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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Episode 121: Pete and Jared Talk About the Afterlife

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk about what the Bible has to say about the afterlife as they explore the following questions:

  • How did the biblical authors understand the afterlife?
  • Is the New Testament’s main focus on the afterlife?
  • What does the Old Testament say about Sheol?
  • What is salvation in the Old Testament?
  • What was considered a life well lived in ancient times?
  • How does the idea of the afterlife justify God?
  • Where is a firm concept of the afterlife first mentioned in the Bible?
  • How is apocalyptic literature related to the afterlife?
  • What can ancient history tell us about the development and understanding of the afterlife?
  • What is the apocalypse according to the New Testament?
  • Did Paul believe what other Jews at the time believed or were his ideas original?
  • What is the difference between resurrection and the afterlife?

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Pete and Jared you can share. 

  • “For a lot of the Old Testament, it’s kind of silent on what happens when you die. It’s more interested… in your legacy living on in the life of your kids.” @jbyas
  • “Resurrection and afterlife are related but they’re not the same thing.” @peteenns
  • “Anything about eternal conscious torment when you die is by nature speculative and you’re outside the realm of biblical studies at that point.” @jbyas
  • “There’s no real clear notion of afterlife, at least nothing that we want to be a part of in the Old Testament.” @peteenns
  • “The Bible doesn’t get to constrain the questions we ask.” @jbyas
  • “It’s legitimate and it’s appropriate and it’s healthy and important, actually, to ask questions that the Bible isn’t equipped to even ask.” @jbyas

Mentioned in This Episode

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Read the transcript

 [Introduction]

0:00

Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty Intro Music]

Jared: Welcome everyone to this episode of The Bible for Normal People. Today we’re gonna talk about the afterlife.

Pete: Hmm, death.

Jared: What happens when we die?

Pete: Death.

Jared: Yeah. But, you know…

Pete: This is the Bible for Normal People and normal people die.

Jared: Because when you get up on a Monday morning, you really need that pick me up –

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: That real smile on your face. What better to do that than to talk about your death?

Pete: Yeah. Actually, this is my request. Jared’s gonna talk me off a ledge here, case I’m like, 59, and every joint in my body is rebelling at this moment, and I’ve been trying to, I’ve been trying, I think I can avoid death if I try hard enough.

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: I think I have a plan. It involves the gym, and a juicer, and I think I can probably make it.

Jared: Man, every infomercial producer in the world is loving you right now.

Pete: [In typical announcer voice]

This episode brought to you by…

Jared: [Laughter]

That’s right.

Pete: No death fruit juice.

Jared: Oh man.

Pete: Oh gosh, alright. Well, ya know, it is a topic though.

Jared: Well, I hate to break it to you, cause you are gonna die.

Pete: We’re all gonna die.

Jared: So it does affect us all, and we want to just look at  –

Pete: Ugghhhh. Gosh.

Jared: What does the Bible have to say about it? And I think we might be surprised –

Pete: About dying or about the afterlife?

Jared: About the afterlife.

Pete: Yeah, that’s okay.

Jared: But we might be surprised by what is says and doesn’t say.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: I think.

Pete: Yeah, I think so. Once you start looking for it, it’s like, wait a minute….

[Laughter]

Jared: Yeah! Well, I can just, I can share. Maybe we can test our, how we grew up, and you can tell me if this is similar for you. But for me, growing up, it was a pretty much a foregone conclusion that Christianity, that the Bible taught that when you die, you become this soul. Your body stays in the ground, your soul is sent up to heaven, and then you’re just with God. I think, when I was really young, I pretty much just assumed I was singing hymns, I guess?

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Forever? In this like, looked eerily like the church I grew up in.

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: And that’s just pretty much what happened when you died. That was the afterlife.

Pete: It wasn’t a big blue background with fluffy clouds?

Jared: No, it was like red scratchy cushions and –

Pete: It is interesting. What do we think of, right –

Jared: Right.

Pete: With afterlife and I wonder what ancient people thought of, you know? We do have some clues in the Bible, I guess. But yeah, it’s like, I mean, it is afterlife we’re talking about, so it’s basically, I guess postmortem something, right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: So after life and you know, things like resurrection come into that, into play with that, but I think we’re really not talking about whether any of that is something that is real or true, right? We’re just thinking out loud here really, about how the Bible presents it, and then thoughts that a lot of people today have about this issue, which, you know, cause your point I guess, the Bible doesn’t really nail it.

[Laughter]

Ya know?

Jared: Right.

Pete: It’s almost like it’s not even the main point, which is ironic, right? Because we’re raised to think the whole point of this is to “go to heaven when you die.”

Jared: Right.

Pete: And I’m not so sure, in fact, I am sure that that’s not really the central issue in the New Testament at least. And certainly not in the Old Testament.

Jared: Right, well let’s start with the Old Testament because we have various notions here of what happens when we die. And again, I think it’s, I think there’s something I can sense hesitancy in your voice and in mine to even talk about this because it’s not that central –

Pete: No, it’s cause I’m dying.

Jared: In the Bible.

[Laughter]

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: It’s not that central in the Bible, so even, it is a little strange because it was so central for my, for me, thinking, growing up of –

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: What Christianity is all about, but the more you read the Bible, you realize, oh, it’s not really, it’s not really a thing.

Pete: Yeah, and my students are shocked when we just talk about it. I say matter of factly:

There’s no real clear notion of afterlife, at least nothing that we want to be a part of in the Old Testament.

What?? It’s not there?

Yeah, it sort of developed.

It developed?! What do you mean it developed?? Isn’t the Bible all supposed to be the same thing cause it’s God’s word?

Well, yeah, I guess, whatever. But, the fact remains, right? That we don’t have much to go on. We have that place Sheol –

Jared: Yeah, so let’s talk about Sheol.

Pete: Yeah. Sheol, which is like, the afterlife word in the Old Testament.

Jared: Mm hmm, right. Where does it show up?

Pete: All over the place. Yeah, I mean, it’s common, but the thing is that it seems to not have one clear notion of what it is, you know? It’s just the place, it’s sort of like Hades in Greek. It’s the abode of the dead, it’s just where you go. So, there’s some sort of postmortem something.

Jared: Mm hmm. But it’s like a neutral zone, right?

Pete: Yes. It’s not hell.

Jared: Right.

4:52

Pete: It’s not heaven. That notion is essentially foreign to the Old Testament, which is sort of a wakeup call right there, you know? It’s like, whatever is happening in our Bible, if there are any shifts in the New Testament, and I think there are, but they’re also shifts in Judaism later on. It’s a developing notion, but back in the old days, it’s –

Jared: Where do we, do you know where the phrase Sheol comes from? Like, what does it represent, or what, you know, cause we call it Hades, but Hades is a Greek term, so that kind of developed within Greek culture. What’s Sheol?

Pete: I mean, in terms of where it comes from, to be frank, I don’t know and I’m not sure if anybody knows. You see foot notes in study Bibles that say things like, yeah, this is the place where dead people go, and that’s about it. But, you know, you catch glimpses of it in various places, like Psalms for example. Or hey, you know, you don’t want me to die do you, oh Lord, cause in Sheol no one praises you. So, it’s a place where, you know, it’s not singing harps. You know, singing with harps and clouds or something.

Jared: Right.

Pete: It’s a place where, it’s like you don’t have your normal existence. You know, it’s like –

Jared: Yeah, you don’t have a lot of agency or –

Pete: No, exactly.

Jared: Yeah. Right, right.

Pete: You’re just floating somewhere.

Jared: Yeah, you’re just floating. I guess is what I always pictured it as.

Pete: Right, right.

Jared: Hmm. Well, and then, so we have Sheol, which we see in various parts of the Old Testament. And it’s often in more, wouldn’t it be more in poetic things I think of, like in the Psalms I think of Sheol quite a bit, like Psalm 139.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Even if I go down to, I think it’s one of those verses in 139. Even if I go down to Sheol, you know, God is still there.

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, we have that as a notion.

Pete: Which is already a diversity in Sheol, someplace, it’s almost like God is absent form you completely and yet other places, right –

Jared: God isn’t.

Pete: God isn’t, so again, it’s like, maybe they’re working it out themselves.

Jared: Right.

Pete: Maybe they’re thinking about it. Like, what happens to, no seriously, what happens to us when we die?

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: I’m not kidding now, you know?

Jared: [Continued laughter]

Pete: And you read stuff in narratives, you know, you said poetic stuff, like, to be gathered with your fathers, or to be buried with your fathers. Which is a way of saying you’re dying –

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: Or you’re dead, but it’s a good kind of death and it’s a sign of a blessedness in death and then your life continues in your offspring, which is why offspring are so important.

Jared: Yeah, so, maybe let’s even backtrack before Sheol, because Sheol was the idea of an afterlife, but for a lot of the Old Testament, it’s kind of silent on what happens when you die. It’s more interested – which I think is an important thing to say – I think it’s more interested in your legacy living on in the life of your kids.

Pete: Mm hmm, right.

Jared: That’s sort of how you know you lived a good life and that’s how you live on into the future, is through your kids.

Pete: Yeah! Which is not, I mean, I don’t know, I know people today who think a lot like that.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: Even if they think of afterlife in some other way, you just, you wanna, like, how do you wanna die? In a bed, with your family around you, and your kids.

Jared: Mm hmm, when you’re old.

Pete: When you’re old, right!

[Laughter]

Jared: [Laughter]

You forgot that important part.

Pete: Not like, right away.

Jared: Yeah!

[Continued laughter]

Pete: Oh, we’re laughing about death.

Jared: Ah, yes.

Pete: Yeah, so, I mean, it’s something that is, it indicates a, like, you’ve died well, blessed by God and you’re gathered with your fathers, which, well, doesn’t that mean afterlife consciousness? I mean, frankly, there’s no indication of that. It could, or it could just mean you can be buried in the same country as your fathers.

Jared: I was gonna say, you literally be gathered with your fathers.

Pete: Yeah, right. And you’re all there together, and maybe, I mean, I’d like to think there’s some speculation there on the part of the ancient Israelites thinking, well, maybe if we keep ‘em all together, right?

Jared: [Laughter]

Yeah, then in the afterlife they’re not gonna get lost.

Pete: Yeah, so they’re all buried, I mean Abraham and Sarah buried in the same place, you know, stuff like that. So –

Jared: Well, I think I emphasize that because growing up where the emphasis was so much on the other-worldliness of faith, and I always appreciated learning and reading authors like Jon Levenson and others where they really emphasized that it’s, there is a way to die well without necessarily a belief in eternally living on forever. And I think that’s important, especially because there are people of other faiths and there are people of no faith who I want to respect and honor their way of kind of living long lives and dying well, and it doesn’t always have to include this anxiety of getting people saved so they have this long, eternal life –

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Which, I mean, for me, I appreciate that. It kind of calmed my anxiety to say hey, a lot of the Old Testament doesn’t seem concerned about that. It’s concerned about, life is tragic if it’s cut short, life is good if it’s long and you have children who can carry your name.

9:49

Pete: And if it’s cut short because you’re righteous, or good, I mean, that’s tragic but it’s also something to be honored, especially later on in Judaism.

Jared: Mm hmm, yeah.

Pete: So, you mentioned salvation, which is a good thing to, maybe just, to tie into this because, you know, what salvation means in the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament is not, you’re on safe ground when you die and that’s exactly the assumption that I think Christians have made. It’s not an assumption. They’ve highlighted maybe some few things in the New Testament that might indicate that, although I’m not very sure about that, but salvation, like in Luke’s gospel at the beginning when Jesus is born to salvation is to save the people from their enemies – that’s salvation. And salvation, redemption, deliverance – words like that in the Old Testament – it is a “this life” thing. There’s simply no question about that.

Jared: Right.

Pete: You can’t really debate that, it’s God shows God’s presence by delivering people from enemies, and that’s the preoccupation in some of the Psalms and elsewhere.

Jared: Yeah. So, we have, kind of thinking about the afterlife we have this idea of one notion that says, well, in a lot of places maybe the assumption is they didn’t really know what to do with the afterlife, but it was really more about long life, having posterity, legacy. Then we have this idea of Sheol, which is kind of this neutral, it’s always gray in my head for some reason, it’s like the neutral zone.

Pete: Yeah. I feel like some scene in some Disney movie, which one is it, where, I forget which one.

[Laughter]

It might be Hercules or something, you know what I mean?

Jared: Oh, yeah yeah. Mm hmm.

Pete: What, it’s like, the River Styx!

Jared: Yeah, it is Hercules.

Pete: Like, they’re floating in there like, uuughhhrhhhh, but –

Jared: [Laughter]

That’s right! Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.

Pete: It’s just not a place you want to go, but it’s a place you’re inevitably going to go, and –

Jared: Right, but you’re not tortured actively.

Pete: No!

Jared: It’s not hell.

Pete: There’s no devil down there. There might be, not in the Bible, but elsewhere there is somebody who’s in charge. There’s a deity in charge of this place to not let you out because you want to get out.

Jared: Right, right.

Pete: But you’re just sort of there in the Old Testament, that’s it.

Jared: Well, and then I want to point out Ecclesiastes, because in chapter three, that old doubter –

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Talks about, you know, who knows whether the soul goes up or the spirit goes up.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: I don’t know what the Hebrew there is, is it ruah, breath?

Pete: I don’t remember. Yeah, there’s yeah, nephesh maybe, but probably not.

Jared: Okay.

Pete: Yeah, we need to look up, we need to prepare for these podcasts, don’t we?

[Laughter]

It’s in the Bible for heaven’s sake!

Jared: Well, I figured you had the whole Bible memorized in Hebrew, Pete!

Pete: Our listeners can look this stuff up. They’re fine. We’re not gonna tax them with too much information, but…

Jared: But anyway, in Ecclesies… Ecclesies? Clesies.

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: Gee wiz.

Pete: Who knows if the spirit of man goes up and the animal goes down?

Jared: Right.

Pete: Which is interesting they’d already assumed some things.

Jared: That’s right.

Pete: Right?

Jared: Yeah, there seems to be something in the air, right, already.

Pete: And this is a post-exilic second temple text. And that’s important, I mean, people disagree on when it was written, but very few people say earlier than the fifth century, and some say even a little bit later. So, you already have developments there of a different way of conceiving of the afterlife, and it’s just sort of thrown at you here in chapter three. It’s like you’re just supposed to know what to do with this, right. Now, he’s doubting it entirely, right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: But the thing is, he’s doubting it. What the it? The it came from somewhere and it didn’t come from the rest of the Old Testament. It didn’t come from pre-exilic Old Testament texts.

Jared: Right.

Pete: It came from somewhere, and that’s the interesting thing.

Jared: Right, well, let’s maybe go into that, because I think that ties into, there’s definitely a phase, right? So, if we’re talking older, you know, talk about pre-exilic. So, we’re talking, you know, sixth century and before –

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Israelite kind of belief and practice, as we, at least as we have it kind of recorded in the Bible. That’s where we have, kind of, not a lot to go on.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: There’s just not a lot there. We have this Sheol, but then as we get closer and we start getting to post-exilic, which is important because now we’ve got all these other people groups starting to intermingle with the Jewish people, and we start getting Hellenistic influences and other things that starts to shape. It’s interesting, you talked about development earlier, how the afterlife concept kind of develops and it develops, coincidentally or not, obviously not, with these people groups that are now bringing their own ideas about the afterlife into it. So, can you talk a little bit about that around when this would be and kind of what those influences would be?

14:35

Pete: Yeah, I mean, in the context of other cultures who maybe have their own views on things, and also theologically in response to things that stop making sense to them. So, I mean, with Ecclesiastes, that’s a good question where he’s getting this from and I’m not sure if we can say with any certainty, but there’s something in the air and is it the result of Babylonian influence, or is it maybe Persian influence? Some people say that.

Jared: Well, let’s make that explicit. So, what we’re saying is, there is a belief in the culture in which Ecclesiastes is written, where the spirit, there’s a belief that the spirit of people goes up, presumably to heaven to be with God –

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And the spirit of animals go down into the ground to be, who knows?

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Gone.

Pete: Yeah. What are they doing down there?

Jared: Annihilated, whatever.

Pete: Is this a conscious spirit goes down with animals?

Jared: Right.

Pete: Do animals go to heaven? No Billy, they all go to hell. They go down there, so, ya know.

Jared: [Laughter]

But, so there’s this, that’s kind of the, it seems like that’s the belief that Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, is assuming.

Pete: He’s calling into question a lot of stuff.

Jared: Right.

Pete: That we would consider to be, you know, fairly straightforward, like, orthodox Biblical teaching, and he’s skeptical.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: He’s skeptical because he’s somewhat of an evidentialist –

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: Like, he doesn’t see the effects of things and so he says, who knows? We don’t actually, I mean, it’s actually, it’s sort of refreshing.

Jared: Yeah! I mean, he’s kind of right. We don’t know!

Pete: He goes, hey pal, we don’t actually know anything. So, like, in other words, you can’t, I’ve heard people sort of try to correct the negativity of this guy, Qoheleth as you called him in Ecclesiastes, and say well, he doesn’t have, you know, an understanding of like, when you die you go to heaven and everything is going to be okay. He’s saying, I’ve thought through that one, and I don’t know that it’s there, do you know that it’s there? I just, I don’t know, I find it a little bit refreshing.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: But he doesn’t dwell on that, you know, it’s really just a little bit there in chapter three and that’s it. So, we catch a glimpse –

Jared: Mm hmm, but, you know, again, like you said – there’s definitely an influence, and it’s not coming from the rest of the Old Testament that this influence is coming. You said it could be Babylonian influence, it could be –

Pete: Perhaps.

Jared: Could it be Greek influence at this point?

Pete: Maybe, if it’s that late.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: And if it’s that late, it would have to be –

Jared: It’d be real late, like second century.

Pete: It might even be the third century at the earliest. And there are some people who think Ecclesiastes is that late, it’s possible, it’s hard to tell. But it’s coming from, I mean, I think it’s enough to say it’s coming from some type of reasoning process or influence that is after the tragedy of exile, which maybe is something that got people thinking about a whole lot of stuff.

Jared: Mmm.

Pete: This could come to an end any minute, ya know? And so, I mean, that’s, apart from that what else? We have Daniel, right? I mean, Daniel 12?

Jared: Yeah, ‘til we get to the New Testament.

Pete: Yeah. Until we get to the New Testament, and there’s stuff in between too, but, ya know, Daniel is another one where, there we have what seems to be a clearer notion of something postmortem and it’s a context of judgement, but what do we have here? Daniel 12, starting in verse 2, “many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” So now we’re dealing with coming back to life. It’s not like what happens to you after you die. It’s sort of like, I mean, Tom Wright calls talks about life after, life after death, and that’s sort of what’s happening here in Daniel. But “those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” So, this is a notion that actually you find elsewhere in Judaism at the time. Daniel was probably written in the second century. At least the final form of it, it may have earlier traditions –

Jared: Which is way, way late.

Pete: It’s pretty darn late.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: Yeah, it’s written in the context of Greek influence, and a response to the persecutions that were happening early in the second century and Daniel sort of alludes to that throughout the places in his book, but –  

Jared: But is this one of the first notions? So, so far we’ve been talking, we’ve kind of been walking through the Old Testament in terms of ideas of the afterlife. Is this one of the first references that we have to this idea of what we might call bodily pre end of the world resurrection?

Pete: Something. Yeah, this is it, in my opinion. There is a passage in Isaiah that some people pick on, and honestly, I’ve read this so many times, I think it’s in chapter 28, again, I don’t have the Bible memorized. But, I mean, you have national resurrection and, but again, resurrection and afterlife are not, they’re related. They’re connected. They’re not the same thing.

19:33

Jared: So, like in Ezekiel, right? With the dry bones and that’s clearly a picture of Israel resurrecting as a people.

Pete: Yeah, after the exile.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: Exile is a place of death, coming back to the land is resurrection, and it’s the valley of the dry bones where they come back to life. And it’s not mysterious at all what that means, because Ezekiel says I’m talking about the return from exile, right? So, you have a national resurrection, but the resurrection business is all post-postmortem, right? So, I mean, on one level, if we just try to stick with what happens to you when you die, not one day in some distant future moment, but when you die, there isn’t much to go on. Here it’s just, you know, you’re in the dust, right, and then you raise to everlasting life. Now, the nature of that life is basically like the stars in the sky and that’s a notion of Judaism. That’s one of several ways people talk about like that state of immortality, right? So, we have to make the distinction between the afterlife, what happens to you when you die, and at what point do you talk about, well, the immortality of somebody and is it the immortality of the soul or of the body? And Jews had very different opinions on that sort of thing. But what happens after you die, even Daniel is not helpful really. It’s not after you die, it’s raised one day in the context of judgement, and I think that’s a really, really important development in Judaism, that God raises the dead for the purpose of judgement. That’s not an Old Testament notion other than Daniel, but Daniel is already participating in a way of thinking that’s very much influenced by that Greek context. 

[Music begins]

[Producers group endorsement]

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Pete: Is this where we get the idea of, like, apocalyptic literature where it starts to be, we’re now a persecuted people and we have, we have to find a way to honor and to make sense of these noble people who die for just cause. This can’t just be the end for them, there’s resurrection is a way to sort of, I don’t know what the right word is, validate that? To –

Pete: Actually, it’s to justify God. It’s a defense of God, really.

Jared: Right, yeah. Cause otherwise, these innocent people are just dying.

Pete: Why be Jewish if you die before you see the return of the glorious kingdom? You know, the Davidic reign reinvigorated, which many Jews thought would be happening at some point. And if you are faithful in keeping the covenant, you would be rewarded for that by participating in the kingdom, but if you die, tough beans for you. So, in order for God to be just to these martyrs, or just people who just died, not even martyrs, just people who died – the reasoning was, you know, well God must raise the dead. What else can God do? And I think it’s fair to say, I mean, these things, folks, the myriad of issues that interweave when you start talking about some of this stuff, it gets really a lot and there are different angles to take, but at least for me, Jared, what I think is that this is the development during this period of time after the destruction of the temple, after they came back from exile, of thinking through basically, what is God like? And how can death be the end if God is going to be just to those who have been faithful to him? It’s basically a matter of fairness and justice, and even to say God’s righteousness, right? For God to be righteous, God must raise the dead because otherwise, they’re just dead and all that’s like, why bother being Jewish? Especially in the sense and people say the same thing about why bother being Christian? You know, this life is all there is. Well, yeah. Eat, drink, and be merry, and all that kind of stuff, right?

24:45

Jared: Right, yeah. Which again, Ecclesiastes addresses quite a bit.

Pete: Right, yeah.

Jared: His answer is, yeah, well, I understand it’s all vanity, but, praise God anyway.

Pete: Yeah.

[Laughter]

Jared: That’s it! Not a lot else going on, but I wanted to mention one other passage. We were talking about a little bit earlier before we started recording, because I think it’s important here because it ties together the, you know, between the Old and the New Testaments, there’s a lot happening in terms of the identity of the Jewish people, and these different people who are coming in and taking over, and they have many different rulers, and it’s just a lot. And then there’s other things being written, and so one of the things that you mentioned was the Wisdom of Solomon. And in chapter three, it talks about “the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish, they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.” So, it ties in really well with what, I’m just gonna put a little teeth to what you were saying, I think it’s a great example of this apology for God. It seems like they were destroyed, but really, they are at peace. And this is the kind of stuff that’s happening and going on during this time between the Old and the New Testament.

Pete: Yeah, and there was some diversity too, in Judaism, whether, you know, being raised and judged and passing the judgment, is it a physical thing, or is it more the soul continues? So, really the issue is between resurrection and immortality, and those are two different things, and what you just read in the Wisdom of Solomon is immortality.

Jared: Right.

Pete: It’s the soul continues, and there are strains of Judaism, not the least of which is Paul, who felt that it was, well, the body is very, very important because the body has to be raised. See, this is the thing, the body has to be raised in order to participate in the kingdom. Why? Because the kingdom’s here.

Jared: The physical reality, yes.

Pete: Yes! It’s not up there someplace, the kingdom is here. So, you participate in that. I think, you know, that’s sometimes missed. You know, like, we go up to heaven and we’re sort of a spirit. Okay, well, you know, at the end, as you know, typical Christian thinking – in the end what happens when Jesus returns? Well, the dead are raised. Now what? Like, do we go back up again? No, not really, I mean, or are we up to begin with? Like, where are we?

Jared: [Laughter]

Yeah, right. We need one of those maps – “you are here.”

Pete: Yeah.

[Laughter]

Jared: Exactly.

Pete: But you see, you start plotting this stuff out, and it’s like, I’m not exactly sure. And you start looking for passages starting in the Old Testament to help you map it out, it’s like, my GPS is broken, because I’m not finding it here.

Jared: Mm hmm. Well I appreciate that, because I think that can be, that can be a helpful way to categorize what can be confusing, which is resurrection and immortality, because I don’t think people often think clearly about the distinction between that. That for Paul in much of the New Testament, there is a bodily resurrection. Would you say there’s not a lot said about what happens between when you die and when Christ returns, there’s not a lot said about what’s going on there. The real important moment is when Christ comes back, the dead are all raised and then there’s a physical reality of living in this reinvigorated kingdom.

28:14

Pete: Yeah, this new heaven and new earth so to speak. But it is a physicality, it’s not just an ephemeral thing. You know, I think what ties into this is, again, the notion of, well, use the word apocalyptic. The apocalypse, which isn’t the end of the world, it’s the end of the age and the beginning of the new one and the hope is for the new age. The new age is marked by resurrection and the rule of God and things are at peace and this was a major hope, but the thing is, and I think this, to me, has helped me make a lot of sense of this stuff. The notion was, this is gonna happen pretty soon. We’re not thinking like, in thousands of years, Jesus will come back, and then everything will be set straight. It’s happening very soon. Hold on, don’t get married. You know, just stay the pace. Don’t falter, don’t disbelieve, don’t doubt, because it’s an urgent moment. And so, there are many people, loved ones that Paul writes to, you know. In 1 Corinthians it’s a topic, like, what about them, and Paul says, yeah, they’ll be raised. I don’t know if Paul, I mean, I’m certain in my mind that Paul’s not thinking like, this could go on for centuries upon centuries upon centuries. So, it’s, let me say it’s easier to think of this reconstituted physical kingdom where the Messiah, Jesus, is on the throne, he returns to reclaim his territory. And those who have died, who are all, in their minds fairly recent deaths, or maybe going back to, you know, all this stuff that happened since the exile, it could be a lot of people, but it’s not several billion more, right? So, I think it’s easier to conceive of it, but for us, we have to, it’s just, it’s been a long time and are all these people physically, I mean, I’m just thinking out loud here. Are all these people physically gonna be raised? Where are we gonna put them? How does that work? And –

Jared: And then do they die again? Or is it just a forever kingdom on earth now where we don’t die?

Pete: You keep going with your body, I guess. And, you know, it’s a glorious body, this and that, and Paul talks about that in 1 Corinthians 15 too, so, you know, but it’s a spiritual body. You know, and people have, like, debated. To get into that, it’s like three podcasts, but what is that mean, a spiritual body, you know? But that what I’m saying. Paul is like, he says a few things –

Jared: Yeah. You have a corruptible body then you get an incorruptible body.

Pete: Yes, exactly. Right. That’s what I meant.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: Okay, could you expand that, Paul, for another paragraph. Help us understand what that means. We have these little indications that don’t, forgive me, explain much.

Jared: Right.

Pete: That’s the thing. And some of us want explanations, and we want to know and understand, and I’m not so sure how much help the New Testament is in actually with that. I mean Paul, in Philippians 1 –

Jared: Yup.

Pete: It’s, you know, to be with Christ is better by far. I could live, I could die, but, you know, when I die, I’m gonna be with Jesus. Okay, in what sense does that mean?

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: Like, you’re gonna stand there talking to him, is there like a spiritual connection, what happens?

Jared: And to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

Pete: Yes, right.

Jared: So, there’s a sense of immediacy in that kind of more, maybe not immortality, but what happens when you die.

Pete: Right.

Jared: There’s a sense of, well, you get to be present with the Lord in that sense.

Pete: And that seems to be a holding pattern –

Jared: Until, and then you get to come back with Jesus, I guess?

Pete: I wonder if it’s sort of a Sheol kind of thing…

Jared: Like a waiting room?

Pete: Yeah, and I’m sort of tying things together here a little bit just as I’m riffing, but, the whole issue of Jesus that is resurrection, the harrowing of hell as we say, you know, it’s reclaiming the dead as his, and sort of putting an end to that. Maybe that’s going on with Paul. But again, my point is I have no idea really. I’m just sort of riffing here, so –

Jared: Right.

Pete: And we talk about, you know, practically speaking afterlife today, just other issues come to mind that probably didn’t have to come to mind with them. Like, the universe was smaller back then, it was like, okay, God is going to set up shop in Jerusalem again, but we have this infinite space that we live in, and what does it mean for God to show up, and is physicality really everything, or, you know, when you die is there consciousness? What does consciousness mean? People, philosophers, and neuroscientists talk about consciousness, and I don’t understand half of it, but it’s really interesting. And some say consciousness is something that is a product of material existence, namely your brain.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: Other say, nah, it seems to be like, that doesn’t account for this. It seems to be outside of it. I’m hoping the outside ones are right, but who knows?

Jared: But who knows? Like Qoheleth said, who knows?

Pete: I don’t know.

Jared: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah, yeah. Well I just want to go back to one thing you said was in the New Testament, the idea that people will be resurrected and that might just be local. I just want to point out in Luke 13, Jesus mentions in this great kind of role reversal, he said, well, I’m basically gonna grab Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They’re gonna be with me in the kingdom with all these other random people, and there’s gonna be a lot of Jewish people who aren’t gonna make it –

Pete: Yes.

Jared: Because of this, so, and all the people are pissed off –

Pete: Right.

Jared: And, ya know, upset. But in that sense, like, he’s going all the way back to the patriarchs –

Pete: Right, right.

Jared: To a resurrect for this kingdom, so –

Pete: Right, and it’s not they’re going to heaven and the others are going to hell. It’s the constitution of a kingdom, and the question, okay, what happens to those who don’t pass the bar, right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: Well, there are differences of opinion. Some just –

Jared: We just know there will be crying and gnashing of teeth.

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: We don’t know what that means.

Pete: They just stayed dead?

Jared: Right.

Pete: Or they ceased to exist? The notion of being tormented for eternity, I mean, we’ll leave this for other people, but that is a notion that is utterly foreign to the New Testament. I reject it completely.

Jared: Well, I think what happens is once we get out of kind of what we’re talking about today, like, this fuzzy, doesn’t seem to be that important to the biblical writers to get really clear on what happens when you die. Even if it was that important, I’m with Qoheleth. How could you really know? And so, anything about eternal conscious torment when you die, all that is by nature, speculative, and it’s, you’re outside the realm of biblical studies at that point.

Pete: Yeah, I guess even, you know, for people who are Christian, still to ask the question, was Paul speculating or was Paul also a part of his Jewish apocalyptic matrix, so to speak, where there were certain assumptions made, if that’s the right way to put it. They’re beliefs, certain beliefs about what the end means. And again, the end seems to not be shaped in, well, you go to heaven when you die. It’s the kingdom will be set up. What about all those people who died? Hey, good question. Let’s think about this. Hey, I know! God will raise the dead, and in the meantime, there is a holding place to go to, and that’s what Paul seems to be talking about. There must be something like that, right? And he believes that, he fervently believes that. That may come from his Jewish context, where he’s putting pieces together, and it is, you know, whether, and I know this is not the easiest thing for everyone to sort of think through, and I totally respect that, but, we think through this outside of the Jewish apocalyptic matrix. We do.

Jared: That’s not the water we swim in.

Pete: It’s not. And you look to the Bible, and say, well, the Bible says this, but what if the Bible’s talk about afterlife is encultured?

Jared: Shaped by and conditioned by this certain environment.

Pete: Right. And like, other things in the Bible, once the environment changes, we have to, if I can use the word, Jared, reimagine things, and ask different sets of questions, right?

Jared: Mm hmm, yeah.

Pete: [Sigh]

Yeah.

Jared: Well, I want to come back, cause I think we kinda come back full circle here as we wrap up this episode, and that is, you know, we talked about the emphasis here on, at the beginning of our Bible’s in the Old Testament, there is more of a physical emphasis. There is an emphasis on the physicality of our lives. From the patriarchs on, it’s about living a long and full life, obedient to God. And then, here, just what you were saying when the New Testament rings a similar sound, which is, we’re talking about a physical kingdom. And so kind of, from beginning to end, this question, it just helps me think about the question isn’t really in the Bible. How do we figure out what happens when we die? But how do we either prepare for, be ready for, this kingdom of God, how do we live a long and full life here and now? It’s a very earth-centered narrative. Kind of beginning to end. There isn’t a lot of outer space, after life talk.

Pete: No, cause resurrection is, it assumes that the centrality of the physicality of it all.

Jared: Right.

Pete: And I’m like, what about in between? I don’t know.

Jared: Exactly.

Pete: You have ideas, right? But again, other strains of Judaism, it’s not the physicality of it all, like with Daniel or with the Wisdom of Solomon, there is another dimension, which is a –

Jared: There is a soul, kind of.

Pete: Immortality –

Jared: Yup.

Pete: And you know, I know a lot of Christians have been criticized for having more sense of like, the immortality of the soul, not the physicality of it, because the Bible says physicality. But there are reasons for thinking about immortality of what we might call consciousness and not the soul, but –

Jared: Mm hmm. The Bible is diverse.

Pete: The Bible is diverse, and also our context is different. So, ya know, I think it’s okay to talk about these things you know, and not to say, well here, the teaching is clear. Well heavens, it’s not clear! There are things that are said, but even what Paul says, it raises other sorts of questions that I think are really good things to be talking about.

Jared: Right. Well what I hear you saying, which I think is a larger point that we can maybe explore in another episode sometime –

Pete: We can call it after afterlife, another episode.

Jared: [Laughter]

Another episode. Uh, is that we don’t need to let, the Bible doesn’t get to constrain the questions we ask, does that make sense? That it’s legitimate and it’s appropriate and it’s healthy and important, actually, to ask questions that the Bible isn’t equipped to even ask because of the context in which it was written in.

Pete: Questions that never entered into the minds of the writers –

Jared: Right.

Pete: Are in our face all the time.

Jared: Because it almost seems like sometimes in certain traditions or in certain communities of faith, those are like, out of bounds or off limits. Like, you can’t even talk about these, like you can’t talk about neuroscience in relation to consciousness because that language isn’t in the Bible. And so, since the language isn’t in the Bible, we don’t really even know what to do with these categories of thought that have given us things like artificial intelligence and all of these other things that really need to be a part of the conversation, but a lot of times we cut them off at the knees. We don’t allow for it because, well, what would Paul have to say about it. It’s like, our minds can’t even compute because, well, obviously, Paul wasn’t thinking about that.

Pete: And that’s part of the reality of having a faith today that is always in conversation with, even rooted in an ancient story and text, but that still doesn’t, almost by definition, address all the questions that we have. And that’s, this is just a microcosm Jared, of the entire history of Christian thought, because that’s what’s been happening. The contexts have changed, situations have changes, and people have had to ask fresh sets of questions that, yeah, are fresh, that were not asked before.

[Music begins]

Pete: Well folks, I guess we could be talking about the afterlife for an eternity –

[Drum sting and laugh track]

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: Wasn’t that really funny there, folks? Anyway. But no, that’s all the time we have today. We’ve had a good time talking about this, and as we sign out, we want to thank the people who make this possible, like for example Megan Cammack, who is our podcast producer.

Jared: Yes, and Shay Bocks, who is our creative director. She makes everything look so pretty.

Pete: Yes, I know. And Reed Lively, who is our community champion, who connects with all the people out there and makes that flow.

Jared: And last, but certainly not least, Dave Gerhart, who is our audio engineer extraordinaire.

Pete: Who doesn’t like, cut in bad words, you know, when he’s doing these podcasts.

Jared: But he does cut out our bad words –

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: And so, we are [beeeeeeeeeeeep] grateful.

Pete: Yours Jared, maybe not mine, but yours. So anyway.

Jared: Alright, well thanks everybody. We’ll see ya next time.

Pete: See ya.

[Music ends]

[End of recorded material]

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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:

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Read the transcript

00:00

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.

MUSIC

00:11

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.

09:30

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.

17:05

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.

20:57

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?

26:45

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

29:10

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!

34:19

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.

39:45

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.

45:45

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.

53:50

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.

55:57  MUSIC

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.

Everyday Life in Ancient Israel