Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Interview with with Audrey Assad: Deconverting from Certainty

In this episode, Pete & Jared speak with recording artist Audrey Assad about her music, her theology, and the shift from her conservative fundamentalist roots to Catholicism.

Read the transcript

Pete Enns: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the Internet. Serious talk about the Sacred Book. I’m Pete Enns…

Jared Byas: [00:00:08] …and I’m Jared Byas. Welcome everyone to this episode of the Bible for Normal People. Today we’re going to be talking about deconverting from certainty. We’re talking with Audrey Assad. Her new album, Evergreen, just came out this past February and has some pretty significant themes to it.

Pete Enns: [00:00:26] Yeah, I mean, this is her processing of her own struggles with her faith in music. And I’m not going to go into detail. We’re going to let Audrey tell this story because she tells it so well about this process of moving from certainty to just a space of mystery and how she got there and how it actually probably saved her faith. I don’t think that’s an understatement. So yeah, I mean, Audrey is just a wonderful recording artist and just deep and raw. And I was introduced to her–I mentioned this at the end of the podcast–my daughter a few years ago sent me a link to one of her songs, “I shall not want,” which any Audrey Assad fan knows immediately the importance of that song. And it was just so beautiful and so, like I said, raw and authentic. And it was something I needed to hear and the power of music and the power of thoughtful lyrics and from somebody whose obviously felt things as well. And I just felt an immediate connection with Audrey and her music and so I started downloading everything and listened to stuff a lot from her. And it’s just really–it’s fun to have an artist, Jared, on the podcast because, you know, they’re more normal than I am and you are.

Jared Byas: [00:01:39] That may be the first time, I think, that you’ve put artist and normal in the same…

Pete Enns: [00:01:43] Well, yea because, you know, people they feel things and they sort of express them and like me–I’m just German, I don’t have feelings. I have arguments. Dagnabit.

Jared Byas: [00:01:53] Excellent. Alright. Well, let’s get into our conversation with Audrey.

Audrey Assad: [00:01:57] I see myself as someone who is building rooms for people to sit in different spots on their journey and every time I go through something, I build a room around it and then I walk forward and I build another one and people who come after me can use those space. People are going through this stuff, not just me. I think me being willing to speak up about my own journey here has been a real comfort and help to them to not feel alone in their communities. And I keep speaking because I believe it to be valuable.

Pete Enns: [00:02:26] Audrey Assad welcome to the Bible for Normal People podcast. Great to have you.

Audrey Assad: [00:02:31] Thank you for having me. It’s good to be here.

Pete Enns: [00:02:33] Awesome. So where are you talking to us from?

Audrey Assad: [00:02:35] I’m at my home in Nashville, Tennessee in the office.

Pete Enns: [00:02:40] Really? I was just in Nashville.

Audrey Assad: [00:02:42] Oh yea?

Pete Enns: [00:02:42] I would have dropped in unexpectedly had I known that you lived in Nashville. But yeah, that’s…

Audrey Assad: [00:02:46] You don’t have my address, Peter.

Pete Enns: [00:02:49] Oh, I can find it probably.

Audrey Assad: [00:02:50] That’s actually very true.

Pete Enns: [00:02:52] Oh I know people.

Jared Byas: [00:02:54] And that’s just a little creepy.

Audrey Assad: [00:02:55] I know. No, I am really paranoid about people being able to find my address on the Internet. But it’s everywhere. There’s like no way to erase it, so it’s just…

Pete Enns: [00:03:01] I’m hoping people show up, but nobody does. I’m just lonely. Nobody cares about me at all. So, anyway…

Jared Byas: [00:03:08] Alright, get on with the hard questions.

Pete Enns: [00:03:10] I know. Hey, I have been listening to music now for a couple of years and I really love it. And my daughter turned me on to some of your stuff a couple of years ago that was just so wonderful. And the more I sort of looked into your own history, I just found it to be very interesting. Your own journey of faith. That sounds trite, but it’s really true. And maybe just for the benefit of our listeners, tell us your story of your faith journeys and maybe some of your struggles and we’ll just take it from there. Because I think it’s a great story.

Audrey Assad: [00:03:40] Well. So, I’m from New Jersey. Not too far from where you teach. I actually have visited–or have taught–I don’t know if you still teach there–at Eastern. But I have visited that campus and thought about going there and then end up there. So, we missed each other in that way. But I grew up in the Northeast and my mom is from the south. My dad is from Syria. He is a refugee from Syria that came here in the 70s. So I grew up in a multicultural home in a very diverse area, which I love. And just–I’m so thankful that everyone hates Jersey because it means that there’s more of it for me. But, I love it. So that’s where I grew up. And I was raised in a Christian home. We were members of a Plymouth Brethren Church, which is something that a lot of people may not be familiar with. But I like to say I’m more famous because our founder John Nelson Darby was sort of the first person to sort of proliferate the idea of a preacher relational rapture and it was very much at the center, in some ways, of how we worshipped and studied the Bible. You know, we did lots of Bible study of revelation. It was a very Bible study culture. So I grew up really digging into the Bible although we had a sort of very specific and limited hermeneutic, I guess I would say. So it was kind of myopic but at the same time, I kind of have grown thankful over the years that I was sort of taught to value it so much. So that was kind of my context. We had a really kind of interesting culture. It’s a very sort of–it’s a spectrum of culture. So there’s like more a progressive and maybe more like your typical traditional Bible Church. But where I grew up was on the sort of far right of that spectrum, where women couldn’t pray out loud in front of males who are over the age of reason. You couldn’t speak or read a scripture or ask a question at church. You had to go home and ask your dad, you know, if you had a question. And so there was a really strong sort of gender role–there was strongly enforced gender roles and that manifested various ways in my own life obviously and as a singer and songwriter I didn’t really start doing that until I was 19 years old because I didn’t have any examples of women who did that sort of thing. I compare it to a Quaker background for people who want to kind of get an idea of what it felt and sounded like. You know, our church was wood walls and floors, wooden chairs, no curtains, no carpets, no images. Extremely ascetic and bare. And we were sort of very much people of the Word. Like it was all head thing. There was no physical sacramentally like maybe the liturgical churches have. And no spiritual gifts like the Pentecostal and the charismatic churches have because we were–we didn’t believe in that. So, it’s just very somber and quiet.

Pete Enns: [00:06:29] Sort of harsh even.

Audrey Assad: [00:06:31] Yeah, yeah. I would say so. But at the same time, there’s something really special about being in a room with a bunch of people singing without any instruments  at full voice because we were all sort of taught how to do that. We were just around it our whole lives. So, we read – -we all read music and could follow along and sing all the parts and there’s something really kind of cool about it, but also I would say very countercultural and different. So that was kind of my context as a kid. When I turned 18, we moved to Florida. My dad just kind of decided he wanted to relocate and I was like–free rent. I’m going with him. So… I moved to Florida with him and lived there for six years and while I was there, I kind of started to do that thing you do at that age where you finally start asking questions about things. So I went to a Plymouth Brethren church for about a year and a half while I was there, but it was an hour away. And I was there four times a week. And I put a lot of miles on my car and I finally decided, you know what, I don’t know if I can do this anymore. I’m going to try out some other places which was, you know, just crazy notion. But–because we were very much, you know, you married Plymouth Brethren. You didn’t work with people outside Plymouth Brethren. That was kind of how I grew up. But I started going to a little Baptist church when I was 19. And that was where I learned to lead worship. That’s where I first kind of started listening to worship music, because I didn’t listen to that growing up. And then from there it’s like a lot of–I feel I’ve got to say yada yada yada a lot because there’s a lot of moving around, but I–I went to a Presbyterian church from there for about a year and a half. And while I was at a Presbyterian church, I met a Catholic who was, like, very different than the New Jersey Catholics I had happened to know. He was very devout and intelligent. And I don’t–not that they weren’t intelligent, but he was articulate about what he believed and why. And we had lots of crazy conversations about it. And I started to get really interested because I think I was finally getting to a place when I was about 20/21-years-old where I was asking myself: why am I at church? What am I here for? And I know it sounds like a silly question, but it actually didn’t feel silly to me at all. I sort of started to think: I could like download a sermon on podcasts and I could go hang out with people and have “fellowship” on a Friday night of Bible study. And, like, all of this stuff. What am I here for? I don’t understand what this is. And I started to be really intrigued by the idea of sacraments. And that was kind of the beginning of my journey into Catholicism, in terms of any like direct way. And so I ended up studying a kind of being catechized by some people I had my life–by this guy that I met and his family and I became a Catholic when I was 24, which was, you know, for a Plymouth Brethren kid, it’s truly anathema. And I got a lot of pushback from people, of course. But I felt really sure that it was imperfect, but the oldest church–or arguably one of the oldest–Orthodox Catholic, kind of that stream of Christianity. I felt like I wanted to be connected to that. And so I took the plunge and I’ve been Catholic for ten years now. And now in the midst of being a Catholic, I’ve gone through a pretty serious deconstruction. And I would say reconstruction at the same time. It was kind of both. It has been both at the same time. And I’m still kind of in that. Meanwhile, sort of still planted in Catholicism. But have really sort of had my old fundamentalist residue like really shaken off and challenged.

Pete Enns: [00:09:55] Audrey, do you feel–can I just ask you a question about that? Do you feel that your Roman Catholic context gives you freedom to sort of live in that space where you’re still sort of working things out? Or do you–I mean, I imagine with the Plymouth Brethren, it would have been–there’s not even a language for that.

Audrey Assad: [00:10:10] No, there would have been no manual for it. You know, I had questions when I was young and I would ask them in Sunday school and really truly received the answer: just don’t ask those questions. It’s that idea. Bad question. The things that, you know, we all ask, like why did God order genocide in the Old Testament? You know, they’re like–just don’t ask that. That was the reaction. So that–there would have been no help given or guidance or understanding once, you know–Catholicism–okay, I’ll say this–on paper, yes. Because Catholicism is an incredibly broad and wide berth of different opinions and different approaches to doctrine and devotion and discipline and all those things. But in America, a lot of Catholics are just like a lot of Protestants, which is to say that they are sort of like American-Christians. And America comes first. And I find that it’s discouragingly prevalent in Catholicism to be that way in this country and I think it’s just part of our country’s unique sickness. I’m already going there. Sorry guys.

Pete Enns: [00:11:08] No, that’s okay. Go wherever you want, Audrey.

Audrey Assad: [00:11:09] But I have also known and clung to the fact that there are people within the Catholic Church’s history, especially even in this country like Thomas Merton who–or Dorothy Day–who really would be called a flaming liberal by everybody in some of the parishes I’ve been to in the south. And you know, I’ve said to myself: well, you can say I don’t belong here but I get to say you’re wrong. I do. I have a place here just like some of these other people have a place. So, on paper, in theory, and in my own head, yeah, I do have more freedom. But I do meet with a lot of resistance to what I’ve been doing and how I’ve been doing it in terms of deconstructing and reconstructing. And I’m just trying to let my–let it roll off my back as much as I can because I truly do believe that this is the mystical way that many of my heroes have traveled before. And I might not be good at it, but I have to do it.

Jared Byas: [00:12:03] Yeah, Audrey, maybe give us a brief biblical history so you can track the spiritual, even denominational, path that you’ve walked. How has your views of the Bible kind of tracked with that from the Plymouth Brethren to the Catholic Church?

Audrey Assad: [00:12:16] Yea, as a Plymouth Brethren kid, we were taught that the Bible is self-interpreting. And so all you need to do to interpret the Bible is understand the Bible’s code. That, you know, these certain people that we happen to be sort of denominationally descended from–these people happened to have the keys to that, so we were in luck. You know? And so we were scholars from a young age of how to study the Bible and it was all very specific to John Nelson Darby, Schofield, these kind of thinkers that really contributed to the evangelical ideas of pretribulational rapture and premillennialism and stuff like that. So that was our lens. And we read the entire scripture through that lens. And so we weren’t taught to consider historical-critical approaches or sort of various ways that there are of studying the Bible. We weren’t taught to consider those because they were not valid. And so my understanding of the Bible really came down to the reality that everything was to be read through this dispensation.

Pete Enns: [00:13:14] Audrey can ask a quick question for clarification? I’m wondering if there might be some listeners who aren’t familiar with the pretribulational…

Audrey Assad: [00:13:24] Yes.

Pete Enns: [00:13:24] It’s been a long time since I’ve said that. You see, it isn’t foremost on my mind.

Jared Byas: [00:13:28] Doesn’t roll off the tongue anymore.

Pete Enns: [00:13:29] That’s when we just say–Pretrib Rapture. What in heaven’s name are you talking about?

Audrey Assad: [00:13:34] Yea. So, there’s lots of schools of thought on what’s going to happen at the end of time. And a lot of Christians, a lot of believers, and Jewish people before them, have been wondering and writing about and studying what might happen at the end of time. The Pretribulational Rapture Theory is this idea that comes from a very literal reading of the Book of Revelation. That Jesus will come back. That all the Christians will be raised from the dead. And all the Christians who are alive on the earth will be caught up in the air. That’s the rapture. And that they will meet him in the air and be in heaven. And then there will be a literal seven-year tribulation on the earth in which the Antichrist will sort of take over and the deceive people. And then Jesus will come back at the final end to vanquish the Antichrist in a giant battle at Armageddon. And then time will be over. And in our school of thought, no one got a chance on earth. So even like after the rapture happened, you didn’t get a chance. So even the Left Behind books were too liberal for us because there are people getting second chances down here. Like what do they think this is? The lottery? This is not how this works. We were just very hard-lined about that being exactly how things were going to go. And that’s really the pretribulational rapture. It’s as simple as like, I hate to say it, is a very literal reading of a few verses in a book of the Bible–the last book of the Bible. And, so, yeah. So that’s kind of what we read the Bible for. And everything served or was served by that. So being Catholic was very challenging to my old ideas even though I had kind of left them behind that it’s just like–it’s so deeply ingrained in you. And then I started to be like–why–the Catholic Church, man, they only preach for like 10 minutes. Like what? What is his deal? You know? The podium or the ambo, as it’s called in the Catholic Church, where you read the Bible from and where you preach from, is over to the side and not in the center. And that’s very intentional. Because the center for Catholics is supposed to be the sacrament of the Eucharist, which was a heretical idea to me–would have been to me growing up. We thought it was idolatrous and I was taught that Catholics were part of the Revelation story. Like you read about the whore of Babylon. And that was the Catholic Church. And the Antichrist could probably be a pope. And so it’s just very very . ..

Pete Enns: [00:15:53] Audrey, please tell us that you had Chick Tracts.

Audrey Assad: [00:15:56] Oh, yes I did.

Pete Enns: [00:15:57] Did they give you nightmares too?

Audrey Assad: [00:15:59] They did. I hated those things, but I thought…

Pete Enns: [00:16:00] You’re from New Jersey, you had Chick Tracts. Why are we not best friends?

Audrey Assad: [00:16:05] I don’t know. Are you from Jersey, too?

Pete Enns: [00:16:06] I don’t even know what’s going on. Anyway. I didn’t mean to interrupt. But I just had to ask. I just had this vision of Chick Tracts, which are another thing I haven’t thought about in about 30 years, so…

Audrey Assad: [00:16:15] I think about them way too much. I still go and visit his website sometimes.

Pete Enns: [00:16:21] Your next album needs to be Chick Tract stuff.

Audrey Assad: [00:16:24] Yea, definitely. Uh… Audrey Assad. One cool chick. Yea, so that’s the pretribulational rapture. So my journey away from that has been just really coming to realize that the Bible is not as simplistic as I have been taught that it was and it was not as easy to interpret as I’ve been taught that it is. But, at the same time, the Bible also, you know–it’s like there’s much more room given to people from different backgrounds and cultures to come to it, not only to know what was meant for this culture of the time but to look at the Bible through their own lens of their culture and their time and sort of create this living cloud of biblical wisdom. And so I just kind of view the Bible as something that came out of the church. That is interpreted by the church over time. And I don’t really think I’m less reverent of the Bible now. I feel like I’m much more reverent of it by not reducing it to a code or a system.

Pete Enns: [00:17:30] And that’s your word–mystery-before. I think, you know, I don’t know. In my mind, those things tie together a little bit. It’s the flexibility and the freedom of not having to be certain and so you get to explore these things a little bit. I want to be clear what you just said. You said something that sounded really interesting about how the Bible sort of comes out of the church, but people have just been interpreting it differently over time.

Audrey Assad: [00:17:59] Yeah, well, you know. I guess I would put it this way. So, the Bible came out of the church, meaning the church assembled a series of books in the–I guess–the 400s. And these letters had been circulating for quite a long time. But there was sort of a council held to sort of set in stone with the canon was. And so the church really took it upon itself to say, like, the Holy Spirit is guiding us. We believe this to be the canon of the scriptures and this it and we’re putting our stamp on it. And I didn’t know that’s how the Bible happened. I don’t know what I thought as a kid. I thought that the Bible fell out of the sky like it is. You know? And I don’t know what I thought, but that’s what I–something like that. And so when I found out that that’s how the Bible was assembled, I thought: oh, like well then who’s responsible for how we think about it? And now like a really staunch Catholic would say only the Catholic interpretation of the Bible is correct. And I never quite got there. I think I see a lot of value in the different approaches that I’ve come across. You know, everything from the Catholic mystical reading of scripture to obviously the more historical readings. And I’ve really appreciated the USCCB, which is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has on their website a Bible online with footnotes and with introductions to each book explaining kind of what type of literature each book is and who may have written it, the different ways you could read it. And so when I opened up the Book of Jonah as a new Catholic on this website and it said this may not have really happened. I was like–excuse me? That was so surprising.

Pete Enns: [00:19:36] They were right. They’re just a bunch of liberals. What am I reading?

Audrey Assad: [00:19:41] I know! So I’ve just grown to appreciate the Bible as the collection that is of different types of writing, wisdom tradition that, yes, contains some historical events for sure, but that isn’t like a textbook or a code of law as much as it is a life story. And that’s kind of how I see it now.

Jared Byas: [00:20:04] We’re sorry to interrupt the podcast, but we want to take just one minute to mention two simple ways to support the work we do with the Bible for Normal People. One–just go to iTunes, rate us, and give us a review, but only if you like us. If you don’t, first I would say reconsider your life choices, but, two, then just ignore this message completely. Two–if you haven’t already, check us out on patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople. There you’ll be able to find ways to join the community, contribute to the discussion, and offer your support at various levels. And last, but not least, we want to give our deepest thanks to some of the members of our producers group. These folks not only email us feedback, they hop on quarterly calls to give us feedback, and have supported us financially. So thanks to Brock Beesley, Nathan Kitchen, Denise Howard, Bob Fabey, Josh Levinson, Chrissy Florence, Kaleb Niedens, Michele Snyder, Shay Bocks, and Greg Belew. We couldn’t do what we do without your help. Now back to the podcast.

Pete Enns: [00:21:06] You know, one thing that’s coming across loud and clear, Audrey, and this isn’t very common actually. You’re a convert to Catholicism from fundamentalism.

Audrey Assad: [00:21:16] Uh huh.

Pete Enns: [00:21:16] And what often happens, at least in my experience, and Jared will agree with this because he has to–he always agrees with everything I say, but–the tendency is when you move from fundamentalism to another, let’s say, system, it’s to sort of bring the fundamentalism with you. And then you see this new thing that you’ve converted to. Now I have the final answer for everything.

Audrey Assad: [00:21:37] Yes. Well, I did do that.

Pete Enns: [00:21:39] For how long? About ten minutes?

Audrey Assad: [00:21:40] No. It was ten years ago I became a Catholic. I want to say it was three years of that, probably. Three/four years.

Pete Enns: [00:21:49] That’s not very long, though. I mean, it’s not.

Audrey Assad: [00:21:50] No, well… right. Well, I think everything was accelerated by the fact that I just had–it was kind of out of nowhere. I just had what I would have called a crisis of faith at a time. Now I would call it a healthy sort of disillusionment and a plunge into the darkness. And I could sort of sense it coming and I didn’t know where it was coming from, but in 2008 I wrote a song that’s actually on my new album that’s coming out in February, called Evergreen. And the song is called Teresa and I wrote it in 2008. It’s a song that kind of takes inspiration from the way that Mother Teresa felt for many many years, which her sort of posthumous journals that were released sort of illuminated that she had gone 20 years without feeling like she heard the voice of God. And I sensed that coming towards me. And in some ways, I had never really heard the voice I was looking for. And I was kind of involved in this fundamentalism thing. I mean, by no choice of my own as a kid, but then later on I sort of clung to it as like, I didn’t hear that voice I wanted to hear. And so this was how I would know, you know, that I was on the path was adhering and committing myself to these really rigid principles and ideas. And that was how I would know that I was in favor. You know, my ideas about God were very bad. And so I kind of thought of him as being in opposition to me almost. And that Jesus kind of was intervening between us. But that if Jesus hadn’t stepped in front of me, God wouldn’t want to look at me. And it was just this whole kind of very sad story I was telling myself. And so…

Pete Enns: [00:23:23] Not a very encouraging story.

Audrey Assad: [00:23:25] No. No. It was really sad. And mixed into all that–I know I’m saying a lot of things–but mixed into all that is the fact that I was suffering from something I didn’t even know existed which is religious OCD, which is called scrupulosity. So not only was I a fundamentalist but I was also obsessive-compulsive about cleansing my conscience, saying the Salvation prayer 100 times a day. Things that I thought you were supposed to be doing. And now I know I was a little sick. I didn’t know that but I… So there’s just a lot there and so I don’t know. At some point in the last seven years, I just went from being sure of things to being sure of nothing. Like absolutely nothing. Definitely to the point of questioning meaning itself. And that was scary because I make my living doing what I do, which is making devotional music and kind of having this spiritual platform. And I just was like petrified by what would happen if I just decided, oh, I don’t believe anything like before. And having to go through that in sort of the public eye was tough–and hide a lot of it–very anxiety-ridden situation. And I had a really great therapist who I’ve been working with this whole time as I’ve gone through it.

Jared Byas: [00:24:31] You know, Audrey, we had Jen Hatmaker on not too long ago. And one of the things we talked about with her–you just mentioning that made me want to ask the question as well. How is that for you? You know, being in the public space and having this following that maybe thought of you in one way wasted some of their belief systems on you in that sense of believing through you and the pressure you felt. How was that, as you changed–what was the reception of the community toward you’re–kind of as you came out in these doubts and this process. Was that a painful process? Did people come around you? What was that like for you?

Audrey Assad: [00:25:08] Well, a lot of people just fell off the map entirely. I had a spiritual director for a season who just stopped returning my phone calls. And that was very hard.

Pete Enns: [00:25:19] You’re a handful, Audrey.

Audrey Assad: [00:25:21] I know. I know. Yeah, apparently he couldn’t hack it, so. You know, stuff like that would happen and be very difficult for me. But then at the same time, there’s this whole public stuff. Like I felt like I was living a sort of double life ,  even though I was trying to be as honest as I could be in a prudent way without being like here’s every little thought in my head at all times. You know? Because if I had done that, I would have ended my career a long time ago probably because I was so lost. But so there was kind of a dynamic starting to happen as I really pressed into like the justice side of Christianity, meaning justice for the poor. As I started to follow Jesus for the first time, which was what it felt like to me. I started to see justice as a huge missing piece in my faith as a young person and really to lean into that and to lean in who, you know, how these all–like these marginalized and underserved and oppressed groups intersect with each other and to start to talk–like sort of talk that way publicly–I started to receive, yes, quite a lot of pushback. But it was the only way I knew to engage with Christianity for a season because I could not engage with it intellectually or honestly. It was a while before I could read about it or think about it and like you know in sort of the same ways that I had growing up. So there was pushback. But I have to say, from a public standpoint, I’ve received a lot of support too. And people are going through that stuff, not just me. I think me being willing to speak up about my own journey here has been, I hope, you know from what people are telling me, a real comfort and help to them to not feel alone when they feel alone in their communities in a lot of ways. So I’ve just been encouraged by that and I keep speaking because I believe it to be valuable in that way.

Jared Byas: [00:27:11] Yeah. It’s interesting, too, Audrey, just you saying that puts the pattern together a little bit where we’ve heard, on a number of occasions and I think it’s true for my story as well, where we sort of say well when we can’t engage Christianity at an intellectual level–we don’t believe these things anymore–we find these, you know, social justice and practices, liturgies, more concrete behavioral things. It’s interesting that we’re so ingrained in the intellectualizing of Christianity that that feels like a deconversion.

Audrey Assad: [00:27:43] I know.

Jared Byas: [00:27:43] Where for other faiths, that would have been like, well, yeah. Kind of no duh. There’s this political part of the faith but, you know, it’s just a testament to how we were raised perhaps that it was so tied to mental assent to oppositions about who God is.

Audrey Assad: [00:27:59] Oh man. I remember when that started falling apart for me because I started to think, wait a second, like once I figured out I had OCD, for example, and I was like wait a minute. All of my mental assent, all of those years, was coming out of sickness. So what’d it even mean? You know? What about people who hear the same thing I do but they’re coming to it with a different brokenness than I have and it means something different to them and they can’t really help that. The intellect, to me, I always saw it was this pristine pure thing that you could exercise with like total clarity and, you know…

Pete Enns: [00:28:35] Objectivity

Audrey Assad: [00:28:36] Yes. And objectivity was something that you just have. You know, you just have it. It’s like not something you grow towards or whatever. And then when it hit me that that’s not really how life works, I thought like oh my God I believed. But what did that even count for? It’s still like an act of the will. It’s still something that I’m coming to with my own sort of lens and context. So just like any other thing I used to decry as being like workspace salvation, I was like no, no, no. This is all the same exact S.H.I. You know? It’s the same exact thing.

Pete Enns: [00:29:15] S.H.I? What’s that?

Audrey Assad: [00:29:15] S.H.I. You can fill in the blank.

Pete Enns: [00:29:18] Oh, there’s another letter. Hold on. Which is it?

Audrey Assad: [00:29:19] I cuss now.

Jared Byas: [00:29:20] Yea, there’s a lot of ship.

Pete Enns: [00:29:20] P .

Audrey Assad: [00:29:20] Yea, bullshirt, as they say on The Good Place. Oh my gosh. Speaking of that–I know this is a total derailment–but I was on Twitter today and this guy had been tweeting about how there’s a debate going on in Catholic circles as to whether it’s a good or a bad idea to watch The Good Place. And I thought, wait, this is a debate I can’t–I can’t–this is too much for me. That’s a great show. Everybody shut up. But, anyway, so yeah. Yeah. I’ve definitely derailed myself. Oh. The intellect. Yeah, it’s an act of the will to believe and it’s a choice that you make that may or may not be objective and it probably isn’t and however you’re believing, it’s not perfect. And so that was a freeing, but also frightening idea to me because I just didn’t know what to do in place of it. You know? Especially when I didn’t believe anymore. I was like, what do I do now? You know?

Jared Byas: [00:30:17] Yeah. And that’s–you know the deconversion–being able to reframe that, at least for me, of saying I’m not converting from Christianity. I’m deconverting from this intellectualism or I’m deconverting from a need for certainty.

Audrey Assad: [00:30:30] Yeah.

Jared Byas: [00:30:30] Kind of making idols of these other things. Going on a new journey of what else is out there.

Audrey Assad: [00:30:36] It’s really jarring to discover you’ve been a Gnostic your whole life and you didn’t know. You know?

Jared Byas: [00:30:42] Right.

Audrey Assad: [00:30:42] Man. I was not prepared emotionally for that. It was very weird.

Pete Enns: [00:30:47] The irony, Audrey, is that, I mean, you’ve expressed something that–again I think many people including Jared and I have experience too–this irony that our whole–our lives–our Christian training when we’re young has been all about this assent. Right? This intellectual assent. But in a context that’s actually somewhat anti-intellectual.

Audrey Assad: [00:31:07] Right. That’s so true.

Pete Enns: [00:31:08] You can’t talk about it. You can’t debate it. So it’s–the word for that–I mean I don’t want to be too harsh here but–there’s a manipulative dimension to that.

Audrey Assad: [00:31:17] Absolutely. Oh my gosh.

Pete Enns: [00:31:17] I would even say brainwashing, although that’s a bit harsh, but it’s totally…

Audrey Assad: [00:31:21] Well, my therapist would disagree with you. She’s a Christian. But we were going through how it worked at my church and she said, you know what this is. This is the cult. This is a cult you’re describing to me where you live in your head but you’re not allowed to question. And you’re able to be manipulated because of that. Because all of the fear held over your head, if you don’t belong or be part of this ,  if you diverge one inch from this thing we’re telling you. This is the code. This is the path. This is how you do this. And if you go to the right or the left, you’re out. And so your–belonging-you know Brenee Brown talks a lot of belonging and I’m just reading through “Brave in the Wilderness” right now. And when I think about how much it means to a young person to belong and then to be sort of taught from the beginning that what it requires from you is absolute adherence to this way of thinking. Yeah, that’s cultlike. That’s definitely manipulation.

Pete Enns: [00:32:19] Yea, that’s true and that’s not the gospel way. I think we would all agree on that. And you know, it’s just so interesting to hear this story because it’s such a common one. And, you know, when you felt that like–I don’t know what to–I’m–this is scary. I don’t know what to believe anymore. It’s almost like I guess that had to happen because you had to–you tabled the intellectual side of things and moved towards practice like Jared was saying before. And I think so many have found that to be–and of course you were always told that’s wrong.

Audrey Assad: [00:32:49] Mmhmm.

Pete Enns: [00:32:50] That’s not how it works. Right? But then you start reading the Bible and it’s faith working itself out in love. And faith doesn’t always mean, in fact it rarely if ever means intellectual assent, it means trusting and actually acting well towards the other. It’s being faithful to other people. And then you start seeing, oh goodness, there’s a whole body dimension here that you know the mind doesn’t–and our minds are wonderful things for the most part, but that is not the center of the seat of the Christian faith. That’s all of us. That’s what we do and it’s…well, for you it’s creativity. That’s a big part of the expression of the faith for you and for me and Jared, it might be some other things. It’s just leaving that mono-dimensional view of the faith which is rooted in simplistic arguments that only work if you don’t open your eyes and look around.

Jared Byas: [00:33:40] And with that, maybe a question for you, Audrey, just as an artist. How did this play out in that side of your life? As your faith has transformed into new avenues and new pathways, how has that affected at all how you see yourself as an artist and the creative work that you do?

Audrey Assad: [00:33:59] Well, I consider what I do to be a very it’s a very mystical thing with very pragmatic reality. The music and the inspiration comes in the midst of all of the little mundane stuff I do to be ready for it when it happens. And that’s anything from practicing to just writing down notes and ideas as they come to my head. Or reading. Or all the things that I do to keep myself prepared and then inspiration will strike sometimes and it’ll be–sometimes it’s truly like a song that really happens in five minutes and I’m like: where did that come from? And sometimes it’s work and it takes weeks and months and years to finish it. But all that to say, I’ve found such a refuge in music because it really–even when you come at it with your–okay, I’m going to backtrack. The Calvinists have found a way to take songs and just make them incredibly… what’s the word I’m looking for?

Pete Enns: [00:34:58] That word again you used before?

Audrey Assad: [00:35:00] Yeah. Uh…

Pete Enns: [00:35:02] The three-letter word you used before. Is that what you want?

Audrey Assad: [00:35:05] Yeah, there’s some bullshirt going on there for sure. I don’t mean to be mean. I just, you know, when I sometimes I hear these new hymns that are coming out and I think, oh man, we’re really addicted to this way of codifying God. And I’ve been guilty of that I’m sure. But as I’ve grown, as I’ve changed and evolved, I’m seeing this music that I make as an opportunity to create and facilitate space for people to contemplate God and contemplate their own pain. And to experience those things in a space of freedom and then to do with that what they will. Do with it what they will and I see myself as someone who is building rooms for people to sit in different spots on their journey. And every time I go something, I build a room around it and then I walk forward and I build another one. And people who come after me can use those spaces for their own needs. And so that’s kind of how I see what I do.

Pete Enns: [00:36:02] That’s a great way of putting it. Man oh man. Building rooms and giving people space to not be certain and to figure things out. Almost giving people permission by modeling it for them, I guess, is what you’re doing. Maybe that’s one way to look at it.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:18] I hope so.

Pete Enns: [00:36:19] Well, you are. Because a lot of people say so. And not everybody agrees with anybody and everybody. You probably have people who think you’re crazy, but that’s okay. Right?

Audrey Assad: [00:36:29] Yea, it is.

Pete Enns: [00:36:29] If there aren’t people saying that, we’re probably doing something wrong anyway.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:33] Yeah.

Pete Enns: [00:36:34] You don’t get hate mail? I bet you don’t get hate mail.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:36] I have. I have. Yes.

Pete Enns: [00:36:38] No.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:38] I have. I’ve gotten hate mail and death threats, as a matter of fact.

Pete Enns: [00:36:42] Have you gotten death threats?

Audrey Assad: [00:36:43] I have. Only once, but was real and it was coming from somewhere near where I was touring and I had to have policemen at every show for like a week.

Pete Enns: [00:36:52] Oh my goodness.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:54] Yea.

Pete Enns: [00:36:54] I’m glad I didn’t show up at your house.

Audrey Assad: [00:36:56] I know.

Pete Enns: [00:36:58] That’s terrible though. I mean, was it just a crazy person or…?

Audrey Assad: [00:37:03] I don’t know. They were definitely. . there was something off, but I…

Pete Enns: [00:37:06] Obviously there’s something off if they’re doing that but was it something like you wrote in a…was it something that you wrote in…like you’ve written stuff in Christianity today, I think. Right? And a few other places. Was it something like that or was it a song, or just…

Audrey Assad: [00:37:19] No, they said something to the effect of like you’re on a “nosy bench”.

Pete Enns: [00:37:23] Okay.

Audrey Assad: [00:37:24] And get out of my business. And stop telling my story publicly. Who knows, it might have been a song I wrote or something.

Pete Enns: [00:37:30] Oh .  Something threatened him, probably.

Audrey Assad: [00:37:34] Yeah.

Pete Enns: [00:37:35] Oh gosh. And on that note… I haven’t gotten a death threat yet. I feel a little bit left out now, but umm… Well you know, Audrey, it’s really nice talking with you for both of us. And there are so many times when I wanted to stop you and say, hey, we do that too from our own little world here. And I think there really is this tremendous overlap, I think, in your experience and in ours and in building a community and trying to give people space. And I think there are so many people out there doing that now. Thank you, internet. That allows that. And there are so many pilgrims out there, I think, who have been taught a certain way and they realize–I mean I have kids–and who realize that that doesn’t make sense anymore of their lives. And the question is, well, now what? I guess Christianity is nonsense. No, it’s deep. It’s broad. It goes back to ancient times. And there were some smart people living back then who weren’t simplistic thinkers and working through a lot of problems. Sometimes I just think that we have to keep just telling this broad Christian story. Like Jared said before, you’re not deconverting from Christianity. You’re deconverting from a sociological construct that is tribalistic. That’s not what this is about.

Audrey Assad: [00:38:59] Right. Agreed. Yea. Absolutely.

Pete Enns: [00:39:01] Well, one last thing. I’m going to say this because I can, because it’s my podcast. My daughter sent me a link to “I Shall Not Want” a few years ago. Which, people, you need to listen to this song. It just hit me at a moment when I absolutely needed–it was just a down moment and I really really needed to hear it. And I said I don’t know who this person is with this weird name but she’s Catholic, but she doesn’t have a Catholic last name but I want to find out who she is. And it was just a wonderful song that was authentic and real. And I said okay here’s somebody who I think gets what I’m thinking about too. So it was it was a nice little connection from a distance. I’m just glad my daughter had the presence of mind to send me that so.

Audrey Assad: [00:39:48] That’s awesome.

Pete Enns: [00:39:49] I want to thank you for that and for the other stuff that you do as well.

Audrey Assad: [00:39:52] Yea, you’re welcome.

Jared Byas: [00:39:52] And speaking of that, Audrey, as we come to the end of our time. What else are… You mentioned Evergreen as an album but say a little bit more about that and the upcoming tour, projects. Where can we point people to?

Audrey Assad: [00:40:04] So evergreen will be everywhere February 23. And we are super excited around here about it because it’s my first record of full like original material since Fortunate Fall came out in 2013 and that was mostly because I just really couldn’t write anything for quite a while as I was going through all this. So yeah, you can find out more about it at audreyassad.com. I’m really active on social media too. Twitter and Facebook. I’m really pumped and I hope it’ll be another room for people to sit in.

Jared Byas: [00:40:36] Excellent and will be there’ll be a tour upcoming with that?

Audrey Assad: [00:40:40] In the fall. I have just had a baby so I’m taking some time off from touring. But yeah. So we’ll be there in a few cities this fall.

Pete Enns: [00:40:49] East coast at all?

Audrey Assad: [00:40:50] I’m sure.

Pete Enns: [00:40:51] I hope so. That’d be great.

Audrey Assad: [00:40:53] Yeah. Excellent.

Jared Byas: [00:40:54] Thank you so much for being on and for sharing your story just so openly and authentically. We really appreciate it.

Audrey Assad: [00:41:01] Thank you for having me.

Pete Enns: [00:41:02] Thank you Audrey. See ya. Thanks for listening everyone and remember to check out Audrey’s new album “Evergreen” and you can find out about Audrey on her website, audreyassad.com, which is very informative. A lot of great stuff. Jared, she sells merchandise. Why can’t we sell merchandise?

Jared Byas: [00:41:21] We could.

Pete Enns: [00:41:21] We could but nobody would buy it because we have no talent.

Jared Byas: [00:41:24] We’ll a thousand mugs in our basement.

Pete Enns: [00:41:26] Oh, here’s a little trivia too Jared. Another thing to motivate you. When Audrey went out on her own and recorded her album “Fortunate Fall,” which is a very interesting title. She went on her own and she had a Kickstarter campaign. And in 50 hours, she raised $40,000. Because there are people who really really believe in her. And I want you to believe in her too because she does great stuff. So you have the website and she’s going to be touring in the fall of 2018. She had a baby in October, I think. Her second one so she’s chilling out for a while.

Jared Byas: [00:41:58] I love to see you fan- boying here over Audrey Assad. I like that.

Pete Enns: [00:42:00] She’s awesome. I know. She’s awesome. So anybody who helps me is cool.

Jared Byas: [00:42:05] Excellent. And also in addition to purchasing Audrey’s album, head to thebiblefornormalpeople.com Or peteenns.com and just check out some of the articles there. Were always interested and engaged in this conversation about faith and questions and doubt and primarily: how does the Bible fit into that? How do we read it? What do we do with that? If you wanted to go even further than that, please check us out on patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople. Lots more opportunities there to engage on Slack. We hope to see you there.

Pete Enns: [00:42:34] See you next week, folks.

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Pete Ruins Exodus Part 4

Pete Ruins Exodus: Part 4

September 2, 2019

In this episode, Pete continues his deep dive into the book of Exodus covering chapters 14-19 and the following topics:

  • The Red Sea
  • Mount Sinai
  • Manna and the Sabbath
  • Genesis (who knew the books of the Bible were connected!?)

Mentioned in this episode:

Read the transcript


Pete:  You’re listening to the Bible for Normal People, the only God-ordained podcast on the internet.  Serious talk about the sacred book.  I’m Pete Enns.

Jared:  And I’m Jared Byas.



Hey everybody.  Welcome to Part 4 of the Pete Ruins Exodus series.  Before we begin, a couple of very quick announcements because I’m afraid I’m going to forget.  First of all, October 4 and 5, I’m going to be at Evolving Faith which is in Denver, CO this year.  That should be fun.  Also, on September 23, we’re offering a one-time only, one evening, one-hour class on Genesis.  Here’s the good news.  You pay what you want.  Just have to reserve your seat.  You can get information about that on the website, like exactly when and where.  Hope you can make it to that.  It should be fun.  It’s a one-hour only class.  I’m just talking about what I think are highlights of the book of Genesis and why I think is really important and what I think is really cool about the book that doesn’t always get picked up in casual readings of the book itself. 

Commercial’s over.  Let’s get into Part 4 of Pete Ruins Exodus.

This is going to take us from the departure from Egypt over the Red Sea through Chapter 19, and that is specifically beginning in Chapter 13, verse 17.  The middle of Chapter 13 through to the end of Chapter 19.  That’s the departure from Egypt and the journey to Sinai.

Just to review where we’ve been up to this point in this series as a whole.  We started with Moses and he gets this call from God to be the agent through which the Israelites will be delivered.  He has early struggles.  He really doesn’t want to do it.  But he finally gives in and goes ahead and he confronts Pharaoh.  Pharaoh doesn’t care what Moses says or what their no-name God says.  He never heard of Him. 

Of course, that results in the plagues which wind up convincing Pharaoh that, “Yeah, I’m no match for Israel’s god.”  Especially the plague of death, which is the tit-for-tat, payback for what Pharaoh did drowning the male infants in the Nile way back in Chapter 1.  Now they’re dead as well.  The firstborn of Egypt are dead.  That’s how the story goes. 

So now they depart.  All that’s over.  Now, they’re leaving Egypt never to go back again.  Remember, Mount Sinai, also called Horeb—we talked about that in several places in Exodus—Sinai is the goal of the rescue.  Aaron and Moses say, “Let my people go so that they might worship Me in the wilderness.”  The wilderness is where Sinai is. 

They have no clue at this point about where they are going afterward, namely into the land of Israel to take over for the Canaanites and to eradicate them and exterminate them and take their land.  They don’t know where that’s going.  All they know is that they’re going to Mount Sinai.  Even though the land and entrance to the land, and I’m going to say, just frankly, the monarchy, is really the true end goal of Israel in the Hebrew scriptures. 

I’ve written about this elsewhere, but the Pentateuch as a whole is really an entrance ramp onto that central, important period of time when the Israelites are in the land.  That’s where I think all this is going. 

We’ve got six plus chapters.  They can be divided into two parts.  The one is the actual departure from Egypt itself.  That starts in 13:17. It goes to the end of Chapter 15, 15:21.  Then the journey to Sinai, which picks up at 15:22 and goes to the end of Chapter 19.

These six chapters have some pretty well-known stories in them.

First, let’s look at some highlights from part one, the departure from Egypt across the Red Sea.  One thing to note is that we have two versions of the same event.  We have a prose version, which is 13:17 through Chapter 14.   Then the poetic version, which is in 15:1-21.

This is similar, if you’re familiar with the book of Judges, in Chapters 4 and 5, we also have a prose version and a poetic version of the exploits of the judge Deborah.  The poetry, the poetic version, is, according to biblical scholars who study Hebrew, it is certainly older.  At least, the core of it is older, if not the whole thing.  There are reasons for saying that.  That becomes important in a minute when we get into Chapter 15 because of the kinds of things that it says.

This is just a reminder to us that we have, here again, as we have so often in the Bible, evidence of different traditions that are probably written or originated orally in different times and places, and here we have editors at a later time putting them together, just back-to-back.

It’s like Genesis 1 and 2.  You have two creation stories and they are back-to-back, edited together and left there, even they don’t say exactly the same thing.

Let’s look at that prose, the narrative version first.  That’s the first one that pops up in 13 and 14.  They depart from Egypt and Yahweh makes them look lost in order to pick a fight with Pharaoh.  The people freak out (Israelites) and God drives back the Red Sea to open an escape route.  The Israelites pass through safely, but the Egyptians drown and they wash up on the shore.  That’s how the story goes.  Very famous story.

One thing to note is that Pharaoh was all ready to let them go.  He had been convinced after the last plague.  He said finally, “Just go.  I don’t want to see you again.  Just get out of here.”  He was ready to let them go, and he did.  But God wants Pharaoh to follow the Israelites.  God hardens Pharaoh’s heart.  You see it in Chapter 14, verse 8 and 17, and especially 17 is explicit that the purpose of the hardening is so that the Egyptians will follow the Israelites.  It’s hard to pass over the fact that God wants them dead.

As harsh as that is, and I think it is harsh, we can offer a contextual, theological explanation.  By contextual, I mean the groove of the story itself up to this point.  We can read this drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea as tit-for-tat, payback for another Pharaoh drowning the Israelite male infants in the Nile way back in Chapter 1.  Also, “You’ve been treating my people harshly,” says Yahweh, “so I’m going to treat your people harshly.”  Although, I still wonder if this is necessary to drown them.  How about just letting the sea close up so they can’t cross.  But they drowned.  That’s how the story goes.

This is an example of violence in the Bible and it raises some eyebrows, not just for today, but this is a story that has made people think for quite a while.  It’s caused a lot of consternation for one of my own children.  When she was very young, she came home from Sunday School and this was the story and she came home just very, very upset, asking, “What kind of a god is this?  Aren’t these God’s children too?  Why does God do stuff like this?” 

This is not the Bible’s best moment, in my opinion.  But this is how the might and power of God is expressed in an ancient tribal context.  Your god is great because your enemies are destroyed before you.

Some of you know how I handle this sort of divine violence, not as a depiction of what really happened, or not as a depiction of what God is really like, but as a depiction of ancient people of faith, true ancient people of faith, albeit in a tribalistic, Iron Age society—the Iron Age started in 1200 BCE and goes well into the first millennium BCE.  That’s the basic time of Israel’s existence as a people is during the Iron Age.  This is how people in the Iron Age expressed their faith, expressed their understanding of the gods or of God.  This is what gods did.  They go to battle.

Remember, way back in the first episode, along with most biblical scholars, I said that I don’t think Exodus is a historical account, even if it preserves an ancient, historical memory, as biblical scholars like to call it.  I don’t think we would see this if someone had been videotaping, so to speak.  This reflects an ancient understanding of ancient Israelites about what their god is like.  That’s my opinion.  That’s how I “get out of it.”  But I’m not trying to get out of anything.  I’m trying to understand it.

If you’re interested, you can see some blog posts that I’ve written on violence.  You can just type, “violence” in the search bar or in an earlier chapter in The Bible Tells Me So, I deal with biblical violence as I understand it.  It’s the number one question I get from young people today.  That and human sexuality.  Those are the things that they really want to talk about.


Another thing about this prose narrative section.  The Israelites see the Egyptians coming and they grumble and they complain.  Basically, “we could have died just as easily in Egypt, Moses.  Why bring us all the way out here to just trap us at the sea?” 

Then Moses says something interesting that I think is often misunderstood, which is why I want to bring it up.  He basically says, “Don’t be afraid.  After today, you’ll never see these Egyptians again.”  I’m quoting verse 14 of Chapter 14.  “The Lord will fight for you.  You only have to keep still.”  That’s not a soothing word.  It’s typically interpreted, “There, there.  Just calm your hearts.  God will take care of everything.  Just be still and know that I am God,” as we read in the Psalms.  “The Lord will fight for you, but just chill.”

I don’t think that’s at all what Moses is saying in this story.  This is a rebuke.  “The Lord will fight for you.  You need to keep your mouth shut.  You need to stop complaining.”  This is the first of many rebukes of Moses that we’re going to see toward the Israelites in Moses’ lifetime.  This is the real beginning of this grumbling theme that we’re going to see a lot of. 

He’s not making them feel calmed about this.  He’s just saying, “Just shut up.  You’ve seen plagues, the Red Sea open, for heaven’s sake, and you’re still complaining.  Come on.” 

Another thing.  This concerns the actual parting of the Red Sea.  This is in verse 21.  The Red Sea is really the Sea of Reeds.  That’s what it says in Hebrew.  Where the Sea of Reeds is a topic of a lot of discussion among people who look for these sorts of things.  Is it a lake?  Is it a marsh or something like that?  But the reason why we say Red Sea in our English translations is that this has to do with influence of Greek translators of the Bible before the time of Jesus.

There was a little bit of confusion about what body of water was actually represented by this term “red sea.”  If you look at a map today of the modern Middle East and where it says “Red Sea,” it’s this massive body of water, that’s not what anybody meant.  It’s hard to know exactly what they meant, when they said “Red Sea” back in this Greek period.

In the biblical text, the Hebrew text, it says, “Sea of Reeds,” but again, we don’t know where that is either.  All that to the side.  The parting of the Red Sea echoes the creation story.  This is the theological point I want to make.  Moses stretched out his hand with the staff, and an East wind divided the waters of the Red Sea and they parted.

Now wind—the Hebrew word is “ruach,” which means “spirit” or “wind” and that’s the same “ruach” of Genesis 1 that is hovering over the “deep.”  What’s the “deep?”  The deep is the primordial sea at the dawn of creation that God has to tame, that God has to put in its place to allow for life to appear.  The wind drives back water giving life.  That’s the same in both the Genesis creation story of Genesis Chapter 1 and this parting of the sea here in Exodus. 

The wind, “it turned the sea to dry land”—I’m quoting here.  “And the waters were divided.”  It’s better to think of the waters as not maybe divided, although that’s fine, but as pushed back, pushed out of the way, revealing the dry land beneath, which is also the language in Genesis Chapter 1.  The third day of creation, it’s the same thing.  The waters were divided, revealing the dry land beneath.

In both stories, waters are separated, pushed aside, revealing what was there all the time: dry land.  In other words—this is getting into Genesis 1 a little bit more than you’re paying for here—in Genesis 1, this is why it’s not creation out of nothing.  What you have is a “deep,” a massive chaotic water that God divides and splits, revealing the dry land, i.e., the earth beneath it.  Those things were already there in Genesis Chapter 1.

Actually, Genesis Chapter 1 makes no sense unless we understand the ideology of the ancient Israelites here and how they thought about what a creator god does.  It’s not out of nothing.  That comes later.  It’s in the Bible.  It’s just not here.

Think of taking a leaf blower to a big puddle on a sidewalk after a heavy rain.  The water is pushed aside by the wind, by the force of the leaf blower, and the sidewalk is revealed, that’s always been there underneath.  That’s what’s happening in Genesis 1 and in Exodus 14 in the parting of the sea. 

Now the point—we touched about this is a couple of earlier episodes—the point is that God’s act of redemption, here crossing the Red Sea, is a replay of God’s act of creation, which is to say, redemption (saving, delivering, redeeming) is an act of re-creation.  Hang with me.

As with the plagues, parting the sea is getting creation involved in saving God’s people and destroying the enemies of God’s people.  In the flood, you have the waters of the upper atmosphere above the vault, above that dome, those waters are let go and they come crashing down to defeat the bad guys, which is basically everybody but Noah and his family.

That’s what’s happening too, here in the Exodus story in Chapter 14.  These waters are again separated and just like the flood story, they come crashing back down again.  But Israel, or Noah, are not affected negatively.  They’re actually delivered through that.  To save is to create again.  We here echoes of that in the New Testament.  I know I’ve mentioned this, but just very briefly I want to mention it again, because I think it’s so important theologically, in the New Testament we see echoes of this.  For example, where Paul says, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.” 

To be saved means to start anew and to use the language of John’s gospel, that you’re “born again.”  You’re starting over.  You have a new start.  Which is certainly what is happening here at the Red Sea.  Israel is being transformed, re-created from a group of slaves and now beginning to be formed into what it’s going to become, namely a nation.

Having said all that, it’s still a really violent story.  Let’s not cover over that.  But there are theological things happening there as well.  Speaking of violence, let’s turn to Chapter 15 here, the poetic version of the Red Sea crossing.

For one thing—I alluded to this before—this may be one of the oldest pieces of Israelite literature we have, because of the Hebrew style.  Scholars can tell where we are in stages of the evolution of biblical Hebrew.


Biblical scholars—this is routine.  This is very early.  This is not written during the monarchy, but probably going back to before the time of David.  It could be that old, which is very old.  Here’s the thing:  this very, very old piece of ancient Hebrew literature depicts God as a fierce warrior.  It’s not uncommon to hear scholars muse that Israel’s view of God began as one of being a warrior, understandably due to the cultural influences and then the view of God grew to include other metaphors like gardener, planter, potter, law-giver, things like that.

Warrior might become less prominent, less harsh, perhaps.  God’s depiction might become less harsh.  I don’t want to paint that in too simplistic a way, like there’s an evolution where God starts off as a warrior and ends as a tree-hugger.  But we do have the earliest reflections of Israelite religion in these poetic sections.  There, God is a fierce, no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners warrior.

You come later to the book of Jonah, where God says, “I actually have compassion on Israel’s enemies.  I don’t want to kill them.”

Something is going on in this trajectory within the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament itself. 

So this song praises Yahweh for destroying his enemies by drowning them in the sea.  For that reason, Yahweh is praised as a god who has no equal, as we read in verse 11.  “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?” 

Catch that there.  “Among the gods.”  We have here one of many examples, and you’ve heard this before, in the Old Testament of Israel’s belief that their god, Yahweh, was not the only god, but was the best god, the one truly worthy of worship. 

In fact, as I said before, that might be the point of the whole Pentateuch, to make the case that Yahweh alone is worthy of Israel’s worship.  Israel does not practice—I have a whole blog post series probably and a podcast from way back in Season 1 talking about this—but Israel did not practice monotheism, at least through most of its history that we see in the Old Testament, but monolatry. 

The difference is this:  monotheism means there’s only one god.  Monolatry means you only worship one, but you acknowledge the existence of others. 

We saw this is the plague story.  God is passing judgment on all the gods of Egypt.  Exodus 12:12. What does that mean?  Passing judgment on all the gods of Egypt?  It means—there’s an assumption there that there are other gods that Yahweh is passing judgment on.  If we miss this dynamic that Yahweh is better or the best by far of all the other gods or if we try to step around it because the theology bothers us a bit, we’re gonna miss the theology of the book. 

Making the Israelites into monotheists here is premature.  That happens later on in Israel’s history.  I would say certainly by the time you get to Jesus and well before that, we can call the Israelites monotheists.  Only one god exists.

The heavens might be active places, but they’re not gods.  But here, that’s not the case.  Making these Israelites here of Exodus into monotheists just creates confusion in the story.   You can’t make sense of things like Exodus 12:12, where Yahweh says he’s passing judgment on all the gods of Egypt.  I’ve beaten that dead horse enough.


Next point.  This song that’s sung at the sea mentions something.  It’s subtle.  It mentions something that doesn’t happen until much later in the biblical story.  Namely, I’m talking about verses 17 and 18.

Here’s how it begins: “You (Yahweh) brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your possession, the place, O Lord, that you made your abode.”  What is this mountain of your possession?  What is this about?  Maybe, it’s talking about Mount Sinai, because that’s where they’re going.  They’re not there yet, but nearly so.  Give it a couple chapters.  They’ll be there.  Still in the past tense, though. 

This raises another question.  Could it be referring to another mountain and another abode all together?  Hang in there.  Keep reading.  “The sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.”  The sanctuary.  The holy place.  What is that sanctuary?  Could it be Sinai?  Perhaps.  It could be Mount Sinai.  Or perhaps another sanctuary entirely.

Keep reading.  Verse 18 says this: “The Lord will reign forever and ever.”  From where?  From the mountain?  From the abode?  From Mount Sinai?  Probably not, since Yahweh will leave forever Sinai when he goes with the Israelites into the Promised Land.  He doesn’t go back.  Yahweh doesn’t show up on Mount Sinai again and say, “I live here really.”  He’s going to live with Israel.  Where is he going to live with Israel?  In the temple. 

In Old Testament theology, the language we see here fits very nicely with the ideology of the temple in Jerusalem as the sanctuary, the abode, the mountain.  Mount Zion.  The temple is on a mountain.  Theology, Mount Zion takes the place of Mount Sinai in Israelite theology.  It’s from there that Yahweh will rule.  Through the kings, but forever and ever. 

We see this language in various places in the Old Testament, including the Psalms and II Samuel 7.  So what?  Well, for one thing, this illusion to the temple suggests that this ancient poem, as in pre-David, may have been added to as time went on to reflect Israel’s growing theology.  It’s developing theology.  In other words, this ancient poem, Chapter 15, may have gotten its final shape after the Israelites were settled in the land with their own king and temple. 

Note that (and I hope that your English translations get this because some don’t) the entire poem, all the stuff that talks about the Exodus and all the stuff that seems to be talking about the conquest of the land and entering it and building a temple where Yahweh’s going to be worshipped, all that stuff is in the past tense.

For this writer, both the Exodus and the establishment of the monarchy and the religious life of the people, those things are past events.  I think that’s interesting because it suggests something, once again, of the dating or at least the general time frame of when this stuff was written or when this poem, when this song got its final form.  Probably well into the monarchy, if not later.

Again, it’s interesting.  Some translations put the second half of this poem that talks about the land and the temple as future to avoid this kind of conclusion, but I think that they’re wrong.  I think the Hebrew really lends itself very naturally to just keep reading everything in the past tense.  There is no indication that you should switch to future in Hebrew when you get to this part.

Another so what.   Why am I dragging this out?  I’m not dragging it out.  I think it’s really interesting.  Another so what.

This is a huge issue because scholars routinely, and I think correctly, see the temple on Mount Zion as a replacement for Mount Sinai.  The temple mount replaces Mount Sinai.  Or perhaps, as is more commonly thought among biblical scholars, maybe it’s the other way around.  Maybe Sinai is the later Israelite temple brought back into ancient mythic time.  How is that for a mouthful?

Which came first?  The depiction of Mount Sinai as a sanctuary, as an abode, as a holy mountain and then the temple is modeled after that?  Or is the temple there first and then the stories of Sinai are written in such a way to reflect that later glory of the temple?  Which came first? 

That’s a lot to wrap our arms around.  That’s actually a few podcast episodes all by itself.  I only bring it up here because it might help to explain the ambiguity of verses 17 and 18.  You’re reading it, and what are we talking about?  Sinai?  Or Zion?  That’s a good question.  Maybe that ambiguity is intentional.  Maybe they are both the same.

If you’re really motivated, I highly recommend a book by one of my professors, John Levinson, called Sinai and Zion.  The book is those two mountains, comparing them and how they’re analogous to each other.  It’s a fascinating book.

I should plug my own books, not somebody else’s.  What’s wrong with me?


Okay, a lot more to this.  Let’s move on to the second part, the journey to Sinai itself that begins at the end of 15 and goes through 19. 

Here’s the big picture.  After Moses’ song that we just went through, his sister Miriam and the women, they sing what looks like the same song and then they all head out to the dessert where they are immediately thirsty and wonder why no one thought ahead that this might be a problem.  They are in the wilderness, for heaven’s sake. 

They take a couple of drinks in a couple of special places.  Then they receive the manna from heaven, the bread from heaven.  Manna is the Hebrew word, “manna,” which means “what is it?”  Because that’s what the Israelites said.  I might say, “What the heck is this?” but I don’t think there is a Hebrew word for that.  “What is this stuff that lands like dew on the ground?  We’re supposed to eat it?  Come again.  What is this stuff?”

27:42 BREAK


Next, after that, they get a miraculous supply of water from a rock just in time to ward off an attack from the Amalekites.  Where did they come from?  This is the first battle.  Things are moving rather quickly here in this story.

Next, they keep moving.  They’re going toward Mount Sinai.  Next, Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, shows up and he advises Moses to get help “herding the cats,” so to speak, judging the people, adjudicating differences, things like that. 

You might be asking what Jethro’s doing there.  Remember, he is where?  He is from Midian.  On the way to Sinai, we are close to Midian, it seems.  That is—I touched on this in the first episode—Mount Sinai, in the logic of the story, seems to be in Midian, not in the Sinai Peninsula way south at Saint Catherine’s Monastery.  Look on a study Bible map.  It seems to be some place in Midian.  That’s the logic of the story.

Finally, after three months, they reach Sinai and the people are consecrated by going through a cleansing ritual, because they’re going to need this powerful god who defeated the Egyptian pantheon and the army by all these signs and wonders.

That’s the gist of what’s happening in the end of 15 through 19. 

Just a few highlights:

First, water and food are going to be a problem because we are in the wilderness.  We actually see two miraculous supplies of water.  The first is turning the bitter waters in Mara into sweet water.  It happens to be that “Mara” in Hebrew means “bitterness.”  This story is often seen by scholars as a story written to explain some phenomenon, in this case, why this location is called “bitterness,” of all the things to call a town.  Why call it “bitterness?” 

The story is written to explain that.  We know of stories like this too.  Where do things like sickness, death and evil come from?  Pandora opened the box.  Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit.  These are stories that are called etiological stories that seem to be written to explain why things are the way they are.

Why is the Grand Canyon so deep?  Because Paul Bunyan and his ox had a wrestling match.  It’s a story written, told to explain a phenomenon.  That might be what’s happening with this site, “Mara,” calling it “bitterness.”  This story of making the bitter water sweet by throwing a branch in there.

The second miraculous supply of water happens at a place called Rephidim.  This is in chapter 17.  The people grumble again, which makes sense, because they had gotten a drink at Mara and at another place called Elim, which is an oasis.  But now, they left those places and they still need water.  So they complain.  Again, “Moses, what are you trying to do?  Kill us?” 

Moses is told by God to strike the rock to let water flow out of it which he does.  Moses promptly gives the place two names:  Massa and Meribah, which mean “test”—they’re testing God—and “quarrel.”  Again, possibly stories to explain how locations got their names.  Possibly.

Here’s the thing:  water, for the Israelites, presented more of problem for them than food because in between these two water stories, the waters of Mara and the waters of Rephidim, in between these two stories, God gives them bread from heaven, the manna to eat.  That manna is promised by God to come every morning dew, except on the Sabbath, so gather twice as much the day before. 

Side issue:  gathering bread on the Sabbath would be work and you don’t do work on the Sabbath even though there’s no Sabbath command given until Chapter 20.  I just wonder, in the logic of the story, were the people thinking, “What’s a—what do you mean Sabbath?  Where did that come from?”  Or are we seeing, again, the story written from a later point of view where Sabbath-keeping was already a thing.

Questions that are really hard to answer definitively, but I’m intrigued enough to ask them because they let us in a little bit on the nature of this literature.

The manna is a daily gift from God for the entire 40 years they wandered in the wilderness.  It doesn’t cease until they come to the borders of Canaan.  We read that in 16:35. It’s also stated in Joshua Chapter 5.  In other words, it ceases after they’ve entered the land.  They have bread to eat for 40 years.  Great!


No such permanent supply of water is given in this story.  They’re left to wander, maybe stress out about all that.  Not to get off the track, but again, this is so intriguing again to me.  This is the kind of stuff that reading Exodus jumps out at me as I read it. 

We see a close version of this very same story of getting water from a rock in Numbers Chapter 20.  That’s toward the end of Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness.  There, too, water comes from a rock.  Ancient Jewish interpreters—this is before the time of the New Testament—perhaps also wondering why there was no daily provision of water, came up with a rather ingenious solution.  The rock of Exodus 17 that gave water and the rock of Numbers 20 that gave water, though they’re separated by 40 years and located in completely different places, were one in the same rock, which had apparently rolled around the wilderness for 40 years supplying water, like a portable water fountain.

One reason I find that so fascinating is because Paul, our very own Paul, in I Corinthians, seems to be aware of this rather creative explanation and even drops it into Chapter 10, verse 4 of I Corinthians.  He recalls this episode of the Israelites in the wilderness and he talks about how the rock back in Moses’ day was Christ.  Paul is trying to say that Christ’s presence was with them too.  A very Paul thing to say.  A very New Testament thing to say.

Note that Paul doesn’t just say the rock was Christ making a Christological connection.  He says “the rock that followed them,” followed the Israelites was Christ.  Followed.  He got that idea from somewhere.  He got it from his Jewish tradition.

I know we’re just biting off a big chunk off to the side here.  If you’re interested, I talk more about this in the Bible Tells Me So.  Sorry for the deviation, but I just love looking at how Jewish the New Testament writers were when they used their Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament.  It’s actually this story, specifically, that started me down a different path over 30 years ago, about thinking about how the Bible actually works and what it is and how we read it.

One more comment on the manna.  Let’s pause there for one more second.  We’re told that they’re to gather an omer of manna per day, two omers on the day before the Sabbath so you can eat for two days. 

An omer is a unit of measurement.  It’s about one to two liters.  Frankly, that’s no help to me because I’m American and my phone app says that a cubic liter is about a half dry gallon.  My point is that Exodus 16:36 seems like it needs to explain what an omer is.  Because this is what Exodus 16:36 says.  It says, “An omer is a tenth of an ephah.”  An ephah is about 23 liters or somewhere between five to six gallons. 

Could I pick a more boring verse to mention?  I don’t think so.  Not for me anyway.  An omer is a measurement known to us only from this story.  The ephah is the more common measurement in the Old Testament used over 30 times.  We’re seeing here, again, a clue about when this story was written.  It seems the story of omers of manna being gathered preserves something of the past, maybe the deep past from the point of view of the later biblical writer. 

He needed to explain what that was to his readers, who lived at a time when ephah was the measurement used.  In other words, we’re seeing here in this little editorial comment a hint of how these biblical stories have a history.  Maybe they’ve developed and they’ve evolved and things needed to be added as things were handed down.  It’s like us reading in the New Testament—maybe you’ve come across this—we have footnotes that explain a denarius, a unit of coinage.  A denarius is about a day’s wage.  That’s what my study Bible says.

Today, a day’s wage—I actually Googled this—an average laborer’s day’s wage today is $14.57 an hour which is $116.56 cents a day.  It actually helps to know that a little bit.  A denarius is about a day’s wage.  What was a day’s wage?  What would it be for us?  It helps us to put it into context.  Because simply to say denarius—what do I care?  I don’t even know what that means.  Oh, it’s about what a worker makes in a day.  $15 an hour.  $120.  Okay.  I get it.

So much for food and water.


Another point.  This Israelites right away find themselves in a battle against the Amalekites.  This is in Chapter 17, verses 8 to 16.  For one thing, it’s worth asking whence the Israelites got their weapons.  Exodus does say earlier in the story that they left Egypt with plunder, likes clothes and valuables.  It’s really unlikely that the Egyptians would have decked them out in military gear.  I don’t think I’m crazy for suggesting that.

One explanation for where they got their armor and their swords and their shields from—one explanation that ancient Jewish interpreters came up with is that the Israelites stripped the armor and the weapons off of the Egyptian soldiers whose dead bodies washed up on the shore of the Sea of Reeds.

That actually makes some sense if you think about it.  It’s worth noting that the story itself doesn’t seem at all concerned about with filling in this logical gap.  I don’t think the writer actually cared very much.

I also think that a story about an Amalekite battle here might be for the purpose of giving the later reader something to chew on seeing that the Amalekites were enemies during the times of David and Saul, in their attempts to unify Israel around a monarchy.

I’m willing to think more about that, to entertain that possibility.  I have a feeling that this may be more complicated than what we’ve seen before, reading Israel’s later history back into an earlier time.  The Amalekites have been around for a long time.  I don’t think this is a made-up thing.  But there may be something more to it than what I’m seeing.  Again, we do see this sort of thing elsewhere, where a writer places something of his present back in the past.  In other words, I don’t know, but it is curious that the first thing that happens when they come into the land is that they have a battle with the Amalekites.  It’s not just that they have a battle, however we explain that, the story also serves a purpose of a couple things:  1) introducing Joshua as Moses’ general and he plays a huge role later on in the conquest of Canaan.  I see this as a bridge between the Egypt experience and then the later experience in Canaan.  We have here Joshua teaming up with Moses, so-to-speak, bringing an end to an enemy.  Joshua is going to be that bridge for the people between the Egypt experience and then later, the conquest of Canaan.

Let me elaborate on that a little bit more.  Again, I think it’s important.  We have to look at how they win the battle at all, this whole deal of how they win the battle.  Moses climbs a hill and he stands there with his arms raised.  You know this story.  I’ve heard many sermons on this.  As long as his arms are up, the Israelites are winning.  When they drop down, they begin to lose.  So brother Aaron and some guy named Hur, who will appear later in this story, they see what’s happening.  They rush over to help Moses.  They have him sit down on a rock and they prop up his arms with rocks.  By sunset, the Amalekites were defeated.

Frankly, folks, that’s a little bit weird.  Some commentaries say that this seems somewhat magical almost.  One way of looking at this is that Moses was holding his staff in his raised arms.  It’s not mentioned, so I want to be very cautious about that.  When we’re thinking about that, he’s holding his staff in his raised arms.  That’s why his arms are raised.  He has a staff.

In other words, this is another Egypt-like miracle which makes some sense since the Amalekites are playing an Egypt-like role in trying to squash the Israelites, even when their god was with them and had other plans. 

The power that delivered them from Pharaoh will also now deliver them from the Amalekites, who would also be the god who delivers them from the Canaanites.  Joshua and Moses are in this Amalekite episode.  It’s just Moses in Egypt.  It’s just Joshua in Canaan.  But here, the two are together.  It’s like a continuation of the promise that the warrior god will continue being with them in fighting battles. 

“Moses isn’t here.  That’s okay.  Joshua is.  He was with Moses before.  They’re tight.  So it will be good.”

It’s still weird.  This whole battle depends on Moses not getting tired.  The best explanation that I come up with is what I just said.  I think this is an extended Egypt-like experience where the staff comes into play and as a result, the sign and the wonder is done.  It’s a better explanation.  It’s the one that I go with.  It’s better, in any case, than some more common explanations like Moses’ arms were raised in prayer to God.  There’s nothing in the context that hints at that at all.  Or a popular Christian explanation is that Moses’ arms were raised like Jesus’ arms were raised on the cross.

On one level, I think that’s fine.  It’s well-attested in church history.  It’s fine for Christians to bring these stories and Jesus together like this.  But that doesn’t really help me what the writer here is trying to communicate.  I don’t think he’s saying, “Let’s slip something in here about Jesus.”  It means something to them.  Again, as I said, perhaps this is an extension or continuation of Exodus power at this moment.


But it’s still one of the weirder episodes in Exodus, along with God almost killing Moses right after he had told him to go to Egypt and deliver the Israelites, back in Chapter 4.  These are just weird things that happen in Exodus.

Another point here in this second big section on the way to Sinai, just a quick comment on Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law.  Moses and the Israelites are close to Sinai in Midian.  Jethro comes out to meet them with Moses’ wife and two sons.  This is in 18:6. They had been staying apparently with Joseph (I THINK YOU MEAN JETHRO) while Moses was busy at work. 

Early in Chapter 4, we hear of just one son, Gershom.  Now, we see he has a second son, Eliezer.  Fine.  Not a big deal.  Just didn’t mention Eliezer.  Who cares?  But there is actually a bigger problem here.

According to Exodus 4:20 in that story where God almost kills Moses, we read there that Moses’ wife, Zipporah, and their one son were with Moses on his way to Egypt.  That’s when the angel of the Lord almost attacks them and kills Moses.  They weren’t with Jethro in Midian.  They were with Moses on the way to Egypt.

It seems here in this boring little detail that we’re seeing evidence of multiple traditions of the Exodus story that were respected enough to be woven together in the making of this book we have before us today.  As is usually the case, the fact that the traditions don’t line up with each other doesn’t seem to bother the editor at all.  I want to suggest it shouldn’t bother us.  It should be a window to helping us understand the nature of this literature. 

Here’s Moses.  He tells Jethro all that had happened in Egypt, which is a nice development in their relationship.  You remember when he left Jethro, Moses couldn’t quite bring himself to tell Jethro the truth of why he was leaving, which is to say, “God told me to leave to deliver the Israelites.” 

Moses just mumbled something about needing to see how his kindred were doing.  “I’ve got to check in on my family” (4:18).  Now Moses puts it out there.  He’s just got this feeling of confidence.  He puts it out there like a son-in-law who earned his stripes and now, his father-in-law can be proud of him.  By the way, I have a son-in-law and was a son-in-law myself.  I get this.  Anybody who’s lived this can understand.

It’s like they’ve reached a new stage in their relationship where shy and unconfident Moses feels like, “Sure.  I stared down Pharaoh.  I stood there and watched the sea split in half.  I think I can handle Jethro.”  “Hey Jethro.  Let me tell you what’s been going on.” 

How does Jethro react?  He’s blown away enough to confess Yahweh as greater than all the gods.  Again, another monolatry thing.

Not so fast Moses.  Right after that, Moses, we read, is burned out from judging disputes between the Israelites who apparently form a line outside his door from morning to night.  Jethro sees what’s going on.  Maybe this is actually too much for Moses.  He tells him, “Well, looks like you could use some help there, Pal?  You should get some able men to help you divide the tasks and leave you to handle only the most important ones.  Not feeling so big now, are you Moses?” 

I’m not sure if that family dynamic is central to this episode.  I know some friends of mine who think this story is a prooftext for how God ordained Presbyterian church government.  You have a head pastor surrounded by his male elders.  Maybe. 

Maybe the biggest point of this story is that this bureaucracy of Israel is the brainchild of a non-Israelite, a priest of Midian, Jethro.  Israel seems to owe a lot to Midian.  After all, that’s where God’s mountain is.  There’s something about Midian that’s important for the origin of the Israelites religion.

Scholars have long wondered whether the origin of Israel’s religion, which historically is a very complicated thing and very mysterious thing, might owe something to Midian in the deep south, with respect to where Israel is, alongside of other stories that the Israelites preserved.  Liked our ancestor Jacob was a wondering Aramean.  This is more in the north.  You can see this in Deuteronomy 26:6. Or if they were from the far east in the land of Babylon.  That’s where Abraham is from.  Or as we read here in this story, some connection historically, some rootage in the land of Egypt.

This story of Israel in the Old Testament seems to suggest that Israelites have various points of ancestry and that were later united under Yahweh’s banner.  Maybe.  I think that’s true.  To me, that explanation makes the most sense. 

In this story, the only point is that Midian is very prominent in this ancient telling of the story of the departure from Egypt.

Moving toward the end here.

They all reach Sinai three months to the day after they left Egypt.  Two things strike me.  First, even those God rules all the earth, as we read, Israel is God’s special possession and their role will be to be a—this is in verse 6 of Chapter 19—their role will be to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  I think this is huge.

This means that Israel’s purpose, already here in the story, is to be priestly, to mediate between God and who?  The nations.  Feel free to think back to the story of Abraham in Chapter 12 where Abraham is called.  Abraham will have an influence on the nations themselves. 

Here you have it.  You’re to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  That’s why you’re here.  That was the plan anyway.  They were rescued from Egypt, not to go free, but to become holy, which means “set apart for special purposes.”  It’s not about moral perfection.  To act as priests mediating God to the nations around them.  A priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  Those aren’t two separate things.  They’re actually two parts of one role.

That’s why it’s so tragic in Israel’s story as we read on in the Old Testament.  Rather than mediating God to the nations, Israel, through its kings, winds up becoming a problem that God needs to solve somehow.  In some cases, He doesn’t solve it at all.  The northern tribes, the northern kingdom go to Assyria and never come back.  The southern tribe of Judah goes into exile in Babylon and comes back and has to rebuild, but never really does.

This plan to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation doesn’t work out very well.   But that was the plan.


Another point here.  It seems that no one is to touch the mountain itself.  “Keep your distance.”  In fact, they’re to wash their clothes and to abstain from sex to prepare to meet God.  At a distance.

Now Moses, of course, may go up the mountain.  He can go to the top, but only he.  The holiness of the mountain must be protected.  I only mention this here because a little later in the story, in fact, I mention it in the next episode of this podcast series, we will see more clearly how the holy mountain is marked off in segments, three to be specific, which reminds us of the Tabernacle, which is also the model for the temple later on during the time of the monarchy.

Hanging around the outside of the sanctuary at a distance is fine.  Say the temple.  Only priests can enter the next stage, the holy place.  But into the holy of holies, the third stage, only one may enter: the high priest. 

Moses here on Mount Sinai is like a high priest entering God’s most sacred presence.  You may remember that Chapter 6 which is sort of a boring chapter because there is a genealogy in it, but it makes a big deal of letting you know that Moses and Aaron are from the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe.  Here, we’re beginning to see why.

We also see here what is glimpsed earlier in the song of Moses in Chapter 15, that the temple and Sinai are closely connected.  To speak of one is to speak virtually of the other.  Both are marked off in segments of approachability. 

In Chapter 19, Moses is spending some time hearing from God on the top of Mount Sinai.  He is about to come down and tell the people what he heard and what God wants from them and what God is going to do for them.  But that is the topic of the next episode, where we look at the section of law in the book of Exodus.

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All right folks, thanks again for listening to another episode here of the Exodus series.  I appreciate you listening and pressing download and all that stuff again.  Just a quick reminder, the “pay what you want class” discussing Genesis is September 23.  Also, I’ll be at Evolving Faith October 4 and 5 in Denver, CO.  Tickets are still available.  I hope you can make it. 

All right folks, thanks so much for listening.  See you next time.