I AM" (or "I AM WHO I AM" [NIV]) can certainly be read as a claim to being that uncaused cause.
  • One thing that is unclear in this story is how, or how well, Moses and Aaron knew one another. We don't know at what age Moses went to live in the palace, whether Aaron was older or younger, how it was that Aaron wasn't killed during the Pharoah's purging of male Hebrew babies or whether there was any interaction between Moses living in Pharoah's house and Aaron living (presumably) in Hebrew slave quarters.
  • I like the imagery of God "stretch[ing] out my hand over Egypt."
  • Ex 4:24-26, the story of the meeting and conflict at the inn, and the circumcision of Moses' son(s), is one of those that I really have no context for. I don't understand who "the LORD" is, in this context, because surely, if the LORD had tried to kill Moses, well, Moses would have been killed. Nor is there any reason which strikes me as plausible for GOD to attempt to kill Moses who was on a mission which GOD had just given him. I can't see any reason that Zipporah would react by cutting of her son's foreskin. I don't understand why she calls him a "bloody husband" (though I can't help but wonder if that's the etymology of that particular piece of Bristish slang.) In short, it's a two-verse story that I find myself completely unequipped to deal with, which is probably why I quickly forgot it the last time I read the book.

Proverbs 16:1-16

So many of the lessons in the book of Proverbs use, at least figuratively, the idea of wealth, riches, gold and silver and jewels, as things that people want. And as rewards for good behavior. 16:16 is a verse in which that idea is used to make wisdom itself even more desirable.
How much better is it to get wisdom than gold; and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!

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