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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Episode 131: Did the Bible Get it Wrong?

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared answer some listener questions from the Ask Pete page as they explore the following questions:

  • What is the parousia?
  • How do the New Testament authors handle questions about when Jesus would return?
  • When did people in the early church expect Jesus to return?
  • What is the valley of dry bones?
  • What is the significance of returning from exile in the New Testament?
  • What is the significance of the genealogies in Matthew and Luke?
  • Does 1 Samuel 28 give us proof for life after death?
  • Why did God reject Saul’s attempts to talk in 1 Samuel 28?
  • What does it mean that David was a “man after God’s own heart”?
  • What is the Deuteronomistic history?
  • Why does 1 Chronicles rewrite David’s history?
  • Are there right and wrong ways to read the Bible?

Tweetables

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

  • “Be careful how you get your moral lessons.” @peteenns
  • “To be a man after God’s own heart, we have so much baggage for what we mean by that. That means someone we should emulate, we should model our life after, but that’s, I just want to name, that’s actually not in the text.” @jbyas
  • “I think we have to struggle with these texts and sort of make them our own.” @peteenns
  • “It is troubling to talk about being a man after God’s own heart… without reading just what the text says about what David was involved in and what David was doing.”  @jbyas
  • “We also are in a particular time and place, and we also bring our own baggage and our own ethics and morals and filters to the text, and it’s not to say biblical interpretation is right or wrong if you exclude one or the other of those, it’s how we wisely discern between the two.” @jbyas
  • “I also find it fascinating that when we acknowledge that we interpret, we actually learn more about what the text actually says.” @jbyas
  • “These texts as moral texts are deeply problematic for people, and people have known that since forever, which is why they do all sorts of interesting things with them, because the text itself doesn’t cut it.” @peteenns

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 podcast, today you get just me and Pete.

Pete: Yeah… sorry…

Jared: Maybe not “just”.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Maybe it’s okay.

Pete: We’ll see, I guess.

Jared: We’ll find out.

Pete: We’ll find out.

Jared: Time will tell.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Well, what are we talking about today Pete?

Pete: Yeah, we get some questions at “Ask Pete” on our website, and we went through them and we just noticed some themes, and we thought we would look at some of those on the topic of ‘Did the Bible Get It Wrong?’ Good topic.

Jared: Yeah. I mean, I –

Pete: The answer is yes. Next question. Anything else?

Jared: The answer is yes?! Oh, man. Someone’s gonna sound bite that.

Pete: Anything else we can get to? Yeah, no. So, we just thought we’d, ya know, look at some of these and you know, riff on them a little bit. We don’t necessarily have final answers, but I think sometimes even just framing the question differently might help.

Jared: Yeah, so these are questions that came to us on the website and so they’re independent questions, but we found some themes that are really around, questions around particular passages and what do we do with this? Does it mean the Bible got it wrong, or how do we need to change how we think about it? And I think, maybe we’ll get to a little of both of those in some way or another. So, what’s our first one?

Pete: Well, the first one is about the imminent Parousia. It has to do with the presence of the arrival of someone. It’s usually a term used for the second coming of Christ, and the question is “were the New Testament writers and were Jesus and the apostles, were they expecting an imminent Parousia?” In other words the end, the second coming is going to come very soon. In other words, they weren’t sitting around thinking, “well, this could be a while.” We would be here for a few thousand years, who knows. Or were they expecting it to be pretty soon? And –

Jared: Well, and when we say “it”, I just want to be clear, because we’ll go into some passages –

Pete: Well, that’s the question, what is the “it”, right?

Jared: Yeah, because we’ll go into some passages that Jesus seems to be thinking something is coming quickly –

Pete: Right.

Jared: And it doesn’t seem to be his death and resurrection, it seems to be something else, the kingdom of God, this other language –

Pete: Yeah. Well, what is that passage? Which is –

Jared: In Matthew…in Mark, Mark 9:1 and in Matthew 10:23. There’s a few of these passages, maybe we can just read those to help set the stage a little bit.

Pete: Yeah, and also Mark 13. That’s an important one too.

Jared: Yeah, Mark 13 starting there in verse 30 it is. And if you, in the NIV you know, there’s these headings. So right before this it talks about “the day and the hour is unknown,” and for me that was all end times stuff.

Pete: Right.

Jared: But if you back up a few verses, Jesus says this, “truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” So, “this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened.”

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And in history, we would have interpreted, or the history of interpretation, at least in the last thirty years in my tradition –

Pete: Right.

Jared: Would have interpreted this to say this is about the end times.

Pete: Yeah. Jesus’ return, I guess. That’s usually what people, but it’s often times what people assume.

Jared: Yeah, because if you back up it’s talking about these, and I have like these flashbacks to when I was a kid.

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: In those days, following distress, it’s like, pre-tribulation of the end times.

Pete: Right.

Jared: “The sun will be dark, and the moon won’t give it’s light. The stars will fall from the sky.” And it was interpreted literally –

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Like these things are going to happen. Like, the stars are going to fall, it’s going to be this crazy… “And at that time, people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds of great power and glory,” and that’s the context. And then Jesus says, “truly I tell you, this generation is not going to pass away until these things have happened.” So, if you read it carefully, like this person who asked the question, you’re kind of like, well, what gives?

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: This generation clearly passed away before Jesus came back.

Pete: Right, yeah.

Jared: So, what do we do with this?

4:00

Pete: Yes, that gets us back to what the “it” is. I mean, and there are a number of passages that sort of talk about something happening pretty soon. Yeah, I mean, this is a little bit different of a passage than some of the others that talk about, like, the imminent or soon to come appearing or arrival of Jesus, because this one probably deals with, as others gospels have it too, the destruction of the temple which happened in the year 70. And you might think, like, well, that’s not such a big deal, this has to be about Jesus’ second coming. Well, that was a big deal for Judaism. That’s like, this is the Babylonian exile sort of happening again with the destruction of the temple and where is God and what is God saying about God’s presence with the children of Abraham? And this was a cataclysmic moment, and you know, Jesus is talking about that. So, that symbolizes, you know, the beginning of a new era, the beginning of the new age. So, in that sense, it’s an appearance, right, of the presence of God with the people. So, that’s a little bit different though, than some of these sound like, you know, like Paul – don’t get married. Don’t buy life insurance, just, you know, this could end any minute and it probably will. And the question is, you know, do we sort of take that like, were they wrong? Do we take that literally? And my opinion, you know, Jared jump in here, but I think that we really have to sort of take them at their word here, because they, I mean, I cannot imagine, for example, a Jew who believes the Messiah is in their midst. When the Messiah is in their midst, that means the end is here and the kingdom is being set up. Now, there’s a little problem with the New Testament: Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. So, where’d he go? Well, he’s coming back real soon. Yeah, but what if, like, any of us happen to die in the meantime? Paul says, they’re gonna be fine, don’t worry about that. And that’s, the hope is something that’s gonna happen rather soon. There isn’t a hint in the New Testament, in my opinion, of you know, we could be here for a long time. So, I think the expectation was something soon, pretty soon, and I don’t blame them, because this is part of Jewish eschatology. It’s not like, it’s not a heavenly existence, it’s an earthly existence, and once Messiah shows up, it’s the beginning of the end.

Jared: I think, just to back up, because I think when we’re talking about these collection of Bible verses, because this is what we do in biblical interpretation at least, at an everyday level, we sort of have a theory and then we find these verses and we put them all together and they seem to provide this coherent whole. So, what I hear you saying is if we look at a text like Mark 13, that seems to be talking about the destruction of the temple.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And that’s what’s going to be coming. So, the “it” is the destruction of the temple.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Then we have these other verses that Jesus mentions like in Matthew 10 and in Mark 9 where he’s talking about an “it”, but he’s talking about it where he says like in Mark 9, “some of you who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” So Jesus, and then Matthew 10 uses “you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” So, he uses Son of Man coming and kingdom of God language.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: So, that seems to be a second category –

Pete: Right.

Jared: And then you have the New Testament writers like Paul talking about Jesus coming back. So, they’re really talking about three different “its” here. And I think that’s important because for a lot of people, they may, their churches –

Pete: Collapse them all together.

Jared: Collapse them all together into this one big event.

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, even to say, “were they wrong or not,” we have to figure out exactly what they were talking about.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: So in Mark, Jesus seems to be talking about the destruction of the temple, and that did happen before that generation passed away. And then the kingdom of God coming in great power, we don’t know yet, because that, I mean, that’s kind of a vague thing to say. And then we have the New Testament talking about Jesus coming back, which is a pretty practical thing and a concrete thing that we would be able to see happen.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And so that’s what you’re speaking to now is Paul’s and the other New Testament writers expecting Jesus’ imminent return in their lifetime to set up a physical kingdom of God on earth and when that didn’t happen, there’s questions.

8:30

Pete: Right, right. And the part about “some of you here will not taste death until you see the Son of Man coming in power,” and you know, that could be, I mean, I think that’s probably talking about the resurrection faith in the Gospels where that’s, you’re going to see that some of you will see this, and, you know. But, you know, does it mean Jesus’ second coming, because if that’s the case, then this is like, really, really wrong. But it depends on what the “it” is, it depends on what’s being talked about. And so, Jesus, you know, is raised but then he leaves. Like, okay! So, now what do we do? You know, so, “I’m coming back, don’t worry.” Okay, like when? And I think what we’re seeing, maybe, is the biblical writers working things out just a little bit on that, and the, again, I think it’s warranted for us to think of that would be assumed that this is not gonna be a super long period of time. It’s, you know, the Lord is near, Philippians 4:5 and Romans 13:12 about, you know, salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed. What’s that salvation, well, it’s probably the consummation of the kingdom with the return of the king as it’s supposed to be, right? So, you know, there isn’t really a notion of the end goal of this is someplace “up there.” The end goal of this is what’s happening right here, the people are suffering, and that’s the book of Revelation fits into that. Like, people are suffering, and the slain lamb of God is on the throne, and when is this all going to come to end? Well, “behold I saw a new heaven and a new earth, and everything was recreated.” Again, a new creation is there, and there’s like a Jerusalem there, and there’s a garden of Eden. It’s very corporeal, and very earthly. And that’s the way you would think of the Parousia, the coming, the appearing, God’s presence among you. That’s how they would think about it, and so, they’re looking at it from that point of view, and I mean, there’s some people that think that happened but in more of a symbolic way.

Jared: Right.

Pete: And I’m just, you know, there’s so many angles to go with this, but I think generally speaking, we have here something that didn’t come about, right? It just didn’t come about, but we understand why they would say that, but the reality takes us beyond the Jewish apocalyptic way of thinking. Because you mentioned in Mark 13 where the sun and the stars will, you know, drop out of the sky or something. That’s apocalyptic, that’s not literal at all. That’s apocalyptic language. That means something big is happening, there’s a change, there’s a change of regimes of ages and you talk about that in very sort of –

Jared: Well, and even the language Son of Man, which is Daniel apocalyptic language –

Pete: Yes. Right.

Jared: Well –

Pete: And it’s about restoration of the kingdom and with the true king on the throne, and I think that’s really the New Testament eschatology. And we can talk all about like, timing, and this and the other thing, but that is the overall vision, and that’s the thing that we have to grapple with, is that, the end goal –

Jared: Hasn’t happened.

Pete: Or yeah, or therefore, is that the end goal or is that the language of the consummation for a first century Jewish audience? This is what meant something to them, and do we have to translate that into other language for who we are and maybe that’s what we have to do. So, it’s not a matter of right or wrong so much, it’s a matter of context and what’s happening in the world and stuff like that.

Jared: Right, well, and I think we can’t underestimate too, you mentioned the New Testament writers trying to figure it out how, the resurrection, it seems in this context, would’ve been a bit problematic. Because if you’re, and we see this in the Gospels, that the disciples, after the resurrection they kind of, they –

Pete: [Quiet laughter]

Jared: Well, after the death, the resurrection, they don’t…it’s, yeah. It’s confusing.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: It’s a confusing time of what this means.  

Pete: Yeah, like, what are we doing with this?

Jared: Because we thought it was going to look like a bodily, you’re going to be here with us now forever –

Pete: Right.

Jared: And then that’s the resurrection. That’s great, but then Jesus ascends –

Pete: “I gotta go!”

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: “Don’t worry, I’ll send the Spirit!” Right, so –

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: And that’s why you have Paul, who we could call him the grand interpreter of what that means. He goes, well, it’s a two-stage coming. He came the first time, he left, and he’s going to come the second time. So now, we’re living in the new age, it’s sort of inaugurated by Jesus’ coming and then resurrection and ascension. But there’s a second stage where the new age is going to be completed, and it gets really confusing and it doesn’t help that the Dead Sea Scrolls talk about something similar. So, all this stuff is mixed up, and  I just, I mean for me, I just can’t stress enough the notion of trying to understand the Jewish milieu and how that might affect why they talk about ultimate reality the way they do, and then the burden is on us to say what do we do with that.

13:47

Jared: You know, it reminds me a little of the episode we had with Meghan Henning about the afterlife hell and that they had these concepts, but it’s messy because it’s not fully articulated yet.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And I think that’s similar to what we’re doing. It feels like people using metaphors or grabbing things from their tradition and bringing them forward and trying to grapple with this reality that there’s really not clear, yet, systematic thought for.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And I think that’s important to recognize that, because then when we impose systematic thoughts, that’s what we’re doing is imposing system onto something that probably was more fragmented and more improvised in the moment given the reality that they were seeing.

Pete: Yeah, less structured or something.

Jared: Yeah, yeah.

Pete: I think Matthias Henze also talked about that a little bit in Jewish apocalyptic expectation.

Jared: Right.

Pete: Yeah, we’ll leave you to that stuff. But yeah, that’s why, you know, I definitely appreciate the question “was it wrong?”. Well, in a literal sense, yeah, I guess it was. And it’s on the level of meaning, and what would’ve meant something to the people then. I think this is the way you have to talk when you’re talking about ultimate reality, God, you’re going to wind up being not precise, maybe, and not always right. And I want to say, I think that includes the biblical writers, you know, and I think for them to try to work it out is, you know it’s interesting that the disciples in the book of Acts when Jesus is about to ascend into heaven and they say, “is now the time that God’s gonna deliver the kingdom into our hands?” And Jesus basically says, that’s up to God. But it’s a stupid question, because they still have a mentality that Messiah means taking over Rome, and that’s not the case. So, you have those expectations being sort of squashed, but there are new expectations that’s really not part of the script and they’re trying to deal with it. And I imagine they could not have imagined Jesus is not coming back in our lifetime. That’s what, you know, Paul has this thing about, you know, those who’ve died, they’re going to be raised, it’s going to be okay. They’re not going to be forgotten. But it’s like a problem that came up that no one like, had thought about before until it actually happened, then Paul says well, it’s going to be okay. They’re fine.

Jared: Because the expectation was no one’s gonna die, because this is gonna happen right away –

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And now people are starting to die, what do we do with these people?

Pete: Yeah, maybe weeks, months, a year or two or three or five, but ten goes by. Fifteen, thirty, fifty, and it’s like, you know –

Jared: Well, and it seems like Paul maybe, isn’t always on the same page with Paul in some of that too, because, you know, in 1 Corinthians 7, it does seem clear that there’s this expectation that Jesus’ coming is imminent in the sense that, hey, if you’re not married, don’t get married. He has this kind of treatise on marriage, and it’s sort of like, hey, just things are going to be done here pretty quick, so, don’t do anything rash. Don’t do anything big. We’re just kind of waiting it out here a little bit and then that doesn’t happen. So, things evolve.

Pete: And so, that, which is one reason, not to get off track here, but that’s one reason why the pastoral epistles are often times, you know, understood, and typically understood by scholars not to have been written by Paul but later, because there’s already a church structure involved. There are bishops and elders. That’s like, a long haul kind of thing to do. Where it’s like, okay, we may be here for a while. Or John’s gospel where, you know, doubting Thomas says I’m not going to believe unless I see, and Jesus says, okay, just, you know, touch my side, right? And what do you think now? And he goes, you know, I believe. And blessed are those who, you believe because you’ve seen, blessed are those who haven’t seen and still believe. That’s something to say to people who, okay. This is taking a long time here, and all you guys met Jesus, and you know him, and maybe John, you did, or whoever, but we don’t. And it’s an indication of time that has passed and having to deal with that unexpected turn of events, the length of time, right? So, you know, I guess it just humanizes this text. Again, we use that word a lot. Right, Jared? It’s humanizing the text that these are people writing and theologizing and thinking and, you know, what God is doing seems to be always a few steps beyond what people, the containers we have for God, so –

Jared: Well, I think that’s a good segue into this next question, which is, you know, “how literally do we take a passage like Matthew 27? In verse 52 it talks about more than just, which may be a surprise to some people if you haven’t read closely. It’s not just Jesus who’s raised form the dead –

Pete: Yeah, a whole bunch of people.

Jared: It’s a whole bunch of people that, it, the text explicitly says, “and were seen by many people.”

Pete: Right.

18:47

Jared: And so, they mention Matthew 27 and they mention again in 1 Samuel, which we’ll maybe touch on in a minute, in chapter 28 where we have this person who’s a medium or a psychic, or, you may know the Hebrew that kind of fills that out more, but someone who can conjure people from the dead and so the spirit is raised from the dead and, so –

Pete: Oh, the Bible, it’s always doing this stuff to us. But I think, you know, Matthew, to me, is a little more straightforward and is this meant to be taken literally? No, I think it’s meant to be taken symbolically. And even saying, “and they were seen by many people,” that’s just the part, that’s just the graphic nature of the storytelling. Again, I don’t think we should take that literally as like, people are actually dead and walking around. That would’ve made the news, somebody would’ve heard about that. So, they were seen by many people? I just, I can’t help but thinking of like, Walking Dead scenes. It’s like, people with suits hanging off them. But I’m, you know, that’s not right. But this is typically understood as a symbolic way of talking about something that Ezekiel talks about in chapter 37, right? The valley of the dry bones, and this is a metaphor, because we know that because Ezekiel tells us exactly it’s a metaphor for returning from exile. The valley of the dry bones, that’s exile, but then their bones are put back together again and they become living, breathing, humans and Ezekiel says, yeah, that symbolizes, you know, returning to the land after the exile. And a return from exile, I think, is definitely a theme in the Gospels. And we know this because all of them begin by introducing John the Baptist by referring to Isaiah 40 –

Jared: Wilderness.

Pete: Which is like, the return from exile passage. So clearly, this has something to do with returning from exile, but it’s a different kind of exile. It’s not returning to the land to have a king again. It’s a more of a spiritual exile, and coming back to, you know, communion with God in Christ, and maybe that’s one way of understanding it. But bringing in Ezekiel 37, it’s sort of nice because in Matthew’s gospel it sort of begins with an exile allusion and it ends with an exile allusion as well. Like, in other words, Jesus is raised, the exile of Israel is now over. You’re really back in the land now. You haven’t been back in the land for a long time because there hasn’t been a king. You’ve had a temple you’ve been in the land, but you’re not in the land because you didn’t have the structure set up the way they should be. You need a king. Well, the king’s here. The king’s been raised. So now, you know, these, the dead come back to life again. And again, if you think of even how Matthew’s gospel begins with that boring genealogy, it’s really weird, but it’s like, three segments of fourteen, and it goes from Abraham to David, David to the exile, and exile to Jesus. And it’s really weird to have exile in a genealogy, but that tells us something about the importance of exile thinking for Matthew. So, to me, it all sort of hangs together and to take that literally is the same thing as like taking the genealogy literally. Like, really? Three segments of fourteen?

Jared: Yeah. It happened to work out that way.

Pete: And it doesn’t remotely match, it really doesn’t remotely match Luke’s genealogy in chapter 3 of Luke. So, you know, it’s just, this symbolic nature of this stuff, it’s something that we sometimes should just assume and try to work with what’s the symbolism of it.

Jared: And I think, just to further that, you know, Matthew in particular of the Gospels, relies heavily on this symbolism, not just of exile, but also the Exodus.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And it recapitulates the story of Israel throughout Jesus’ story, and so, you were reading carefully along in that way, and you pick up on all those allusions, which may be difficult if you’re not, you know, a first or second century Jew who has a tie to some of these events and traditions in that way, you may not pick up on it. So, by the time you get to Matthew 27 it just feels like it comes out of left field when all along, maybe it doesn’t if you pick up on some of these.

Pete: Right. And I think that’s an important point because the question worth asking is did the writer of Matthew’s gospel write that part and say, I hope you will take this literally, or was this part of the symbolism that he’s working with all along? And that’s not, like, a bad question to ask, that’s actually trying to understand the nature of the literature and what we have the right to expect from it. So, you know, I’m sure there are other answers to that people give. That’s the one that I’ve always sort of, just made complete intuitive sense to me, that this is what’s happening there.

Jared: And if we go back to then, 1 Samuel 28, again, where we have another person being raised from the dead, so to speak –

Pete: Yeah.

23:40

Jared: We can answer that in some ways similarly by asking what purpose does this section have in the larger narrative of Samuel, and what’s trying to be – because when I read it, it strikes me as kind of coming out of left field.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And so, when I read that, I think, well, I think this has a, this is a little bit harder because it’s hard to know with such an old text what was the author trying to say or not say.

Pete: Well, just the passage itself, okay. So, Saul is like, got a Philistine thing happening there. He wants advice, he goes to God. God doesn’t answer him, right?

Jared: Which is important. He goes to God, and God’s the one who doesn’t answer Saul.

Pete: So, what does he do? He says, I gotta figure this out. So, the witch of Endor conjures up the next best thing! The spirit of Samuel comes up from Sheol, I guess. Nobody’s happy about this. You know, he said, “what are you doing?? I was resting!!” You know, so.

Jared: [Laughter]

Yeah! Samuel is not happy.

Pete: He’s not happy. So, he hasn’t been happy with kingship since the beginning.

Jared: Right.

Pete: And 1 Samuel 8, he was very unhappy about kingship. He sort of begins and ends the story. He’s not a happy fellow about this kingship stuff, especially Saul.

Jared: So, it’s interesting that Saul brings Samuel back of all people, but –

Pete: Yeah! Cause he’s the one who anointed him king, and you know, that’s the prophet. That’s the one who spoke to him from God. That’s the one who was with him at the beginning, and then abandoned him with David, you know. So, that’s his like, I gotta figure out, he’s trying to understand what God wants him to do, that’s the thing. So, like, he’s not, he’s not, you know, I guess I’ll go consult with Baal, the god of the Canaanite’s.

Jared: Right.

Pete: I’m just going to stick with this. He’s actually trying…

[Laughter]

Does he know God rejected him?! I mean, everybody else knows, but does he really know that? I mean…

Jared: So yeah, I think it’s interesting that Saul tries multiple ways to get God to hear him. It says, “the Lord didn’t answer him by dreams or by Urim or by prophets.” It’s like, the guys trying everything! He’s trying to do it the right way, and God just keeps rejecting and rejecting and rejecting.

Pete: Which of course, is like, the total rejection of Saul, but he’s trying the right channels.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: And he wants to know what to do. He says, you know what, I know people who can do this for me.

[Laughter]

Jared: So, what would lead us, then, to not read this text literally?

Pete: What do you think?

Jared: For me, this rejection by God of Saul is an important point of the story in the larger narrative that’s trying to convey we’re done with Saul. Saul needs to be recognized for who he is or isn’t, and David is the legitimate person here. And so, if we read the Samuel narratives, it’s not that David is always portrayed in a good light, but it is clear that there is a bit of propaganda going on in some of these narratives.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And this one is no different, and it seems to play an important role in the narrative transition –

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: For why God rejects Saul and then David is now the legitimate king.

Pete: Yeah, I mean, it’s another sort of nail on his coffin because he’s been rejected since the beginning, well, the middle of the book when… You know, he was king for like from 1 Samuel 9, and then like in chapter 15, it’s already pretty much over, and then chapter 16 is when David is anointed sort of secretly and at that point it says, you know, David receives the spirit of God, but God sent an evil spirit on Saul. Which some interpreters like, some sort of psychosis or something because that’s when David plays the lyre and calms him down whenever he has these fits. So, it sounds like he’s basically manic depressive or something like that, but. The fact is that, I mean, the switch has already happened and it goes on like this for, you know, ten, twelve chapters or more where it’s just the story of the rejection of Saul and the clarity of that rejection and here at the end, I mean, is there a little pathos here? I mean, poor guy! He’s like, sort of really trying to do the right thing and God is nowhere to be found. And so, he takes matters into his own hand and gets a tongue lashing for that too, so. So, you know, I guess, I mean if you have to ask me, I would say no, I don’t think this is a literal depiction of events.

Jared: It’s not proof for an afterlife, say, or that people can be raised from the dead.

Pete: Well, yeah. I think it’s typically taken as why you should not engage in necromancy and magic. That’s typically how this is taken. And okay, that’s sort of the lesson. But again, the point of this is not a moral lesson for you or a moral lesson for me, or here’s proof that this or that happens –

Jared: Right.

28:27

Pete: Again, the story nature, the story quality of the Bible is, it’s uncontested. That doesn’t mean things aren’t sort of real or historical. Especially in like, the Samuel narratives, 1 & 2 Samuel, there’s, you know, there are historical echoes and circumstances, people agree with that. That doesn’t mean every element of it is a depiction of time and space reality. It could be a vehicle for communicating something of theological proof.

[Music begins]

[Producers group endorsement]

[Music ends]

Jared: Well, I think that’s a great way to get into the next question, and maybe you can read it. Because all I wrote down here was “was David a man after God’s own heart?” And we’re talking about his passage from 1 Samuel 28 and a lot of our depiction of David comes from 1 Samuel as well –

Pete: Right.

Jared: Of course, there’s other parts as well. So, was David a man after God’s own heart? Or how did this –

Pete: Yeah, the question was “I’ve always struggled with David was a man after God’s own heart. Really? David? Do you believe David was a man after God’s own heart? And what then, knowing who David was, does that mean?” So, I mean, he’s alluding to things that, David’s not a choir boy, you know. He, the whole Bathsheba thing. He was okay, I guess, at times, but you know, basically coming into power he, it got away from him pretty quickly and you know, he sends messengers to summon Bathsheba which means she doesn’t have a choice. He’s using his power, it’s technically rape, and has her husband killed to cover up the fact that she’s pregnant with his child. Way to go, David. And then two chapters later, David has two sons, Absalom and Amnon. And Tamar is the sister, the full sister of Absalom, Amnon connivingly rapes her and ironically, David delivers Tamar to Amnon not knowing what was going on in the same way that Bathsheba was delivered to his house. It’s very ironic and it just sort of really drives home, like, David, come on, but he was pretty clueless. The fact is that, you know, that she was raped by Amnon who then rejects her, and Absalom, the full brother of Tamar, is not happy. And he’s like, Dad? What are you going to do about this? And David just really cried. He lamented and he was sad, but he wouldn’t do anything because “he loved his firstborn son Amnon,” which means, I have a covenant obligation to him because he’s my firstborn son. I can’t do anything. And that starts everything going down the toilet for poor David for the rest of his life, and he dies sort of an old man in his bed, sort of clueless. And this is the backstory, I think, behind the question. Like, a man after God’s own heart? Are you kidding me? There’s no way! So, I mean, what, that’s in 1 Samuel 13. What does that even mean? I mean, Saul’s rejected, and God says, I have somebody else, a man after my own heart, and that’s, Samuel goes and anoints him as king, but what does that mean for goodness sake?

Jared: Yeah, and I like how he, the person, phrased the question because if that’s true, we have to kind of reverse engineer it –

Pete: Yes, exactly.

Jared: Because his moral exploits aren’t great. I love going back to the very beginning, at least one of the beginnings. David is introduced a few different confusing ways here in the text, but in one of them with the David and Goliath story when David’s really kind of hoisted into the public scene for the first time, and I love that the first question David asks, which we maybe miss if we don’t read it carefully. But the first question he asks when he gets to, you know, he’s bringing his brother some lunch and he just happens upon this Goliath who’s taunting the Israelite army. And we’re taught to think like, he was really all about God’s honor in that. But the first question he says is “what do you get out of this?”

Pete: [Laughter]

Right.

Jared: “If someone kills this guy, what’s the king gonna do for me?”

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And they tell him, well, he’ll give you a wife.

Pete: Which means you’d be in the royal family.

33:19

Jared: You’ll be in the royal family! And so David perks up. And it almost seems as though, because in the very next verse is his oldest brother. It says this, “his older brother heard him speaking with the men, you know, asking them what happens if I kill this guy, what do I get out of it? And his older brother burns with anger and asks, “why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave these few sheep in the wilderness?” Kind of like, you’re abandoning your duty.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Because you know you’re going to get something out of this. I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is.

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: You came down only to watch the battle. And so, for me, it’s just funny because I was taught to read that as like, the jealous older brother who totally misreads David.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And now that I know more about David, I’m like, actually, I think maybe he’s telling the truth here…

[Laughter]

Pete: Yeah. He’s got, clearly, David’s character is, let’s say, ambiguous at least.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: And you know, after he’s confronted by his brother, Eliab I think is his name –

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: But you know, we’ll just go back, you know, you’re conceited, blah blah. And David goes, “what?! I was just asking a question.” And so, typical brother is like, “What? What?! What do I mean?” And then what’s the next thing David does? He asks somebody else. “Tell me again what happens.” Right?

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: So, David is like, not the most upstanding fellow. He’s like, I’m gonna kill Goliath. I mean, the story is so, it portrays David in this light that, and plus, it describes David physically. He’s ruddy and handsome and that’s after God got done saying when Samuel thought maybe Eliab would be the king that God would anoint. No, not him. People look at the outside, God looks at the heart, right? So, David is a man after God’s own heart. So, and Saul was described physically. So, they want a king that looks the part and so David, well, he clearly doesn’t look the part but he’s described physically again in a way that’s reminiscent of Saul, so you’re reading the story, and like, okay, I’m really not sure what kind of a guy I’m dealing with here. And like, well, welcome to the story of David. You never know what you’re dealing with, and he hangs out with Philistines when he’s running away. He gets a mercenary army that actually winds up helping Solomon take the throne away from the elder brother Adonijah. It’s the stories are so complex. So, no. I would not look at David as a man after, a person I want to emulate my life –

Jared: And maybe there’s a distinction there, right?

Pete: Yes.

Jared: To be a man after God’s own heart, we have so much baggage for what we mean by that. That means someone we should emulate, we should model our life after, but that’s, I just want to name, that’s actually not in the text.

Pete: That’s not what the text says, right?

Jared: It just says a man, we don’t know what that means. I just thought, maybe you could expound. When we were talking earlier, you had a good idea about that in terms of how kings are portrayed in terms of how they worship.

Pete: Yeah, David really doesn’t get a negative evaluation. You know? He does a lot of wrong stuff, but as in terms of his kingship, you know, Solomon screws up at the end, and pretty much everybody. There are two kings, really, that almost get a complete positive evaluation and one is David and the other one is Josiah who is later on. But what unites them both is that, okay, one thing they never did was worship other gods. So, they were faithful to God and you know, David captured –

Jared: Maybe not ethically or morally faithful to God–

Pete: No, not ethically, no.

Jared: But in terms of actual worship.


Pete: Right. They didn’t conjure up, you know, spirits from Sheol.

[Laughter]

And that may be what’s going on, and that fits with the general view of scholars that this is part of what’s called the Deuteronomistic history. It’s a history of Israel and everyone is evaluated on the basis of the book of Deuteronomy. And the book of Deuteronomy, it has certain rules for what it means to be king, and it’s basically teaching the people Torah, which means, and being faithful to Torah, primarily the proper worship of God in a specific location, which is Jerusalem. And what David did is he captured Jerusalem, he made it the capital. He didn’t build the temple, Solomon did, but he got it going. So, David is somebody who is from the point of view of the worship of God, faithful. And it’s not that God lets him off the hook, so to speak, for the Bathsheba thing, although he sort of does. I mean, their child hangs on for a week, and then dies. And then Solomon’s the next one. So, okay. The child died, but David, you murdered somebody basically. You rape and you murder, and what’s going on? And that is without question for us, we should be bothered by that. We should, what is going on here, and is God like that? That’s really the question. Forget David. Is God like that, he sort of condones this. And again, in my opinion, and chime in here if you agree or disagree Jared, but this is part of, I think, the nature of this literature that it’s really not about moral lessons for us to learn, it’s about the struggles of kingship and what does God think of kingship, and those views change in Israel. They’re not always the same. Sometimes God is very pro, sometimes he’s very against, and by the end he’s pretty sick of it.

38:42

Jared: Well, I think it’s a complicated question –

Pete: Very complicated.

Jared: Because when you say that’s not what it is, I think we have to kind of splice that out.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Like, are we talking about the context in which it was, it wasn’t written to be a moral guide in that way.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: We now, in a lot of churches in a lot of contexts and traditions, use it that way. And I wouldn’t go so far as to say that’s necessarily wrong or bad –

Pete: Right.

Jared: But I think without respecting that that wasn’t the original intent, it’s very easy to get into predicaments you don’t want to be in.

Pete: Yeah, and that is an important point, because when like, say, churches read these stories for their own moral guidance, that’s something people have been doing for a very long, I mean, since literally before Christianity. And I actually, I’m not against that, right. I’m not saying you should never do that. But I’m saying be careful how you get your moral lessons. And you also need to sort of struggle with these texts, not just, well, it’s there, we just have to do it. I think we have to struggle with these texts and sort of make them our own. The biblical warrant for that, if I can put it this way, is the book of 1 Chronicles which rewrites David’s story completely. And basically, David does nothing wrong there, right? And that’s David’s take on the fact that okay, this story the way it’s told doesn’t serve the people here, so let’s look at it differently. So, you know, Chronicles was written probably at least two, three hundred years even as much after the time of when maybe 1 Samuel was written, and it’s a different take as times have changed and people are looking to these stories for hope for the future as opposed to maybe looking at these stories as God’s critique of kingship.

Jared: Right, to explain why we’re in the mess, and then later to explain –

Pete: Right. The mess being exile.

Jared: Right. Exile.

Pete: And then Chronicles, post-exilic. And again, looking at context, actually I think also helps us do theology. It helps us think of how these stories can be engaged by us in the life that we life. And that’s a complicated issue. That’s why I don’t want to get into like, here’s the right way to read this story. But –

Jared: But at the very least what I’m hearing is there needs to be respect given, like, I do think it’s, it is troubling to talk about being a man after God’s own heart, David, without reading just what the text says about what David was involved in and what David was doing.

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, there is probably an ethically better way of getting morals and values from Samuel –

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Than unequivocally baptizing David as the greatest thing ever, and we just emulate exactly how he behaved.

Pete: Right.

Jared: Like that, no matter how you slice it, that seems like maybe a problematic way of doing it.

Pete: And, I mean, yes. And I’m thinking now, you know, we recently had a guest on, Miguel De La Torre, who talked about how people in different contexts hear text. You know, I have female students, and we go about this like, what do you mean he’s a man after God’s own heart? He raped a woman. And then he allowed another rape to go unpunished. I can’t deal with this. Well, okay. It’s not a good reading of the text that ignores that and doesn’t take into account how listeners are hearing a text like that today. And so, we’re in the struggle of biblical interpretation of really engaging texts and interrogating texts so to speak, and really taking them seriously enough to wrestle with them and not just, well, here it is, it’s just the way it is. These texts as moral texts are deeply problematic for people, and people have known that since forever, which is why they do all sorts of interesting things with them, because the text itself doesn’t cut it. You have to do something to the text, which 1 Chronicles does, by the way. You have to do something to it to make it palatable for other times and places.

Jared: Right, and we’re, and I think, because this goes in maybe to the final question that would be good to talk about some, is we had a question, which we don’t need to get into fully, but it talked about right and wrong interpretation. You know, is context and history absolute? And I think it’s more of, you know, there’s this idea of a polarity. You can look it up if you haven’t. But it’s this idea that we can’t come down on one side or the other, we’re always moving between these two different poles. One the one hand, we do have how we respect a text. I mean, we have to understand that this was socially constructed in a particular time and place, and we have to respect it and understand it. Just like any good relationship, we have to understand the person we’re communicating with, but that doesn’t mean it’s all one sided. We also are in a particular time and place, and we also bring our own baggage and our own ethics and morals and filters to the text, and it’s not to say biblical interpretation is right or wrong if you exclude one or the other of those, it’s how we wisely discern between the two.

43:48

Pete: Yeah, and people have talked about the two horizons of the past, the ancient horizon, and the contemporary horizon, and there really is a conversation between those two, and it’s so much more interesting and so much more complicated than just, we’ll just do what it says. Just, what does it say, and it’s sort of there, and it’s just up to you to grab it. Who we are affects everything about how we read this thing, and even to the, you don’t know it always, but it’s there.

Jared: I also find it fascinating that when we acknowledge that we interpret, we actually learn more about what the text actually says because, for instance, I would’ve been taught, you know, you just do what the Bible says, and it says David was a man after God’s own heart. You just do what it says. Well, once you recognize that you come from a context and that you’re interpreting that, now when I go back, I actually read the Bible more carefully, I read it more on its own terms, and I see things that’s now going to impact that new filter I put on it.

Pete: So, you’re putting your own, you’re becoming aware of, let’s say, your bias and you’re able to sort of move it to the side, right? So –

Jared: Right, right.

Pete: Some would say that’s just a mature reading, you know? It’s becoming self-aware. And that’s, I mean, that’s truly, you know, people throw around a term like reading the Bible critically, and a lot of what critical means is you’re not the center of the universe. Your questions, your answers, your assumptions are not the center. You have to put those to the side and that’s why critical biblical scholarship, ideally what it means is like, I want to get into the head of this ancient time and understand what’s going on so that I can maybe think differently about it today, and that’s really what’s behind it, and that’s what we’re talking about here. You know, critical reading.

Jared: As long as, because I do think there’s a tendency to then exclude other ways of reading it too. Or even reading, say, devotionally or for the average person.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: So, it could become elitist in the sense of, well, I get into the head of the ancient author –

Pete: Right.

Jared: And so, my grandmothers reading, is just completely wrong and how can you…and I think we want to avoid that extreme too.

Pete: Yeah, I think there are, I mean, it’s a little simplistic, but I think in terms of different levels of reading, like if, and I don’t mean higher or lower, I just mean different rooms you walk into. And a lot of what we talk about here at The Bible for Normal People really is sort of that historical room.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: It’s like, what do these texts mean? And when you’re asking that kind of a question, you don’t read your own situation into it, you try not to. If you’re reading it for, let’s say, a spiritual nurturing or sustenance, or like, an immediate communion with God, Lectio Divina, and just devotional readings, where you’re not trying to analyze the text. It becomes like a means of grace to commune with God. That’s a totally different thing. The Bible works like that and it always has, and it always will. But, if you have a historical consciousness, you ask different kinds of questions. The trick is to, it’s almost like sometimes you have to turn things on and off, right?

Jared: Right. That’s the trick.

Pete: Turn off the historical analysis and move to something else. Yeah, that’s definitely a problem, but that’s a problem with the modern period. We can’t be ahistorical, we’re too oriented toward, like, researching and studying the past because it’s been a lot of past. So, that’s a part of our reality that we have to struggle with, but –

Jared: I think of it some ways, and this may be not a great analogy, but I’ve been recently thinking of metaphors with science where you have kind of the pure science of how does this thing function, we isolate the particle, the wave, how it works. Then you have applied science, and how does this technology or this scientific phenomenon now get applied to make things, make technologies, make products, make these kinds of things and one’s more practical and one’s more pure, and we have to make sure that we’re playing well between those two, and in some contexts, this is the appropriate methodology because of what we’re trying to do with it. And in others, this is the appropriate methodology and I just think it’s important that we don’t over-privilege, because I’ve seen some people who would be kind of anti-intellectual, and they say, “well, that historical critical stuff, that’s just actually getting in the way of the real connection with God.”

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And then other people who would look down on devotional readings and say, “oh, you’re not really getting to what the Bible is all about. To do that you have to read all of these books, and you know, read Greek and read Hebrew, and that’s what the Bible is really about.” And I think they’re both –

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Like you said, we make a hierarchy rather than seeing them as different rooms with different purposes and different functions.

48:30

Pete: Well, you know, what the Bible is really about, I mean, I just echo James Kugel, my doctoral advisor who said, well what it’s really about is exactly accessing it for personal benefit, because if, otherwise it would not have continued. You actually wouldn’t have a Bible if all you’re interested in is antiquity and understanding the original context or something, because when the context changes, it’s irrelevant, it becomes a relic, and who cares about a relic? It has to always be, you know, the fancy term recontextualized. It always has to be brought into the world of the reader and you have that conversation, and without that impulse, you actually, there’s no impetus to create a Bible. There’s no need for it. There’s no need to sort of have this sacred text you lean on. And so, yeah. That’s, there are ironies, they’re paradoxes here.

Jared: Right.

Pete: It’s like the history, the, you know, I want to know what Jesus is trying to say here. I want to understand what Paul means by this. I want to understand what the Psalm is saying, and that’s the struggle that we have, but on the other hand, we have to somehow find a way to come to peace. I have no trick for this, but to come to peace with that and the fact that regardless of what you come up with, the fact is that you live in a different moment and different time and God has to be as alive for you as God was for these biblical writers. We can’t just lean on the then, it has to be something different.

Jared: Right.

Pete: It’s almost triangulated –

Jared: There has to be a subjective element and that’s actually important, not something to eschew or do away with.

Pete: It’s inevitable.

Jared: Right.

Pete: It’s unavoidable. It is who we are, right? So, the myth of objectivity, we can’t get at the original meaning, but we get to struggle with our horizon and with theirs and well, how do you know if you have the right answer?

All right…

Here we go….

You don’t.

What if that’s okay? What if the multiplicity of interpretations, you know, within certain boundaries which we won’t get into now, but maybe, you know, that kind of thing is basically the history of theology and the history of the church. It’s just the way it’s always been.

Jared: Mm hmm. Well, what I’m coming to as we finish up here is we’re four seasons in and we’re still asking the same two questions.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: What is the Bible? What do we do with it?

Pete: And what’s Jared’s deal?

Jared: [Laughter]

That’s the third question you ask under your breath at the end of the episode.

Pete: When I’m driving home.

[Mumbles about Jared incoherently]

Yeah, and that’s those questions I think we’ll keep asking them, and the rest of the fourth season and maybe the fifth and sixth.

Jared: Well, and maybe just to tie into what you just said, if we’re still frustrated that we haven’t come to an answer, perhaps we’re missing the point.

Pete: Right. Yeah.

Jared: It’s like saying, it’s like going to the gym and saying, like, when are you, like, perfectly strong?

Pete: Ha, right.

Jared: And so that you can stop going to the gym.

Pete: When can you be done? Yeah.

Jared: You don’t.

Pete: When you’re eating healthy and are like, can I stop eating now?

Jared: Exactly, it’s a lifelong exercise to stay sharp and stay wise and discerning about being grounded in a tradition while also having to live in a real context today.

Pete: And being comfortable, I mean, switching the metaphors, but being comfortable with, I used to like, in the Bible, know the truth, and now it’s getting weird, so how can I know the truth again? Well, the point of the journey might be that’s a question you don’t ask in the same way. You might ask it differently, or just the nature of truth changes for you. I know you’ve got some thoughts on truth, but different levels. You even did a podcast on this.

Jared: I did.

Pete: So, and you’ve got a book coming out!

Jared: I do.

Pete: In some time. Like, in a few months or whatever.

Jared: A few months.

Pete: So, yeah. I mean, it’s the struggle of interpreting the text and within our context it just raises all sorts of actually possibilities and not just, oh no! What do I do? It’s like, okay, listen. This is, it’s more complicated than I thought. Okay, I’m aware of that. So, you can relax a little bit and as you’re trying to read this stuff and not feel like we have to sort of get back to that level of a certainty where like everything has to make sense because we have the Bible. If that were the case, people would’ve figured this out a long time ago. There’d be no seminaries, no yeshivas, no Bible colleges or anything like that. It’s like, we would just like –

Jared: Yeah, maybe it’s not a map to the one trail that gets us there, but it gives you a toolkit to kind of make your own path.

Pete: Yeah, right.

[Music begins]

Jared: Good, all right!

Pete: All right!

Jared: Thanks so much for joining us again for another episode of us asking the same two questions that continue to be the gift that keeps on giving I think.

Pete: Absolutely, and speaking of that, wash your hands folks.

[Laughter]

We were talking about that before too.

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: Yeah, we’re in the midst of it here, so –

I hope the day comes pretty soon where people won’t understand that joke anymore.

Jared: Yes, I hope so too. It becomes real irrelevant real fast.

Pete: You know, like really, really quickly, and just becomes a dumb thing to say.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: Anyway. All right folks, see ya!

Jared: See ya.

53:25

Pete: And folks, in closing, just a reminder, we are going to our summer schedule starting this week, which means our episodes will be airing every other week instead of every week.

[Sighs]

It’ll be okay. Don’t cry about it too much. You know, I’m sure you can find things to do in the summer, right? Well, so can we. So, every other week starting now, and we’ll be picking it up week by week again in the beginning of September. All right folks, see ya.

[Music ends]

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Pete Ruins Exodus Part 2

Pete Ruins Exodus (Part 2)

May 7, 2019

Pete continues his series in Exodus chapters 3 and 4. God reveals his plan to use Moses to deliver the Israelites from Egypt and Moses does everything he can think of to get out of it. He finally gets on board with the program, but not without a last-minute bizarre twist and a close call.

Mentioned in this episode

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.

[Jaunty Intro Music]

Pete:  Hey everybody.  Welcome to another episode of the Bible for Normal People.  And we’re back.  Pete Ruins Exodus Series.  This is Part 2.  We’re gonna hit Chapters 3 and 4.  Remember last time, we looked at Chapters 1 and 2 and I said it’s gonna take us a little bit more time to go through the first few chapters, because a lot of the theology of the book is set up in the first four chapters.  So we did Chapters 1 and 2 last time, where we met Moses and he ran away from Egypt.

And now, we get to the real meaty part of the introduction.  This sets up a lot of stuff that’s gonna come afterwards.  So, we’re gonna, again, take a little bit of time doing this.  The subsequent episodes are not going to be dealing with a couple chapters at a time, because we’d be here for a 20-part series, which ain’t gonna happen, folks, as much as I like it.  As much as I love talking about this book and thinking about it, it’s not going to happen. 

Listen, in these three chapters, what I do—I always do this when I think about presenting or teaching on topics—I try to break it down from a 30,000-foot view level and I’ve come up with three basic parts, three sections to these two chapters.

The first is that God reveals a plan to Moses.  This is the whole Mount Sinai and burning bush thing.  That’s the first few verses of Chapter 3.

Then the bulk of this is Moses having heard the plan, he tries everything he can to get out of it.  That takes us from the middle of Chapter 3 to the middle of Chapter 4.

The last part is Moses finally gets on board with the program, but he’s really still not super happy about it.  It doesn’t go off without a hitch.  There’s something very, very weird that happens in this part of the book.  It’s hard to explain actually.

But those are the three.  We’ll take each of those and, like last time, and like we’re gonna do for the rest of the series, I’ll break it down the way I see it, the big picture and then drop down in each of these sections and talk about a few things that I think are important or interesting or valuable for a number of reasons to talk about.

Hope that sounds okay.

So first—the first part is that Moses meets God and God reveals His plan to Moses.  The first thing we see there is the location.  They’re at this Mountain of God and that mountain, of course, is Mount (I bet you were going to say Sinai, huh?)—well, it’s not Mount Sinai.  It’s Mount Horeb.  It’s not called Mount Sinai until much later in the book, like Chapter 16.  Mount Sinai is the more common term, but it’s not here.  It’s called something else.  It’s called Horeb.

Also, if you notice, the very first verse, the name of Moses’ father-in-law is Jethro, but we met him already in Chapter 2.  There his name is Reuel.  So what the heck?  You got two names of the mountains.  You’ve got two names of his father-in-law.  Actually, there’s a third name for Moses’ father-in-law, that Hobab, that comes up in the book of Numbers, which obviously we won’t get to. 

But the question is why is this?  Some people might explain it as like, “Okay, listen.  Just alternate names for the same place.  It doesn’t really matter.  It’s not a big deal.”  In a way, they’re right.  It doesn’t really matter.  It’s not that big of a deal.  But it’s still curious that you’ve got these different names for the Mountain of God and the different names for Moses’ father-in-law.

The way this is typically explained in the world of biblical scholarship is that what we have here are two different traditions of the Exodus story, two different ancient versions, maybe oral, maybe written down.  Who knows?  The editor of the book of Exodus as we have it, which probably happened after the return from exile in Babylon, which happened after 539.  This editor brought these together and compiled them, because he is interested in preserving traditions, not eliminating them.  So he puts these traditions side-by-side.

There’s a lot more into this to really explain this, at least the way a lot of scholars look at it.  If you are interested, we have a podcast episode from Season 2, by a scholar from the University of Chicago, Jeffrey Stackert, who talked about the composition of the Pentateuch (the Pentateuch’s the first five books of the Bible, Exodus being the second one) and how the books might have come together and how you can see this sort of thing, these differences, maybe tensions in the text and this is one of them.  You have two names for Mount Sinai, two names for Moses’ father-in-law.  That’s just worth noticing.

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The second thing that I find really interesting with this mountain is its location.  Now if you read the beginning of chapter 3, Moses is tending the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro.

By the way, side issue here.  The rabbis have said that tending sheep is job-training for Moses, because he’s going to be tending sheep, meaning Israel, for a long time.  Even as Psalm 77, the very end verse 20, there Moses is described as the shepherd of Israel.  And David is a shepherd.  He’s a shepherd first.  He’s shepherds the people. God is a shepherd in the Old Testament.  There’s something about shepherding and leading people—that analogy is very nice for ancient people. 

Of course, the New Testament, Jesus is the Good Shepherd.

Here you have Moses tending the sheep.  Now remember where he is.  He is in Midian.  He takes them from Midian to find a place for them to graze, or whatever sheep do.  I’m from the suburbs.  I’ve got cats and dogs.  I have no idea.  They might sit down with a fork and knife, for all I know, but who knows?

He’s taken them out to take care of them.  He’s doing what shepherds do.  If you look at—Google it—or look in any good Bible that has maps in the back and locate where Midian is, it’s on the far-right side of the Sinai Peninsula.  It’s pretty much up there, pretty north up there on the other side of this little sea that—the Gulf of Akaba, it’s sometimes called.

Midian is way up there.  If you look at the location of Mount Sinai, the traditional location is in that Sinai Peninsula, but way south.  You can look at the scales that they give in study Bibles and it’s about 100 miles or so. 

The idea that Moses was shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro, the Midianite, and he took them way down there is a really strange credulity.  Most people who read this say, “Listen, it’s—Mount Sinai’s not down there.”  That’s really a Christian legend.  It’s the site of St. Catherine’s Monastery and sort of a tourist trap, I guess.  Here’s Mount Sinai. 

Nobody really knows where that mountain is, but it doesn’t seem to be way down there.  It’s probably not that far south, which, again, is like 100 miles away.

Mount Sinai is probably up in the Midian area and that is in what Paul calls Arabia.  In Galatians 4:25, he refers to Mount Sinai as being in Arabia.  That’s much more consistent with it being in Midian than with it being way down south in the Sinai Peninsula.

That’s just a matter of—I think it’s—I’d even say it’s common sense a bit.  You’re not going to take the sheep way down into a dessert.  You want to keep them alive, not kill them.

So the location of the mountain is probably very different than what we’re used to.  Where it is makes sense, because there is actually a road, an ancient road, that runs from Egypt round the Nile Delta.  Again, if you have a map, look at it.  The Nile Delta, which is very northern part of Egypt where the Nile River pours into the Mediterranean Sea.  There is a road that you can take from there to way up north where Midian is, probably a trade route of some sort.

That might be the route that the Israelites take later.  That may be what’s understood there. 

All this makes sense.  But if you put Mount Sinai way the heck down there, it’s like, “What are we doing down here?”

That’s for the Mountain of God.

The burning bush itself is sort of a weird thing.  The burning bush is first of all—the angel of the Lord appears to him and later, it’s God speaking.  So this angel of the Lord and God are somewhat equated and, people spill a lot of ink trying to decide who is this figure?  Who is this angel of the Lord?  Some say, “Well, is it Jesus in the Old Testament?”

Probably not, because Jesus isn’t an angel.  That’s not really a logical conclusion to come to.

It is a figure that pops up an awful lot, as you may know, in the Old Testament.  Who this character is, is just—we don’t really know other than he is a messenger of Yahweh and so closely connected to Yahweh that the two are almost like equated.  To speak to the angel of the Lord is to speak to Yahweh Himself.

It’s hard to speak to Yahweh directly in the Old Testament.  That’s probably what it means.  When you see angel of the Lord, I think it’s oftentimes fine just to equate that with God or His divine name, Yahweh, which is going to happen really quickly in this story anyway.

It’s hard to identify who this character is. 

The question people have asked is “why a bush?”  Well, the Hebrew for bush is “sneh,” which is very, very similar to Sinai and it maybe that the name Sinai has influenced how this story has been told, if you follow me.  The location of Sinai came first and then because it’s a place in Sinai, a bush becomes part of this story.  That’s a possibility.  Of course, I’m just conjecturing.  We don’t know.

It could be the other way around.   There’s a bush, a wonderful bush, and people called it “bush,” “bushland,” “bushtown,” or something. 

More important, though, why fire?  Fire is common language in the Old Testament for the appearance of God.  The technical term is a “theophany,” when a god appears.  Fire is something that accompanies that.  You see that, for example, way back in Genesis 15, when God makes a covenant with Abraham and He’s depicted as this “fiery pot,” a “flaming pot.”

Later, you know the Exodus story, we’re gonna come to the Red Sea and there we have a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud.  But again, a pillar of fire is a way in which God is represented in the Old Testament.  That makes some sense. 

What doesn’t make sense is why doesn’t it burn up.  Why isn’t it consumed?  That’s what Moses sees.  He sees this bush and he’s curious about it because it’s burning, but it’s not being consumed. 

Again, it’s interesting.  The text doesn’t actually explain a lot of these questions that we have.  But some have suggested that it already anticipates the plague stories, where natural properties are suspended.  So here we have natural properties are suspended.  Something is not being consumed.  Others have thought throughout history that it’s just a metaphor of some sort.  It’s symbolic, for example, of Israel not being consumed under the pressure being in Egyptian slavery.

Who knows?  I’m just throwing out options here, but there isn’t much to go on.

I think it’s more than simply, “Wow!  What a miracle!  What a random, wonderful thing to see!”  Whatever it is, it’s not random.  It has meaning.  It has theological meaning.  We just don’t know what it is.  At least, I don’t.  Maybe you do.  If you do, message me.  I’d love to hear it.

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When Moses approaches this bush, he’s told, “Stay back.”  God says, “Stay where you are and remove your sandals.  You can’t just walk over here like this.”  There is a reverence to being in God’s presence.  Here’s the thing that I find so intriguing about this.  I’m not making any of this stuff up.  In Jewish theology, ancient Jewish theology, Mount Sinai is seen as the template for the temple itself later on.

What I mean by that is this.  Any Israelite can be at the foot of the mountain.  Part of the way up, it’s elders can go there.  All the way up, it’s only Moses, because that’s the most holy place.  That’s like the temple.  The outer court, pretty much anybody can be there.  You go the Holy Place.  You’re restricted.  Only some can go in there.  Then the Most Holy Place, the Holy of Holies, only the high priest can go.

What we’re seeing here is already, again, a preview of what’s going to be a rather significant thing later on in Exodus when the tabernacle is built, which is the movable version of the temple that’s built later under Solomon. 

You can’t just walk over here.  Take your shoes off.  Show some respect.  This isn’t a normal thing.  You’ve got to do something different.  Like taking your shoes off, which is still, as you know, a sign of respect in some cultures.  I even go into people’s houses.  Sometimes, I see them taking off their shoes, so I take mine off too, just to follow along with the custom.  That’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s still the idea of some sort of reverence or respect.

Moses in a different place.  His curiosity is already turning into some sort of fear.  He puts his head down.  He isn’t curious anymore.  Curiosity is beginning to turn into fear.  Especially when God relays the plan to Moses directly.

He begins—we’re all here in that first section here, around verse 8 or 9.  God says to Moses, “Listen, we already know each other, but you don’t know it.”  What do you mean by that?  He says, “I’m the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  I’m the God of your father,” which means—typically it’s “god of your fathers,” like the “god of your ancestors,” but in this case, it says, the “God of your father, Moses,” meaning “I know you were raised in Egypt in Pharaoh’s household, but you need to know that you’re dealing with the god of your parents, and the god maybe of your parents before that.  This is a family thing.  You’re actually deeply connected to me.  I know you.  And you’re gonna get to know Me.  We know each other.”

Second thing.  “Moses, you may be wondering why you’re up here talking to Me.  I’m coming to deliver my people from suffering and to bring them to a paradise-like land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

“That’s great.  Thanks for telling me. What’s in this for me?”  Moses doesn’t say that, but, “Great, why are you telling me this? Why are you telling me what you’re going to do?”  That is when God—the other shoe drops.  That’s the next verse.

This is verse 10, where Moses tries to get out of it, because God says to him, “I’m gonna send you to do it.”  This is Moses’ first try to get out of what God is telling him to do.  “I’m gonna send you to do it.  I’m gonna send you, Moses.”  That’s the thing that generates the discussion that goes in Section 2 of these chapters, where Moses does everything he can to try to get out of it.

We have here is the first of no fewer than five complaints on Moses’ part to get out of it.  “All right, Moses.  I’ve heard the cries of my people.  I’m gonna come deliver them, which of course, I mean, you’re going to do it.”  So the first complaint is “Excuse me, what?”

Moses doubts his ability to do this.  “Who am I?”  I want to encourage you not to think of it as a lack of faith or something.  Of course, he’s gonna say that.  Who wouldn’t say that?   “Who am I to do this?  I just ran away from Egypt and guess what, the Egyptians are mad at me, because I killed one of theirs.  Even my own people, the Israelites, don’t trust me very much because I tried to break up a fight between two of them and they got all testy with me.  Just leave me alone here.  I’m having a good time just being a shepherd.  I was just curious about this bush.  Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got me doing this thing.  Who am I to do this?”

God’s response is, “I will be with you.”  This is a theme that’s going to continue in this chapter.  The theme is this:  Moses says, “Who am I?  I can’t do this.  I can’t do this.”  God responds, “I will be with you.  I’m going to be your mouth.  I’m going to do this with you.  You’re not alone.”  It’s really a battle of the “I’s” here in this section of Exodus.


In Hebrew, it’s very pronounced.  There’s a word that really emphasizes this first-person pronoun, “I”, that you don’t normally see.  Who’s going to be in charge of this?  Is it Moses?  “I’m not just sending you off on your own, pal.  I’m going to be with you.  I’m going to help you.  In fact, to let you know that I’m with you, I’m going to give you a sign.”

The problem is here is the sign that God gives him.  “When you’ve brought your people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”  You see that.  That’s not much of a sign if you ask me. 

“Here’s the sign.  Here’s the sign that I’ve sent you and you’re going to be successful.  When you get back here, you’re gonna worship Me on the mountain.”  “That’s not a lot of help.  What I need is a sign right now that’s gonna give me—give me a sign.  That’s not a sign.  That’s nothing.  I want to know right now what’s gonna happen and whether this is gonna work or not.   A bolt of lightning.  A rainstorm.  An earthquake.  Something to let me know right now.  That’s the kind of sign I want.”

That’s not what Moses gets.  This happens elsewhere in the Bible too.  The sign is something like—“I need a sign now, not later”—but maybe that’s the sound of God laughing.  I don’t know.  Maybe just pushing Moses in the logic of the story—pushing Moses to—“you’ve got to trust Me.  I’m not just going to give you a sign.  Because if I give you that, you’ll want something else.  The sign is I’m with you and you’ll know it when it’s over.”

Moses responds the way any of us would.  He complains again because he’s not really getting the answer that he wants.

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The next complaint is the longest one of this section.  Basically, he says, “They’re not going to believe me when I go back there and I tell the people that I’m the deliverer.  I’m going to bring them out of Egypt.  I sort of have a reputation back there that not everybody thinks the best of me.  Plus, after all this time has gone by.”

Let’s think about that for a second.  How much time has gone by?  It maybe that he’s about 80 years old right now.  Actually, he is about 80 in the logic of the story.  If you look at Exodus 7:7 when he confronts Pharaoh, it says that he’s 80 and Aaron is 83, his brother.

He’s 80 and he dies at 120.  They say that at the end of the book of Deuteronomy.  What tradition has said—Jewish tradition has held that he left Egypt at the age of 40.  He’s been in Midian now for 40 years.  He spent the first 40 years in Egypt.  He flees at the age of 40.  He’s in Midian for another 40 years.  At the age of 80, he leaves to deliver the Israelites.  He delivers them and 40 years later, at the end of the wilderness period, he’s 120 and he dies.

In fact, the book of Acts, the New Testament, the book of Acts Chapter 7 says that he’s 40 when he leaves Egypt.  Exodus doesn’t say that.  But Jewish tradition does.  The book of Acts reflects that older Jewish tradition.  They’re not just making that number up.  It’s not a Biblical number.  But it’s the number of Jewish tradition.  It seems like Moses’ life goes into three nice phases.  I think that’s pretty cool.

We don’t know that—but that’s what the text says.  Actually, that’s what tradition says.

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Anyway, the point here is that Moses is not at all sure that this is going to work.  He says, “I need a name.  They’re going to ask me, ‘Moses, who sent you?  Tell us who it is.’”  Maybe it’s a little bit insulting for Moses to ask God, “I need a name here.  They’re going to ask me a name.”  It’s like asking a famous person that everyone else knows—you meet him at a dinner party and you say, “What is your name?  I need to tell people what’s going on here.  What’s your name?”

They go, “Paul McCartney” or “LeBron James” or “Beyonce.”  It’s a little bit insulting, “What’s your name?”  God’s answer to Moses—God’s famous answer to Moses is, “I am who I am.”  He says, “Just tell them I AM sent you.  They’ll know who that is.” 

This is the part of Chapter 3 that it seems that the gospel of John takes and uses to describe Jesus, when Jesus says, “I am the Vine” Or “I am the Good Shepherd” in John’s gospel.  There are seven “I am” sayings and most think that this is John connecting Jesus to this moment on Mount Sinai where God says, “I AM” and that’s all there is to it.

It’s interesting here whether—it’s not really an answer to a question because Moses doesn’t know the name.  I don’t know.  Would Moses not know who this is?  Maybe he doesn’t.  Well, why wouldn’t he know?  He’s Jewish.  Well, he was raised Egyptian, so he doesn’t know.

I don’t think it’s the people who don’t know the name.  I think it’s Moses who doesn’t know it, in the logic of the story.  We’re not talking about history necessarily here.  Just in the logic of the story.  It’s Moses who doesn’t know the name.  Right after that, the Lord says to him basically, “All right.  Just tell them the Lord sent you.”

That word, “Lord” in the Bible, when it’s spelled with a capital L and then the “ord” likewise in capital letters, but smaller letters, that word Lord is the way, in English Bibles, you represent the divine name, Yahweh.

It gets a little bit confusing, but that divine name is typically not printed out in any Bible that I know.  That goes back to Jewish tradition.  The reverence of the divine name, not wanting to the pronounce it, so the best way to pronounce it is not even to put it in the text.  You put another word there, “Lord.” 

That’s His name.  Yahweh.  He’s announcing to Moses what His divine name is.  Yahweh.  Here’s the thing:  the word, Yahweh, nobody knows where that really comes from.  But in this story, the word Yahweh is connected with the Hebrew verb, “to be.”  They’re spelled very, very similarly, which is why when Moses asks Him for His name, He says—He uses the verb “to be.”  “I am Who I am.  Tell them ‘I AM’ sent you.  Listen, Moses.   Just tell them it’s me, Yahweh.”

But this biblical writer, he’s connecting that name, Yahweh.  He’s explaining to us where the term Yahweh came from.  It came from this Hebrew word, the most common word in the Hebrew language, in any language, “to be.”

I’m just dwelling on that a bit, because this has been an important element in the history of biblical scholarship.  Maybe God’s name is being announced here for the first time.  I’m not so sure that’s the case.  I could be wrong about that.  I just think it’s Moses—it’s not being announced for the first time.  It’s just being announced to Moses, who doesn’t know it.

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The historical background for this name for this name, Yahweh, like a lot of things, when you compare them to the Bible’s presentation, it might be a little bit more involved historically and complicated.  That’s a podcast on its own.  We’re not going to do that now.

Here you have God telling Moses, “Tell them Yahweh sent you.  I’m the God of your ancestors. Not just you Moses, but all the people.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  This is my ancient name.  This is my name forever.  They’ll know who it is.  Okay, Moses.  You’ve got the credentials.”

God continues.  He gives further direction to Moses.  This starts around verse 16.  He says, “First of all, you’re gonna reveal the plan to the elders.  You need to get the elders together.  Reveal the plan to them.  Then, you’re all gonna go to Pharaoh.”

Interesting enough, in the book of Exodus, the elders don’t go anywhere.  It’s really just Moses and Aaron.  Even after a while, Aaron drops out of the picture.  Moses takes over.  At least here, it says, “You guys go and tell Pharaoh this.  Tell him, ‘Hey Pharaoh, our God Yahweh told us that you have to let us go so we can take three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to Him.  We’re not going to do it here.  Our God—you can’t deny what our God wants.  Our God wants us to go into the wilderness on a three-day’s journey to sacrifice to Him.’”

Which raises a whole lot of questions.  A three-day journey.  Are they gonna just go out for three days far away from Egypt, sacrifice and then come back?  Is this the implication of what they’re saying?  In other words, is this like a little lie they’re telling to Pharaoh to let them go?

Which is not the first lie we’ve seen in Exodus.  Remember the midwives.  They tell Pharaoh, “Hey, the reason we’re not killing the kids is because when they’re born, the Hebrew women are too vigorous and by the time we get there, they’ve already given birth.  We can’t do anything.”

It could be another example here of—just tell them, “All we want to do is go away on a three days’ journey.  We’ll come back.  We just want to sacrifice.”  But Pharaoh won’t even want to do that.

Actually, what three days’ journey probably means (I’m like 85% on board with this)—but it probably doesn’t mean literally “we’re gonna go for three days.”  A three-day journey is just a way of saying, “We’re getting out of here.  We going to go on a long journey and we’re going to sacrifice to God in the wilderness.”

Still, there’s nothing here about, “We’re gonna be free of you and free of this place.”  When you think of ultimate purpose of the exodus to bring them freedom from Egyptian slavery, this is actually a pretty modest request to Pharaoh.  Alas, God continues.  He says, “It’s not going to work, unless I show him my power,” which is the plagues.  “He’s not going to let you go unless I stretch out my arm and I show him my mighty hand.”  That’s biblical rhetoric for God’s might.

Here it refers to the plagues.  I’m just throwing this in for free, because I love stuff like this.  In verse 19, God says, “God is going to stretch out His arm,” and the Hebrew word there is “shalach.”  He’s going to “stretch out His arm.”  As a result, Pharaoh’s going to send out the people.  The Hebrew word for send out is also “shalach.”  So God is going to “shalach,” “stretch out His arm,” and force Pharaoh to “shalach” the people. 

I love this stuff.  This is why I went to seminary.  Ignore that.  If it’s not fun for you, it’s fun for me.  And it’s my podcast.

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Here’s the point.  “I’m gonna have to strong-arm Pharaoh,” God says, “with the plagues, and then he’ll give in.”  In other words, the purpose—I’m dwelling on this for a reason, folks—the reason why God is gonna send these 10 plagues is because Pharaoh’s gonna need to convincing in order to let the people go.  “And then He’ll give in.  And you’ll leave.”

“In fact, you gonna make out in the deal, folks.  You’re gonna plunder the Egyptians when you leave.  You’re gonna take their jewelry, silver, gold, clothing and in fact, the women are gonna be the ones plundering.  Not warriors.  Not the men.  But the women are gonna do it because Egypt will be so meek and so beaten down that the women are just gonna ask.  The people will be positively disposed toward them and they’re going to give them their stuff.”

30:46. BREAK FOR PRODUCER’S GROUP

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“So Moses, is that enough for you?”

Nope.  Moses isn’t done yet.  He’s got three more complaints he’s gotta get through. 

So the third complaint—now we’re in Chapter 4—done with Chapter 3.

Moses isn’t done complaining because listen, “What if they still don’t believe me?  I’m gonna tell them all this stuff about your name and then I’m gonna tell them your plan, but there’s no guarantee that they’re gonna listen to me, so how are they gonna know that you appeared to me?”

You have to almost be looking at the text for this, but in Chapter 4, verse 1, Moses says, “Suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”  I think it’s important to remember that the “they” here is not Pharaoh or the Egyptians.  He’s not even talking about them yet.  The “they” here is the elders.  It’s not about convincing Egypt yet.  It’s first about convincing the elders because again, Moses didn’t leave on the best of terms even with his own people.

One of the themes that we hit in the Exodus story and throughout the life of Moses, throughout the rest of the books of the Pentateuch or of the Torah, is this theme of the people complaining or grumbling against Moses’ leadership.  Here we’re seeing this theme already anticipated.  Moses is anticipating it, saying, “Listen.  They’re not going to believe me.  I’m going to have a tough time convincing them.”

God says, “Fine.  How about some signs now? I’ll give you some signs.  You wanted signs before.  Here they are.  First of all, take your staff.  Throw it to the ground.  It becomes a snake.  Pick it up by the end, its tail, and then it turns into a staff again.”

That’s one sign.  It’s not just a random sign because the power symbol of the Egyptians (well, not the only one) is a cobra.  If you know some of the headdresses that the Pharaohs wear looks like a cobra’s little neck things opening up, fanning out like little wings.  That’s what the headdress looks like. 

The stick turning a snake then turning back into a staff again is symbolic of the control over the Egyptian power source, the Pharaoh.  That comes into play later when this is one of the signs that’s performed before the magicians of Pharaoh.  As you recall, Aaron throws the staff down.  It becomes a snake.  The magicians of Pharaoh throw down their staffs.  They become a snake.  But then what happens?  The staff of Moses swallows up the others, which is a sign of where this is going.  Egypt’s power will be swallowed.  It’s a symbolic sign.  It’s not just a random—hey, let’s do something weird—let’s turn this staff into a snake.  It means something theologically and in the logic of the story.

The next sign is turning Moses’ hand into—making it leprous.  Leprosy is some kind of skin disease.  It’s not like leprosy of today.  Every Bible says that.  Every footnote says that.  It’s very careful.  It’s not the kind of leprosy that we think of today.  It’s like any sort of a skin disease. 

The question is what does this mean?  What’s the symbolic value of this, turning it leprous and then Moses puts his hand back in his cloak and he takes it out and it’s going to be clean again?  Some have suggested this is another example of God’s control over the properties of nature, which you’re going to see in the plagues, which to me, is not that satisfying an answer.  It might also be something like this is symbolic of God purifying the nation for entering into the land of Canaan. 

That’s one of the problems with the Canaanites.  They’re not a pure people.  They’re a very unclean people.  They have to leave the land so the Israelites can come in, but they have to be purified themselves in order to enter it.  It could be something like that.  I’m not grasping for straws.  I’m just channeling what other people have said.  But there’s no explanation in the text, so people are bound to ask themselves, “What the heck’s going on here?”

Then he says, “Okay.  Listen, if those don’t work, here’s something else you can do.”  It’s not called a sign.  He says, “He can turn the Nile to blood.”  What’s weird about that is these signs—let’s call all three of them signs just for convenience’s sake—they’re clearly, I think, meant for the elders.  It’s the topic of discussion here.  Then you see at the end of Chapter 4 in verse 29, that’s what happens.  Moses performs all the signs God showed him before the elders to convince them.

Yet the staff is also a sign to Pharaoh and the turning the water of the Nile into blood is the first plague.  A couple of these hang over as something that are just given to Pharaoh and not just the elders.  It’s not really a problem.  I just find it interesting.  Two of these things are used in the plagues and two of them are signs for Israel, the elders, to convince them.  Don’t lose sleep over it.  I won’t.

It’s just these little irritating, odd details in these texts once you start reading them closely just makes you stop and think. 

We’re moving to the end, but he’s not done.  He’s got a fourth complaint.  This is in Chapter 4, verses 10-12.  It basically amounts to, “I’m not cut out for public speaking.”  The text says something like, “I’m heavy or dull or slow of mouth and of tongue.”  I’ve heard this explained that maybe Moses has a stuttering problem.  I don’t think that’s what’s happening here.  He might just be saying, “I get tongue-tied.  I’m not good at speaking.  I’m ineloquent.  I don’t really want to do this.” 

God answers him.  It’s again the battle of the “I’s” I mentioned before.  Moses says, “How can I do this?  I can’t talk.  I’m not eloquent.”  God responds, “I’m the one who gives speech to mortals.  I do it.  You don’t do it.  I’m going to be with you.  You don’t have to worry.  I.  I.  I.  I.”

Which “I” is doing this?  I don’t want to get too Sunday Schoolish here, but I think one of the issues that’s happening is that Moses hasn’t yet learned to trust God for this future endeavor.  I think he’s—I can’t blame the guy—who wouldn’t do this?  But he’s thinking, “You’ve asked me to do something.  I’m not equipped.”  The answer by God is pretty much, “I’m equipped and I am with you.” 

The fourth complaint ends like that.  Then you have the fifth complaint.  This is how this section ends.  It’s goes down to verse 17.  We have an honest moment finally from Moses.  He says, “Listen.  I just don’t want to do it.  Can you just send somebody else please?”  This is the first time God becomes angry with Moses.  His anger is kindled against Moses.  I’d frankly like to think God is exhibiting remarkable patience in this story for somebody who just—listen, the burning bush thing—“I’m talking to you and you’re arguing with me? What the heck’s going on with that?  Don’t do that.” 

God finally gives in.  He’s says, “Fine, Moses.  Fine.  Aaron will do the talking.  I’ll tell you what to say and then you tell Aaron what to say.  In other words, you don’t have to talk.  Aaron will be your mouth.  Aaron will do the talking for you.  You’re going to tell him what to say.”

In other words, Moses is playing—hear me out when I say this—Moses is playing a god-like role to Aaron.  He is the one who’s now going to speak on God’s behalf to Aaron.  Aaron becomes Moses, takes his role and Moses takes God’s role.  It even says this in this section.  It says that, “You will serve as God to Aaron.”

The only problem is that in Hebrew, it doesn’t say, “You will serve as God.  You’ll be like God.”  It says actually—it’s quite direct—he says, “You, Moses, will become God for Aaron.  You’ll become God.”

I don’t think Moses here is getting zapped with divinity or anything like that.  I don’t think he’s becoming God ontologically, in a theological sense or a philosophical sense.  I think this is just common of prophetic rhetoric the way prophets—when prophets talk, they rarely say, “God said this” and then “God said that” and then “God said that.”  They speak of God is the first person.  Thus saith the Lord, “I… blah blah blah.” 

The prophets are taking on the role of God, mediating God to the people.  I think that’s what’s happening here.  Moses is taking on this God-role for the people.  That happens again later on in Chapter 7, we’ll read that Moses likewise becomes God to Pharaoh.  He’s confronting Pharaoh like a god.  Not like a god.  I shouldn’t say that.  As God.

Remember when we talked in the first week how the two main characters of this book are not Moses and Pharaoh.  It’s Yahweh and Pharaoh.  Because Pharaoh is representative of the gods of Egypt. He’s the one who mediates the gods to the people.  Moses is mediating Yahweh to Aaron and to the people and to Pharaoh. 

The issue really here is the struggles between Yahweh and the gods of Egypt and their two representatives, which are Pharaoh and Moses.  Although Moses—hey pal, bad career-move here—you’re saying, “I don’t want this honor.  Can somebody else do the talking?”  God’s exasperated.  You want to do something nice for your kid and they just don’t realize it and they throw it back in your face.  “Fine!”  That’s how I’m reading this.  Moses is not doing something that should be something that he’d be very honored to do.

God says, “Fine.  I’ll give it to your brother, Aaron.  But I’m not giving up on you.  You’re going to be God to him.  Moses, I have something big planned for you.” 

This long back-and-forth between God and Moses, these five complaints, it’s finally over.  Now finally, Moses gets with the program.  This is the last section.  Section Three of these two chapters. 

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It begins in verse 18 by approaching his father-in-law, Jethro, and it seems like he’s basically lying to him, because he wants to go.  He basically says, “Listen.  I want to see how my kindred are doing, how my brothers are doing.  I’d like to go back and check how everyone is.”  Why doesn’t he just say, “Jethro, you might want to be sitting down here, but I’ve met Yahweh and he told me to do something.  I’ve got to go do it.”

Instead, he says—he makes up a little story, another lie, in the book of Exodus, and we’re only in Chapter 4.  Is he afraid of what Jethro will say?  Does Moses have self-doubt?  Is this one of those awkward in-law moments?  “You married my daughter and you give me one or two grandchildren at this point and you’re leaving to do what?  To deliver the Israelites from Egyptian slavery.  Dude, you’re crazy?”

He basically just tells him a story.  Here’s the thing too.  The last time Moses went out to see his brothers was back in Chapter 2, verse 11 and couple of verses after that.  This is where Moses goes out to see—to be among his brothers—to see them.  That’s when he sees an Egyptian beating on one of his brothers.  What does he do to the Egyptian?  He kills him.  That’s what started this whole thing spiraling downward. 

But now, it’s this beautiful reversal.  “I’m gonna go back now.  I’m going to see what my brothers are doing, but this time, it’s not that mini-deliverance where I kill that one Egyptian, which is probably me going off half-cocked and being temperamental.  But now, I’m being sent by God Himself and I’m going to confront the Egyptians en masse, now a second time.  Now things are going to go down.”

Verse 19.  This is one of those weird parts of Exodus that makes people think, “We’ve got different traditions that are just being edited together by somebody, because he just got done telling Jethro, ‘I want to go back and see how my brothers are doing.’”  Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 

Then verse 19.  Then the Lord, Yahweh, said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt, for all those seeking your life are dead.”  Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and went back to the land of Egypt.  Moses carried the staff of God in his hand.

We already know that Moses is going back to Egypt because that’s what the whole, long section was about.  But now, it seems to be as if—it’s a rather abrupt and choppy thing to throw in there.  This is what some scholars say.  In verse 19 and some of the stuff in this chapter comes from a different tradition that had a different way of telling the story, but this is a good way of bringing them all together, or at least bringing them both together.  There may only be two at this point.  Bringing these traditions together and honoring them and not forgetting them.

You basically have Moses told twice to go back to Egypt.  More interesting to me is the fact that the reason he’s allowed to go back is because “those who are seeking your life are dead.”  “What are you saying?  It’s okay to go back now? What about all these wonders and powers, these plagues?  I couldn’t go back until somebody died?”  It seems like a very un-godlike move, a different kind of way that God is presented than what we saw in the verses before.

“Here’s what you’re going to do.  You’re going to go.  You’re going to show all these powers and signs.  You’re gonna convince Pharaoh with my mighty hand and my outstretched arm and things are going to go down.  The Egyptians are going to be sorry about all this.”

But now it’s, “Hey.  Go back.  You know what?  Those guys who are trying to kill you?  They’re dead.”

It’s one of these things that requires an explanation and people have given their explanations.  They’ve tried.  Why not?

Maybe even more interesting than that is how this very verse, “all those who are seeking your life are dead”—that very verse is quoted virtually verbatim in the book of Matthew Chapter 2.  This is when the Holy Family is down in Egypt and Joseph is told by God in a dream, “It’s okay to go back home because all those who are seeking your life are dead.”  Of course, this is referring to Herod and the edict, “kill the male children” (actually just to kill the babies, the infants three years or younger, whatever it was). 

What Matthew seems to be doing here—it’s one of Matthew’s things to present Jesus in a way that reverberates these Old Testament stories, especially David and especially Moses.  Matthew says, “Jesus coming out of Egypt to go back home with his family, that’s like Moses going back to his home which happens to be Egypt, because the threat is over.”  Matthew is playing on this verse, this very odd verse in Exodus to say something about Jesus’ Jewishness and his Moses-like activities. 

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I do think that’s very interesting.  I like when the Bible does that.  It’s very literarily connected. 

Another way of looking at this is that it’s not so much—I’m just throwing interpretation possibilities out there—it’s not so much, “It’s okay now.  It’s safe to go back.”   It’s more like, “Now’s the time to go back, because our oppressors are dying.  Our exodus has begun.  Now go back and finish it.” 

This is a previewing in a sense what’s going to happen.  “Your oppressors are going to meet with an untimely end.  They’re dying.  Now you’re going to go back and finish the job.”

I think that’s an interesting possibility for interpretation.  Again, I’m not going to bet the farm on that if I had a farm, but it’s at least—these stories—they talk like this and they don’t explain themselves.  This book doesn’t come with footnotes.  We just have to try to figure things out.

We’re coming to the end here, folks.  Two or three more points.

In verse 21—we’re in this last section here of these chapters—in verse 21, God reminds Moses, “Perform the wonders before Pharaoh,” which will be the plagues.  But then God says something that frankly seems to contradict something He just said before—He says, “Perform the wonders before Pharaoh, but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.”

In Chapter 3, verse 19, “the plagues will be necessary in order to convince Pharaoh.”  But now, it’s like, “perform the wonders, but here’s what I’m going to do.  I’m going to harden his heart so that he won’t let the people go.”

“Which is it?  Are the plagues going to work to convince him to let them go?  Then you’re just going to step in and harden his heart so he doesn’t let them go?  That doesn’t seem to be fair.”

This is played out in the plague story.  The plagues themselves both happen after Pharaoh gives in.  This is especially the last three plagues.  After Pharaoh gives in, God hardens his heart to send more plagues.  I compare this to a cat playing with a mouse to show whose boss, just toying with it.  You carry it around.  You bat it around with your paws.  Then you let it revive itself and you then you bat it again.  God is playing with Pharaoh here.  He’s hardening his heart.  “I’m not done yet.  I’ve convinced you by my mighty hand and outstretched arm that you need to let the people go.  I know you’re ready.  But I’m not.”

It sounds cruel and stuff, but it’s the story.  I’m not sure if I would make final determinations about the nature of God from this verse.  There you have it.  These two things contradict each other in a strict sense, but I think in the context of the book of Exodus as a whole, it’s simply saying, “The plagues are going to do the job, but only when I say so.  I want ten plagues, not six or five.  To keep things going, even after you’re ready to go, I have to harden your heart, Pharaoh, so that you’re not going to let the people go, even after you said you will.”

Because guess what?  Remember what we said before.  This all has to get to the tenth plague.  What’s the tenth plague?  That’s the death of the firstborn of Egypt by this destroyer, so-called angel of death.  That’s not a right translation of the Hebrew.  That’s the tenth plague.

This is what he gets into in verse 22.  Israel is called God’s first-born son.  Remember, God’s first-born son, Israel, is oppressed by the Egyptians and in fact, the sons, plural—the Israelite’s sons—thrown into the Nile by an edict by Pharaoh back in Chapter 1. 

There’s no true payback for how God treated his son, Israel, generally, and the boys specifically.  There’s no true payback until the tenth plague.  This is really the principle of an “eye-for-an-eye, and tooth-for-a-tooth.”  You do this and this is what will happen to you.  It’s retribution.  It’s justice by retribution.

Also, this first-born son—Israel being God’s first-born son—this is son of God language which in the Old Testament is more often than not the language of royalty.  Kings in the ancient world—not just in Israel—were thought of as the offspring of the gods.  The son of god.  Certainly, the Old Testament too.  If you look at Psalm 2.  The king is God’s son, for example. 

That’s when he becomes king, when he’s coronated, so-to-speak, at that point, he’s “begotten by God.”  He’s “born of God.”  It’s often a royal term, but here it seems to be more like familial and “this is my first-born son.  I’m the dad of Israel and this is my first-born son.”  They have pride of place.  I care for them.  They’re special to me.

That might put a spin even on the son of God language in the New Testament.  Because there, Jesus is God’s Son.  In one sense, that means that’s royal language.  David is a son of God for being king.  Jesus, as Messiah, is son of God.  But he also may be son of God in fulfilling not just royal destiny, but Israel’s destiny.  Jesus fulfills Israel’s role as a mediator of the covenant of God to the nations.  We’ll see that later in the book of Exodus.  Israel’s role as a kingdom of priests, it says.

Jesus as son of God—that’s language that you already see here in the book of Exodus, Chapter 4, where Israel is God’s Son and Jesus embodies Israel’s role, so-to-speak.

One more point.  This is a doozy.  This is how this chapter basically ends.  It’s just plain weird.  It’s verses 24-26. 

Here’s what’s happening.  God just told Moses, even though Moses was reluctant–he finally caved and God convinced him to go to Egypt to deliver the Israelites from slavery. 

All-of-a-sudden, without warning, in verse 24, “on the way at a place where they might spend the night, the Lord met him and tried to kill him.”  Apparently, the reason for that is that their son wasn’t circumcised.  Zipporah, his wife—this is one of the daughters of Midian that he marries—she steps in with a flint knife and circumcises her son and then with the foreskin, she touches Moses’ feet, which is almost certainly a euphemism for his genitals. 

She touches Moses’ feet with the foreskin.  She says, “Truly,” to Moses, “you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” 

What?  Exactly.

Don’t preach on this in church because I think it’s just too difficult.  This is a very ambiguous passage.  It’s grammatically ambiguous in Hebrew.  There are a lot of pronouns.  Like “He, He, Him” that are thrown around.  You’re not always sure if the “he” is Moses or if the “he” is the son.  It’s a tough one to understand, but regardless of all that, this is a pretty serious about-face.

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You don’t expect to turn on anybody for any reason at this point.  After all they went through just with these speeches and the burning bush, why try to kill him?

The bottom line is that this is a big puzzle.  The best answer I have is one that I’ve heard.  I don’t make this up.  This episode is somehow connected to the Passover episode that comes later in the book.  Think of it this way.  The shedding of blood in the Passover and also here in the circumcision—it designated the insiders.  Who are the insiders?  Who are the people of God?  Who’s Israel? 

It protects the first-born.  Moses has two sons at this point, but there’s only one here.  Some have said, “How can he have one son when he had two?  Did one of them die?”   No. 

Probably, the only important son is the first-born son who isn’t circumcised.  That’s what I think it is.  I could be wrong.  That’s how I’ve put these pieces together.  Here is a son who is not circumcised.  Here, in order to protect him, and anybody from getting killed, is to circumcise him.

Here his son is circumcised just like later on in the Passover episode, what’s going to happen, but the first-born of Israel is not going to die by this plague of death, because of the blood of the lamb.  The lamb is slaughtered and the blood is painted on the doors. 

It’s still weird.  Granted.  It’s a really odd way of ending this chapter.  A lot of people have said, “It’s just seems to be stuck here.  It’s almost like a separate folk-loric element that meant something to people back then.”  What does it mean that you were a “bridegroom of blood to me”?

It’s really hard to know.  People have taken some good stabs and I don’t want to spend time doing that here.  It’s one of these explanations—to do it right would take 20 minutes.  I don’t want to do that. 

I think at the end of the day, we still wouldn’t know.  It’s sort of weird.

One thing that’s not as weird is here we have another woman hero in the book of Exodus.  It was Moses’ sister.  Then Pharaoh’s daughter bringing Moses to safety as a child.  It was the women who would help the Israelite women give birth to women.  Now, here we have another woman who comes to the rescue, who sees the problem and she takes the matter into her own hands, literally, and circumcises his son.

That’s a very valid observation.  Another valid observation—this may not be the whole point of the story, but there’s a parallel between another famous divine confrontation, this one involving Jacob wrestling with God back in Genesis. 

Important stuff is going down.  Jacob is renamed Israel and it’s the beginning of something new and fresh.  Here we have another divine confrontation with the human deliverer, this time Moses.

There are probably really good reasons why this is here.  It’s just hard to see them.  At the end of the day, couldn’t God have simply have told Moses all this earlier?  Like why wait?  “By the way, forgot to tell you.  Somebody’s not circumcised.  You’re going to die.”  You could have said that earlier and it would have avoided these problems.

Which means it’s so weird and so out of place.  There’s probably a reason for it we don’t see.

He connects with Aaron just as God had promised.  He connects with Aaron in the wilderness.  Did Aaron just walk out of Egypt?

It’s one of these moments in this story that just isn’t explained.  Aaron’s a slave, right?  He’s an Israelite.  He can’t just walk out.

They meet in the wilderness and they both re-enter Egypt like nobody’s watching.  I’m not going to try to explain it.  It’s just there.  When you read the text carefully, these things jump out at you.

Of course, he meets with the elders.  He performs the signs.  They believe and they worship.  Now, it’s all about to go down.  Now Moses is back.  He’s been accepted by the people as the deliver.  They’re not going to grumble against him too much.  One time in this book.  But after that, not for quite a while.  At least a few chapters. 

Poor Moses.  He’s grumbled against a lot.  At this point, everybody’s on board.

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Okay, folks, that brings us to the end of Chapter 4 and the end of this podcast on Part 2 of Pete Ruins Exodus.  Hope you’ve enjoyed it.  I’ll be back in a few weeks with the next installment where we’re going to cover a bit more ground.  I plan to get through all the plagues.

Again, from 30,000 feet.  But there’s a lot happening there.  A lot of theological significance.

Again, as always, thanks for downloading and listening.  It means a lot to me.  It means a lot to Jared and the work we’re trying to do.  Thanks for being a part of this.  See you next time. 

Bye-bye.