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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Episode 165: Stephanie Tait – Disability Theology is for Everyone

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Stephanie Tait about the application of disability theology as they explore the following questions:

  • What is disability theology? 
  • How does the cultural lens of ableism impact the way we read the healing stories of Jesus?
  • What is inadvertent ableism? 
  • How is ableism expressed in churches? 
  • Why do churches and parachurch organizations have ADA exemptions? 
  • What can the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his resurrection teach us about the assumption that everyone with a disability must want to be healed? 
  • Why is disability theology for everyone? 
  • How can decisions about inclusion made by churches or individuals scale up for greater good or greater harm?
  • What are the negative impacts of decentering disability theology? 
  • How can we learn to practice true solidarity? 
  • Why should we diversify the voices that we are listening to and taking in?
  • How can our view on disability theology have a ripple effect on our own theology? 

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Stephanie Tait you can share.

  • “I’m disabled. Everything that I do is filtered through that lens and that includes theology, my relationship with God, the way I read scripture – all of that is going to have that core piece of me brought to the table. Like, I can’t really separate the two.” @StephTaitWrites
  • “When ‘this too does not pass’, you’re sort of left with your empty hands going, ‘so, is all of it crap?’ Is there a way to take pieces of this faith and hold onto it still?” @StephTaitWrites
  • “We all read our own cultural experiences and biases and experiences into the text when we read it. If you don’t think you’re applying a lens, if you think you’re the true neutral, you’re definitely not.” @StephTaitWrites
  • “Rampant ableism is contradictory to what I know of God and his character.” @StephTaitWrites
  • “It was such a turning point for me to know that I serve a wounded Savior. There’s nothing broken or incomplete or anything less than the fullness of the image of God in an unhealed body like mine because he came back with an unhealed body.” @StephTaitWrites
  • “If disability theology really was for everyone, if abled people really invested in listening to disabled voices, in being taught by disabled theologians – the changes that could be made would be structural and systemic.” @StephTaitWrites

Mentioned in This Episode

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Read the transcript

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]

Pete: Hello, everybody. Welcome to this episode of The Bible for Normal People. Our topic today is “Disability Theology is for Everyone,” and our guest is Stephanie Tait.

Jared: She is an author, a speaker, and an advocate for disability theology, and I think it’s a really important episode for everyone to listen to.

Pete: Yeah, and we say this a lot – we learn things from our guests. We learned things from this guest. So, just, we’ll just, let’s just go. Let’s get into this.

Jared: Absolutely.

[Music begins]

Stephanie: To be brutally honest, this is an area where the church has really dropped the ball. A lot of what’s happening is not just insufficient, it’s outright harmful. A lot of the healing stories get taught as there’s something broken about this person and Jesus came in and fixed it. That is not a healthy or appropriate way to teach that story whether you know you have disabled people in your pews or not, you do.

[Music ends]

Jared: Well, welcome Stephanie, to the podcast. It’s really great to have you.

Stephanie: Thanks for having me on!

Jared: You know, one of the things, well, the thing we really want to dive into is this idea of disability theology. You know, here on the podcast we’ve said before, all theology has an adjective. There’s a context for it. So, before we get to the meat of that, I think it would be helpful for you just to explain a little bit of your story. Why is this interesting to you? Why does it matter to you, you know, this context and history of disability and suffering in the midst of relationship with God?

Stephanie: So, for a lot of my life I was a relatively healthy little girl. Until I got to about 16 years old, in the middle of high school, I started having really strange, and at the time, completely unexplained health issues and they were very all over the map. One minute it was breathing related, the next it was like, joints, the fatigue became crushing. I started to have memory issues and processing issues. Like, none of these things seemed related at all and my parents, you know, were behind me in being very frustrated and wanting better for me and so they’d take me to doctor after doctor and say, “What is going on with her?” And pretty much every time we’d get something along the lines of, “well, she’s a 16-year-old girl. Of course, she doesn’t want to wake up and go to class,” or, “she’s 16, she’s probably just depressed.” Or in the worst cases, we’d get things like, “Well, she’s very dramatic. She does a lot of theatre and she’s very outgoing. You know, maybe she’s sort of exaggerating or playing it up for attention.” And so, we just didn’t get any useful answers. And this went on for years. And as it went on, symptoms kept popping up every few years to add to the list. In college, I started having seizures and at this point, it was like, doctors were throwing darts at a board, right? Like, okay, I guess you have epilepsy too. We’ll just tack that on the list.

Pete: Right.

Stephanie: As my joints started to actually break down and it looked degenerative, they were like, okay, you have rheumatoid arthritis. Just add it to the list! When I got older, and my husband and I got married, I started having repeated miscarriages again and again. And once again, darts on a board. It was like, okay, well, these things happen so that’s gotta be unrelated. We’ll just add it to the list. And this went on for over 15 years –

Pete: Wow.

Stephanie: Until I finally heard a similar story of similar health issues from somebody I knew through the grapevine whose issue had actually been Lyme Disease. And this is something I had never been tested for, so I figured what the heck, worth a try –

Pete: Yeah.

Stephanie: Fought tooth and nail to get the testing and sure enough, for 15 years, this bacteria had been allowed to run rampant through my system, destroying organs, causing all kinds of problems. And the thing is, if you let it go unchecked for that long, some of that damage is not reversible. You can kill that bacteria and get it out of your system, but I had permanent heart damage, I had permanent neurological damage, these things just don’t reverse. So, it was sort of that catch-22 where you think, if I can just get a diagnosis, that, you know, that’ll be the key! And then you get a diagnosis like that and you find out it’s not really the end all, be all. You’re gonna carry some of these symptoms for the rest of your life. And even then, I was still referring to myself with terms like chronically ill.

4:44

Disabled? It felt out of reach to me still. I spent a lot of time going, no, you know, I don’t use a wheelchair, or I have good days and I still do a lot of things. I’m not disabled. Took me a really long time to sort through how much of that was my own internalized ableism, how much of that was just a real misunderstanding of what disability means and what it is and isn’t, but it wasn’t really until adulthood that I recognized I’m disabled. I will always be disabled. That’s a part of my identity, it’s a part of who I am. And so, I can’t turn that off as I walk through the world. That’s, you know, it’s a permanent piece of me. And so, everything that I do is filtered through that lens and that includes theology. That includes my relationship with God, that includes the way I read scripture, all of that is going to have that core piece of me brought to the table. Like, I can’t really separate the two.

Jared: Well, with that, maybe, can you share through the lens of maybe the church and your relationship with God through 15 years of unanswered questions and medical hardships and those kinds of things – what was happening to your theology and view of God in that time?

Stephanie: Whew! That’s a loaded question. To be brutally honest, this is an area where the church has really dropped the ball and where a lot of what’s happening is not just insufficient, it’s outright harmful. So, I came up in a conservative section of the Baptist church. I was from the Conservative Baptists Association. We split off from the SBC because they weren’t conservative enough for us!

Pete: Gotcha, gotcha.

Stephanie: So, I didn’t come up in a church that would’ve ever used the words “prosperity gospel.” And in fact, if somebody had, I think we would’ve said, “oh, heck no, we don’t believe in that nonsense.” But if you really look at the core of the theology, it was all over the place. It was definitely this underlying belief that if you do what you’re supposed to do and if you follow God’s will, whatever that means, you may not, you know, it’s not God’s gonna make you rich or give you a private plane or something, but there was definitely a baseline minimum, right? You weren’t going to be homeless and living under a bridge somewhere. And so, initially I spent a lot of the process sort of swinging between two extremes. Either A, if I just have enough faith, look, God’s gonna show up and do something amazing. So I just have to be, you know, 24/7, positive, encouraging K-love all the time, like just tell everybody I know he’s going to do something amazing, just watch! And if I could keep that up for long enough, he’d have to deliver. He’d have to come through. And when that didn’t work out, I’d often swing to the other extreme, which was am I doing something wrong?

Pete: Mm hmm.

Stephanie: Is there some secret sin in my life that I’m being punished for? Is there some lesson he’s trying to teach me that if I could just learn it, then this would finally end? We could move onto the next thing. And ultimately, when you swing on that kind of a pendulum for 15 years, neither of those answers was really fulfilling and neither of those answers really holds out long term. When it keeps going and going and going, when “this too does not pass” –

Pete: Yeah.

Stephanie: You’re sort of left with your empty hands going, so, is all of it crap?

Pete: Yeah.

Stephanie: Or did I misunderstand somewhere? Is there a way to take pieces of this faith and hold onto it still or does this mean that all of it is nonsense and I have to go back to the drawing board?

Pete: So, was that process, I mean, not to overuse the term, but was it spiritually traumatic for 15 years to be sort of on the swings one way or the other and neither end of the spectrum really worked and, you know, because people sometimes don’t recover from that, that’s my experience. When you have such a negative view of God, really, and of yourself, like, this transactional thing –

Stephanie: Yeah.

Pete: You know, people walk away from faith pretty quickly after a period like that. I guess you had your own crisis, then.

Stephanie: I mean, you’re not wrong. It felt like I was consistently left with two choices, right? Either God’s a real jerk or I’m just a horrible person to deserve this much extra punishment in my life. Right? And neither of those were things that we’re psychologically built to carry long term. They’re both really unhealthy, and you’re right, they’re both spiritually traumatizing.

9:48

If I’m honest, there are times that I don’t fully understand how I’m still here, how I still am a Christian, how I still consider myself pretty in love with Jesus, like, that’s, I don’t know. And what I don’t ever want to come off sounding like is – I feel like I’ve seen this book 80 times – you know, Suzie blogger tells you every bad thing that ever happened to her in her life, but Jesus!! So, it was all okay, so what’s your problem? Because her stuff is definitely worse than yours, so buck up.

Pete: Yeah.

Stephanie: Like, that is not what this was. I definitely had some extremely rocky and extremely raw come to Jesus moments that involved many swear words and lots of things that I was raised to believe you should probably not say to God. This was not a sunshine and just hold onto Jesus and it’s all gonna be okay process.

Pte: Yeah.

Stephanie: If I’m honest, and this is gonna sound a little hokey, I think there were times where I completely let go and so something else must’ve been holding onto me.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Stephanie: Because if it had just been up to me to keep choosing to stay, I would’ve been out of here a long time ago.

Pete: I don’t think that’s hokey at all. I think that’s how it works.

Jared: So, then connecting these dots, how did that experience shape what you would identify as disability theology? Like, in a lot of ways it seems like you needed to craft your own understanding of God in a new light given your new experiences and so how did your experiences shape what became, for you, disability theology?

Stephanie: So, I think you guys come from a similar place, it sounds like, of believing that we all read our own cultural experiences and biases and experiences into the text when we read it, like, there’s no way around that. If you don’t think you’re applying a lens, if you think you’re the true neutral, you’re definitely not.

Pete: Well, that’s your lens.

Jared: [Laughter]

Stephanie: Yeah.

Pete: Right?

Stephanie: So, in a way, like, I don’t think there was ever a clear moment where I went, “I’m gonna set out to figure out what disability theology looks like!” It was sort of a recognition that I had, for a very long time, been reading the text as a disabled person whether I knew that yet or not. And the more I came to accept that that’s who I was in my identity, the more I was able to articulate more clearly and identify more clearly the ways that I approach certain stories differently or the ways that certain stories had been taught or applied that were extremely harmful to me. So, I don’t think there was like, a day that I set out that I was like, “what does disability theology look like?” I think it’s been a process of recognition that this was something I was already doing, I just hadn’t really given it a name or identified that I was doing it. Does that make sense?

Jared: Absolutely. Maybe you can share a few of those experiences of, you know, as you became aware of how you had been reading the Bible through your experiences or your theology, your views of God had been filtered through these experiences. What, you know, when you say this is what I was doing, what was it you were doing?

Stephanie: That’s a really great question. There are some glaring examples to me, like, the healing stories of Jesus, right? There are so many stories of Jesus coming across somebody who has some sort of ailment or illness or what we would call disability and healing them and taking that ailment away. And somewhere along the process of me finally identifying as disabled and getting uncomfortable with that identity and not being afraid of that word anymore or associating it with something negative, those stories started to really grate against me. I found myself being legitimately uncomfortable when one of them came up in a sermon because I knew that I was just gonna want to get up and walk out. And so, I had to circle back and really sit down with some of these texts and say I kind of feel like I have two choices here – either I have to just sort of cut holes, right, where these are and black them out and not do this anymore any say I just don’t like what I’m seeing here or I have to sit down and read it and say is there some other way to read this story that is not through the cultural lens of ableism that tells me something different about God, something that jives with not only my experience of God, but with what I see from him elsewhere in the text? Because, to me, rampant ableism, it doesn’t, it’s contradictory to what I know of God and his character.

14:54

So, I had to learn how to sit down with these stories and say in the same way that we read our own cultural lenses into this, is there something about the cultural lens of the day that might’ve been influencing the way that this story was written? Is there something about the cultural lens of today that’s influencing the way people are teaching this story to me? And both of those were a big fat yes for me on those. I think a lot of the healing stories get taught as there’s something broken about this person and Jesus came in and fixed it and that’s beyond harmful. Let me just say right up front – like, that is not a healthy or appropriate way to teach that story. Whether you know you have disabled people in your pews or not – you do – and they hear it and they internalize there is something wrong with you and there is something broken and you won’t be fully whole until someday in heaven when Jesus fixes you.

Pete: Well, what is another way of reading the healing stories?

Stephanie: I think it’s important to remember that none of these stories exist in a vacuum, right?

Pete: Yeah.

Stephanie: So, when Jesus comes and he meets people where they are, he meets them in the culture of the day. And the culture of the day was if you had some kind of a disability, it wasn’t just that people looked at you differently, it was that you couldn’t fully participate in the community.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Stephanie: And not only could you not participate in the community, you couldn’t participate in spiritual life. There were tons of rules about people that just weren’t even allowed to come to the temple, period, because there was something “wrong with them.” And I think that context matters because so much of what Jesus does is he’s trying to bring people in closer to himself and in better community with each other.

Pete: Yeah.

Stephanie: And so, to me, the healing stories are not about fixing the disability as if that’s something that’s broken. When you heal the blind man, it’s not it’s so much better to be sighted and you were broken when you were blind, it’s in the context of where we are in this society, right now, the only way that I can restore wholeness is to restore you to society and they won’t accept you any other way. So, given those limitations, I’m doing what I can do bring you back into belonging.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Right, yeah, there’s a social component to it so it’s not actually the physical disability. It’s given the constraints of this society, the only way to bring you back into the community, which is kind of incarnational in the sense of, we are invested in the way things are. We wish it were different, but we’re invested in this and Jesus brings us into it given the way things are.

Stephanie: Yes.

Pete: I also think unlocking a, both a profound point, but then when you sit with it for a while, a rather obvious point, and that is what did this mean to the people back then rather than importing our own experience into it? And that’s really the foundation of critical biblical reading and critical scholarship, not criticizing the text, but saying how would this have been heard, why say this?

Stephanie: Mmm.

Pete: Right? And so yeah, I just think that’s such an important point that you’re bringing up there and a great insight. And I wish more people could carry that for a lot of different reasons too, just to, yeah, for good or for bad, you know, whichever way scripture is misunderstood. For harm or for just, you know, manipulating it for our own well-being, to take, to pay attention to what are those words doing back then as best as we can tell? And that’s about uncovering a little bit of history and a little bit of context and that sometimes can correct a lot of ills. I have so many students, Jared, that they feel liberated when they finally understand something about the historical context of any one of a number of stories and realizing that it doesn’t have the negative affect that it had for them when they were younger.

Jared: Well, and if I can, before we go forward, because I think one of the filters we bring to it that the ancient world maybe didn’t, you keep using this word ableism. Can you define what that means and maybe as a construct or as a filter that we use?

Stephanie: Yeah, so, I think the biggest thing to understand about ableism is that it’s easy for people to hear that word and think we’re talking about, you know, openly hating disabled people for being disabled, right? Like, I just, I don’t like people in wheelchairs, or making fun of them for their disability. And while those are very obvious sort of forms of ableism, that’s not really all that ableism is. Ableism is structural, and that’s really important to kind of take a step back and understand in that the world that we live in is built to serve certain kinds of bodies and certain kinds of people.

19:48

And if you’re not one of those certain kinds of bodies or people, it’s more difficult for you to move through the world and much like we talked about in those healing stories, it’s difficult for you to have a full sense of belonging in the community.

Pete: Right, yeah.

Stephanie: And so, those barriers to full belonging and inclusion for disabled people, all of those represent ableism. When we put barriers on access, whether intentionally or unintentionally, that’s ableism. When we assume that the experience of disability is somehow less than and people would obviously prefer to not be disabled anymore, that’s a form of ableism. So, it’s sort of, it’s difficult sometimes, for me to put it into words in a way that it is clear and concise, but I think it’s just really important to understand that it’s not just an intentional “I hate disabled people thing,” it’s understanding that anything that puts up barriers to our full inclusion and belonging in the community –

Pete: It’s almost like systemic racism in a sense, right?

Stephanie: In a way.

Pete: It’s not the same thing, but it’s so deeply part of the structure that it doesn’t have to be overt to still be harmful to people.

Stephanie: Well, and the other similarity that kind of resonates with me is that just because I am disabled, doesn’t mean I’m free from ableism, right? There’s a lot of internalized ableism that we as disabled people still have to work through because it’s just in the air we breathe. It’s all around us in society. We’re raised in it. You don’t just magically flip a switch and turn that off when you decide you’re disabled.

Pete: Right.

Stephanie: That’s not how that works.

Jared: You talk about this inadvertent ableism, and I think as churches, you know, within accessibility and how we maybe are unaware of how ableism is expressed in churches. And I’m thinking of churches being exempt from the ADA and some of the things you’ve written about that.

Stephanie: Yup.

Jared: Can you maybe just speak to that a little bit? Because I found that really enlightening for myself.

Stephanie: So, a lot of people don’t even know that churches are exempt from the ADA. But back when the ADA was being written and advocated for, the head of the Association of Christian Schools was a big figure in this, churches and Christian schools sort of formed a lobbying coalition behind him to press the ADA to write an exemption for churches and Christian schools. And so, it’s interesting how much this mirrors some of the debates that we’ve seen around issues around gay marriage and healthcare contraception today. Essentially, they kept putting up this argument that tried to frame it like the rights of disabled people were in direct contradiction to the freedom of religion. It’s eerie how much it mirrors the same arguments. And so, they were successful, and they got an entire exemption carved out for them that says that they’re not forced to comply. And again, it’s not just churches, it’s parachurch organizations and any extension of that church. So, if that church runs a daycare on its campus, it’s exempt.

Pete: Mmm.

Stephanie: If that church runs a Christian school, it’s exempt.

Pete: What drove that?

Stephanie: Well, a lot of it was the idea that it would be expensive to overhaul things to make them accessible.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: [Laughter]

Don’t let our need to love people well get in the way of, you know, protecting our finances.

Stephanie: But even grosser, there were some that had this idea that, think of like, cathedrals and traditional architecture and blah blah blah. Like, if you had to rip that out and put in ramps and space apart your pews and like, it would destroy this heritage. But what’s even grosser is if you look at the kind of arguments that this head of Association of Christian Schools made, it was pretty ugly. They were saying things like, you know, if the ADA applies to us in areas of like, hiring, what if people say that, you know, being a drug addict is them having a disability and we’re forced to hire them? What if we’re forced to hire people with AIDS and we’re not allowed to fire them for their gay lifestyle choices? Like, it was ugly. It was really ugly. Essentially, they made it very clear in black and white that they wanted a legal exemption to discriminate freely as much as they wanted.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Well, I have to, I just have to express my frustration after reading that has just grown, because as you’re saying that perhaps the context for Jesus’s healing wasn’t just about, you know, Jesus will heal you of your physical disability, but it’s about belonging in the community of faith.

Stephanie: Mm hmm.

24:42

Jared: And that’s the trajectory of this. And now we’re using that same, those same passages to exclude people from belonging. It seems, it’s just so frustrating to me to see that the context might’ve been a context of how do we include people and instead of doing everything we can as a church to include as many people as we can to have full access and equality in our congregations and communities as outposts of the kingdom of God, we’re instead using these loopholes to exclude people. It’s just incredibly frustrating.  

Stephanie: It goes back to the idea that ableism doesn’t have to be obvious hatred and like, seeking to exclude. Sometimes it feels unintentional because if you ask most churches about this, if they aren’t ADA compliant, many of them will say, “oh, we’d love to, we would, but it’s just so cost prohibitive.” Or you know, “well, we’ve never had a student in a wheelchair, so we’ve never needed to invest the money into…” My younger son, actually, went to preschool at a little church preschool that was like, at the time, the only place that we could afford and we went with it and I could tell stories for days, But the worst of it was they did a huge church and campus remodel the last year that we were there, and they were a two story campus with no elevator.

Pete: And they added a third story just to make it difficult?

Stephanie: And so, I thought they would put in an elevator as part of that big remodel, but no, they put in a coffee shop area and big picture windows and all kinds of stuff. And when I asked about it, I was told straight up that a) they’ve never had any students in a wheelchair so it’s not really a concern, b) you know, there is a way that you can go outside the building because it was a split level, in the rain, in Oregon here. You know, go up the driveway and come back in on the other thing. So, it’s technically accessible if you think about it. But the big thing that stuck with me was they tried to make it an issue of good stewardship.

Pete: Yeah.

Stephanie: They said it would take so much of the budget to put in this one elevator that would only serve such a small population, is that really good stewardship of these funds that people have donated?

Jared: So, they hadn’t read the parable of the 99 and the 1?

Stephanie: That was exactly the argument I made! I was like, oh, okay, we’ll just ignore Jesus going after that one sheep because it’s too small of a population.

Pete: Yeah, yeah.

Jared: Well, even the bigger, the bigger thing, and not to harbor on this, but it is very frustrating to me. Like, we ask disabled people to trust God to heal them, but we’re unwilling to trust God for the finances to make the programs and buildings accessible to everyone.

Stephanie: Well, I think that’s part of the reason that it’s so dangerous to teach the healing stories through some sort of prescriptive lens, right? Like, God wants everybody to get physically healed, that’s what I get out of this story. That’s dangerous partially because it really deflates the tires on any sense of urgency to make things more accessible. Like, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this, you can Google it sometime, but there are some atrocious pictures on the internet of churches that have handicap accessible parking signs that say things on them like “waiting to be healed.”

Pete: Oh, gosh.

[Laughter]

Jared: Ohhhh.

[Laughter]

Stephanie: And we laugh because it’s such an extreme example –

Jared: Gosh.

Stephanie: But really, there’s a lot of that underlying thinking going on in a lot of churches. They may not be so blatant to stick it up on the sign like that, which is gross, but they think it.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Stephanie: There’s this idea of don’t settle, like, acceptance is just a big no-no. Like, you shouldn’t accept being disabled, you should be constantly wanting to be healed and showing that you have enough faith to believe that it’s going to happen, and if you haven’t been healed it’s because you haven’t been healed yet. It’s coming, like, just keep waiting.

Pete: Well, you know, my guess, and I’m just speaking as an outsider here, my guess is that from their point of view, and this is part of the problem, but from their point of view they’re trying to support disabled people.

Stephanie: Hmm.

Pete: Maybe I’m just getting really weird here, but I think in their mind they’re saying, “we just believe that God can heal you.” And from their point of view, they’re trying to do something beneficial and supportive, when in fact, you know, the opposite is happening. And that’s part of it, there’s sort of like a tone-deafness, right? It’s not, they may not be malignant, but it’s just a tone-deafness –

Jared: Well, it’s what happens when you center yourself. My makeup, all the adjectives I can add to myself – white, male, hetero, able-bodied – like, once I normatize. Norm, normatize?

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: Once I sort of universalize that as though this is the standard that God wants for all of us, then everything else I do to make you like me –

Stephanie: Yes.

Pete: That’s it, that’s it. That’s the tone-deafness. Yeah.

29:52

Jared: Right. And so, there’s a dis-centeredness, and that’s why I like the idea of disability theology is for everyone is to decenter some of these things and to say, maybe that’s not the standard for “helping someone” is to make them like me.

Pete: Mm hmm, right.

Stephanie: That’s why, for me, the hands down, the most powerful story in scripture for me as a disabled woman and that I feel like, if people could really sit with it, it would turn this idea of, you know, assuming everyone wants to be faith healed and you know, not being accessible because you want them to get healed, all of this would get turned on its head if people really sat with the story of Jesus appearing to the disciples and then again to Thomas after his resurrection. Because the way we teach that story, and especially, like, all the artwork around it we grew up with, it very much suggested like, Jesus comes back and he shows them his little scars, right? Like, these tiny little flecks of discolored skin on his hands. He’s fine, but they’re there sort of just to prove that it really happened, right?

Pete: Mm hmm.

Stephanie: But when you read the text, it’s gruesomely clear that that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about, like, he literally says, like, take your thumb and just jam it into this gaping, open wound in my hand. Take your hand and literally just plunge it into my insides in this gaping hole in my side. We’re not talking about I’m all better and there’s these little freckles now, we’re talking about unhealed wounds.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Stephanie: And that, I have to tell you, the first time I sat with that, it felt borderline blasphemous to me because I had been steeped in so much ableism culturally that reading that text and saying Jesus conquered death, came back in glorious perfection, and was wounded felt gross. Like, I thought, I’m not allowed to say this or think this, right? Like this, no! Obviously, he would get healed because he’s perfect! He’s glorious! He’s in glory, he can’t be bleeding and gross and be glorious. And it was such a turning point for me to know that I serve a wounded savior that he can be fully glory and also not healed, that there’s nothing broken or incomplete or anything less than the fullness of the image of God in an unhealed body like mine because he came back with an unhealed body. It was huge. Absolutely huge for me.

Jared: Well, and that’s why disability theology is for everyone. Because even you saying that, my mind is kind of blown of how many times have I read that and not given any gravitas or any weight to what you just pointed out. And I think that’s that beauty of having these different perspectives from different people on all these different scales and spectrums is it’s so vital to understanding kind of the fullness of God.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Pete: So, disability theology, one of the reasons why it’s for everyone, this is what I’m picking up, is that people who are not disabled, it will help them, maybe, decenter themselves and their own experience and really understand the experience of others.

Stephanie: Hmm.

Pete: Do you agree with that? Is that, I mean, am I channeling correctly?

Stephanie: It comes down a lot to, so, when I go to speak at places or get invited to speak at places, a lot of the time if it’s some sort of conference and they want me to speak on disability, it’s like a side panel, right? Like, either it’s this little side breakout session on disability or it’ll be some sort of diversity panel and I’m the disability person. It’s seen as like, a side niche issue.

Pete: Right.

Stephanie: And what you just hit on is just like when we talked about Jesus and the healing stories, in our society, the people that have the power to change the issues around accessibility, lack of belonging for disabled people, lack of inclusion, are not really disabled people.

Pete: Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie: It’s majority culture who holds the power to do that. And so, if disability theology is always relegated to “isn’t it nice that we can make, you know, these disabled people feel better about themselves because they’ll see more of the image of God in themselves, how sweet!” Nothing’s really gonna change.

Pete: As long as we’re still in control of that conversation and that process.

34:42

Stephanie: Correct.

Pete: Yeah, right.

Stephanie: And so, if it’s not for everybody, if it’s just a side issue, it’s just gonna continue the cycle of harming whole new waves of disabled people again and again and again. And I don’t subscribe to that sort of theology, right? Like, I don’t, I don’t like the, well, man, I grew up in the kind of church that was really big on we don’t want to have a government program that can actually fix poverty or housing and equality or accessibility or anything because then people wouldn’t get to see the church come in and like, give donations and stuff. And I think that’s so backwards, right? The idea that we need to keep people marginalized so that we can show off God to them. Like, that’s, this is one of those areas where if disability theology really was for everyone, if abled people really invested in listening to disabled voices, in being taught by disabled theologians, the changes that could be made would be structural and systemic.

Pete: Yeah.

Stephanie: So, that the stories like mine of going 15 years without help or thinking that, you know, God hated me and was punishing me, these stories would stop happening and we would truly find belonging in the pews.

Jared: Well, it also seems like there’s a crossroads, almost, economically. Because we dance around this a little bit, but when a church is wondering whether it’s economically feasible to make things accessible for everyone, they’re weighing this cost/benefit analysis, right? So, there’s 90% of the people that we interact with, who, they don’t need a ramp or a this or a that, and there’s 10% who do. And I think that is a decision point of does our theology, does what we, are we walking the talk? Are we saying that the one does matter? Are we saying that we have a minority position on this thing where we’re going to center the minority and not just go with the majority? That has political and economic impact into the decisions we make.

Stephanie: I think right now is an excellent example of how decisions like that are not as isolated as we’d like to think, that when you make a decision like that, you’ve made a decision about what your personal belief system is, what’s important to you, and what your theology is, and if you don’t think that scales up, you just look at the pandemic.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Stephanie: Because the same people that used to tell me “we honestly don’t want to exclude disabled people, if we had the money we would love to make these changes, but it’s just not feasible, you need to be reasonable and not ask so much of us” are the same people that a year ago were saying, “well, the good news is COVID only kills high risk people, so we should all be able to go back to work and get this economy rolling again.”

Jared: Right, right.

Stephanie: And if you don’t think those are connected, they’re absolutely connected because every one of these seemingly little decisions that you make, you’ve chosen what your theology is and what you value and it will scale up and it will generalize and it will translate to bigger issues down the line.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Right. Right, that’s, even in our conversation, that’s becoming clearer and clearer these connections, you know, economically, politically, around some of these challenges.

Pete: Yeah, and I think, what I’m sort of, the way I’m putting some pieces together here is, I mean, disability theology is theology.

Stephanie: Mm hmm.

Pete: Right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: You know, and all theology has an adjective, you know, that we say around here. All those theologies are doing theology and when we exclude, when we decenter disability theology, right, if we keep that on the margins and you know, side talks at conferences and “there, there, we’ll give you a voice but no decision power” and things like that, that’s something other than doing theology. That’s more control and manipulation and yeah, because, you know, there’s no theology that doesn’t have an adjective. You know, just the “normal, white people theology.”

Jared: [Laughter]

Right.

Pete: That you know, people like me, right? And like Jared. That’s not the case and, yeah, it’s just, it’s really powerful to be reminded of how everybody has a voice and a theological process and the theological discussion. Everyone does.

Jared: Yeah, and can maybe, just as we’re wrapping up our conversation here, I think there’s a lot of people who maybe sympathize/empathize with the conversation we’re having. What are some practical steps for someone, maybe, who is able-bodied, who is maybe guilty of ableism on a subconscious level, what steps can they take so that it’s not just this feeling of guilt, but there’s some practical things for being able to make a difference in their communities and congregations and their life. What are some ways that people can make steps?

Stephanie: So, the first thing is learning how to practice true solidarity, right? And so that means I as a disabled person should not be solely responsible for having to call around to churches or conferences or events and say, “hey, what’s the accessibility situation here?” There’s no reason why able-bodied allies are not capable of asking those same questions. So, that means like somebody like Pete, if you get hired to speak at an event, it takes, you know, one extra line in your rider or one extra sentence in the phone call to arrange that to say, hey, is this event accessible and how?

Pete: Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie: To make sure that they know that’s important to you, and not just to people like me.

Pete: Right.

Stephanie: Another thing that’s really simply and that anybody can do is simply diversifying the voices that you’re listening to and taking in. There are some really amazing disabled advocates who are giving this information away for free on places like Twitter, on places like Facebook, on places like TikTok, which I know nothing about and I’m not on because I’m not hip enough for that. But so I’ve been told that they’re on there making videos or whatever they’re called!

Pete: They’re called TikToks.

[Laughter]

Stephanie: There are books, you know, that you can buy that are written by disabled theologians. There are conference talks that you can Google and download and TikToks and there are ways to diversify the voices that you’re listening to and whether or not they’re specifically talking about theology, they’re still bringing a lived experience to the table that is different from yours and so it’s really worth trying to diversify that stuff.

Pete: Right.

Jared: Well, I just would kind of offer a challenge and I saw Pete writing this down, so I think I can speak for him, but you know, making this commitment where for us who are able-bodied, where it might cost us something. Like, well, like it just connects with the, you know, with the churches conversation we were having earlier. Like, “we can’t do that because it would cost us too much.” Well, maybe we put kind of our money where our mouth is and say, yeah, we need to, as The Bible for Normal People, put accessibility in our speaking riders. Like, we speak at places that have ADA, you know, compatibility and we don’t speak at places that don’t. And you know, and in some ways, it’s like oh, that’s scary because that costs us, but that’s kind of, I think, the point is that, for me, solidarity, and you can correct me, but solidarity is where, yeah, like, it may cost us as well.

Stephanie: That’s exactly the difference.

Jared: Mm hmm, right.

Stephanie: Like, it’s so nice when people empathize and say that’s gotta be really hard, but that doesn’t actually help my situation at all because, you know, it’s a choice for you guys whether or not to do those things, but the reality is I’m in the body that I’m in, so it’s not a choice for me.

Pete: Right.

Stephanie: And if an event doesn’t care about its accessibility, I just can’t go. That’s it! Like, it’s just the end for me. So, I can’t take speaking gigs at places that are wholly inaccessible because I physically can’t do it. Like, that’s it! The decision is made for me. And so, you’re right. Solidarity is saying, okay, it’s not enough to just say, oh, you know, conferences should diversity more and look for disabled speakers. And okay, but if you’re not willing to back that up and be fully accessible, it’s not really a surprise that you can’t find any disabled speakers. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Pete: Yeah, yeah.

Stephanie: The other thing is that you can actually, if you’re a church or a conference or a place like that, you can hire people, I actually offer this service regularly, what’s called a disability consultant. And that’s a person who can actually walk you through sort of a list of recommendations and offer feedback on areas that you just may not know you’re not accessible and might have blind spots. Churches, especially, like, it’s interesting to see how many churches are like, we did it! We have, you know, sensory needs met, we have large print bulletins, and we have ramps and we’re so proud! And it’s not until somebody like me comes in that they ever register that the church itself is accessible, but the platform or the pulpit is not.

Pete: Yeah.

Stephanie: Right? What does that say to somebody like me? I can tell you that I absolutely notice it in every single church or conference that I’m in. If you made the building accessible but not the stage, you’ve communicated something very clearly to me. That you think I’m only capable of receiving and definitely not of leading or teaching you anything because it never even dawned on you that I might need to get up there.

Pete: Right, right.

Jared: Well, so good. Stephanie, thank you so much for taking some time and I mean, honestly just educating me. I’ll just speak for myself, on a lot of things about disability theology. I absolutely endorse this idea that it’s for everyone. I think it’s something that we need to take to heart and think about because it’s not like you said, it has these repercussions. It has a ripple effect on our theology and what we think about God and Jesus and these stories that we hear about and are we gonna take them seriously, so I appreciate you bringing that to us.

Pete: Yeah, I think it was sort of like a prophetic word to make people think.

Stephanie: Well, I just appreciate you making space and doing exactly what you’re preaching, right? Decentering yourselves and saying how can we learn from a perspective that’s different than ours. We don’t get that a lot, so I’m always appreciative when we do.

Pete: Yes. Well, thank you.

Jared: Absolutely.

Pete: Thank you again, Stephanie, for being with us this past hour.

Jared: Thank you so much.

[Music begins]

Megan: Alright everyone, that’s it for this episode. Thank you so much for listening and supporting our show. A big shout out to our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They’re the reason we’re able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, head over to https://www.patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3 a month, you can receive bonus material, be part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.

Dave: Thanks, as always, to our team: Executive Producer, Megan Cammack; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Marketing Wizard, Reed Lively; transcriber and Community Champion, Stephanie Speight; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. From Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team, thanks for listening.

[Music ends]

[Outtakes]

[Beep]

Pete: Were we gonna start with a story?

Jared: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Sorry, sorry, sorry.

Pete: I have a better idea, Stephanie. Here, how about this?  

Stephanie: [Laughter]

He just threw you right under the bus.

Pete: You know what? This is how we roll. We just do this and half the time it’s going the other way.

[Beep]

Pete: Okay, yeah.

Jared: So, we get there –

Pete: Fine, Jared. Fine, fine, fine. If that’s how you want –

Stephanie: [Laughter]

If you guys can just keep kneecapping each other so you sound like crap and I sound amazing and I just win by default, that would be great. Thank you.

Pete: This isn’t a conversation.

[End of recorded material]

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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.

04:48

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.

12:23

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.”

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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.

57:15

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.

1:01:48

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.