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Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Episode 171: Ted Lewis – The Origins of God

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete & Jared talked with Ted Lewis about the origins of God as they explore the following questions: 

  • How does a historian differ from a theologian?
  • Why do we use the generic title of God when talking about the Christian God in our cultural context? 
  • Did God have a name? If so, why don’t we use it? 
  • What is the contrast between Yahweh and El? 
  • Why did ancients refer to their deity by a seemingly generic name like El or Elohim? 
  • Why is there a debate around the meaning of El Shaddai?
  • Where do scholars think Yahweh came from? 
  • What clues did the Shasu nomads give about the origin of Yahweh?
  • What is the Midianite hypothesis? 
  • What was the relationship between El and Yahweh in the ancient mind? 

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Ted Lewis you can share. 

  • “I’m very interested in how do we know what we know? We inherit views from our parents, our churches, our teachers, but I love probing why do we believe what we believe, and as a historian, I just see it as a thrill of investigation.” Ted Lewis
  • “What is the religion of all the Israelites? I want to know everything that’s in the Bible, but I also want to know what it’s reacting against, because I’m interested in the full society.” Ted Lewis
  • “The Bible is a part of that Canaanite world and it reflects a lot of the language of that world and they have shared terms. Yet the biggest distinctive of Israelite religion is the God Yahweh, and that is fascinating. Well, where does Yahweh come from?” Ted Lewis
  • “The beautiful thing and frustrating thing about the Bible – is it’s an edited text.” Ted Lewis

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. Well, we have some unfortunate news. This is our –

Pete: Before we get into our podcast.

Jared: This is our last episode –

[Dramatic pause]

Pete: For two weeks.

Jared: For two weeks.

Pete: [Overzealous maniacal laughter]

Gotcha going, fooled you people, fooled you.

Psych.

[Background music begins, then slowly fades out]

Jared: So, we’re moving to our every other week schedule here –

Pete: Which we do every summer, people. Don’t email us – “how come the episodes not on?” Because it’s summer time!

Jared: [Laughter]

No, we will inevitably get someone who’s like, “Well, I think my podcast thing is broken.”

Pete: It broke! My computer broke!

[Laughter]

Jared: [Laughter]

So, we’re announcing it this year.

Pete: And we do it in January, just for future reference.

Jared: Yes.

Pete: We do this twice a year.

Jared: Yes, so, today we’re talking with… who are we talking with?

Pete: Ted Lewis, who is a professor at Johns Hopkins University, and he is a historian of antiquity, specifically of Israelite origins and who the Israelites were in their context.

Jared: And not only who the Israelites were, but as we’ll learn today, where did God come from?

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: The origins, also, of God.

Pete: Right, which has to do with Israel. So, it’s all connected. So, he’s interested in what the Israelites, how they understood God, what they thought about God, which is, we’ll get into that. It’s a subtly different kind of question than we typically ask ourselves, so –

Jared: Yup.

Pete: But yeah, so, the origins of God, let’s get into it.

[Music begins]

Ted: History is messy, really messy, but so is modern life. But if you’re an inquisitive person, the Bible just gives you this rich data set to work with and it’s a messy data set, and then add in archeology and inscriptions – I don’t see yet how a person couldn’t be attracted to being a historian if you have that type of inquisitive mind where you just have to know.

[Music ends]

Pete: Well, Ted, welcome to our podcast!

Ted: Thank you.

Pete: Yeah, it’s good to have a scholar here of, well, let’s just talk about that. A scholar of what? What do you actually do? You are a historian, right? And what does that mean to be a historian, I guess, of the Bible or the biblical story or of Israel or whatever. Just help us understand what a historian does with all this stuff.

Ted: Yeah, I’m always very clear when I’m teaching to tell people that I wear this historian’s hat, and what I mean by that is, I’m, first of all, very interested in how do we know what we know? And we inherit views from our parents, our churches, our teachers, but I love probing why do we believe what we believe, and as a historian, I just see it as a thrill of investigation. Investigating ideas for ourselves and what they’re based on and so having some type of agency there.

Pete: Right.

Ted: And then I’m really quick to define what I’m not. I’m not a theologian, and what I mean by that is I’m not a systematic theologian who tries to weave all the data into a unified whole. For me, a historian is involved in what the history of humans. What do humans do? What are their ideas? And that’s really, really messy. So, for me, it mirrors what I see in our modern society that people have different ideas and that’s reflected in, as a historian of Israelite religion, I see all these different ideas in trying to make sense of it.

Pete: Right. So, it’s more than just, you know, the big topic here is God, right? We’re gonna get to that in a second, but when we’re talking about God and “the God of the Bible,” there’s more to it than simply reading passages on the surface. There’s sort of a backstory to that?

Ted: Yeah, and the backstory is you want to look at what the texts say themselves, but then know that those are in a cultural context. And so then, how do you think about who are these people who are writing it? What is their background? Does it make a difference if somebody writing it is a scribe or a commoner? And then thinking through the role of whoever is putting the Bibles together and editing it. And what they edit in and what they edit out is equally important. And then how do you figure out what the average person is doing? That’s where archeology comes in so that we have texts but we also have objects, and then quite often the objects can really fill in the gaps.

Pete: You mean objects like pottery or statues?

Ted: Pottery or figurines. So, for example, the Bible might say, “Don’t worship other gods.” Well, a historian, first of all, you have to read between the lines. If you have any law that says don’t do something, you can read between the lines and know that that means that people were doing it and that’s why they have the law to say, “stop that!”

4:59


So, if they have a law that says, you know, don’t worship other gods and don’t have idols to those gods, well, that tells you say, the normative teaching on that. Archeology tells what people are actually doing. Archeology might show that they actually do have a figurine in their house. So, it’s a no-no to the theologians, but it shows you what people are really doing.

Pete: So, just to back up for clarity here, there’s more involved to this than simply saying, “Here’s what the Bible says about God.” It’s about digging into who the people were who were doing the saying.

Ted: Right. And I’m very clear to say that I’m, I don’t, I’m not writing an Old Testament theology. Old Testament theologists usually would say this is what the Bible says on a specific topic, where we pick up or work on systematic theology. It put all the teachings of the Bible in a nice coherent system. I’m interested in when I write Israelite religion, what is religion of all the Israelites? So, I want to know everything that’s in the Bible, but I also want to know what it’s reacting against, because I’m interested in the full society.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: Well, there’s a few specific things that we were talking about jumping into, and I’m really excited about these, so I wanted to maybe bring up the first one, and that is, something that I actually haven’t thought about a lot and that is how we just use the generic title, God, when we’re talking about the Christian God in our cultural context. We just say God and we sort of assume everyone knows what we’re talking about, but you make a big deal about the fact that that’s not God’s name. So, can you maybe talk a little bit about how names and titles function in ancient Israel?

Ted: Yeah, it really is, it’s something fascinating to probe, to think about, you know, did God have a name? And you think about it, god itself is not a name, neither is the noun “lord.” And our English translations have kind of obscured the fact that God did have distinct names, though you don’t see it in our translations. And it really matters, because think about how if somebody just called, rather than calling you Pete or Jared, they just call you “the man.” You know? Well, you’d say, no, my name –

Pete: Well, I get that sometimes.

Jared: Pete makes me call him that, just to be clear. But, uh –

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: [Laughter]

Ted: You know, our names are integral to our sense of self. You know, our sense of family and our identity and even how we use the names of other people tells us something about social perception and how we’re negotiating our way in the world. So, names are really, really important to our identity, and then to probe, well, did God have a name and if he did have it, then the next question is, well, why don’t we use it? You know, well, if you look at certain passages in the Bible, they really make sense if you put God’s name in there. For example, Jeremiah 16:21 says, God speaking, says, “and they shall know that my name is Yahweh.” Well, it’s translated in our Bibles, “they shall know that my name is the Lord.” Well, the Lord is, again, not the name. Or in Isaiah 42:8, God says in our translations, “I am the Lord, that’s my name.” Well, it reads much better if it’s, “I am Yahweh, that’s my name.”

Pete: Mm hmm.

Ted: You know? So, we have hints in the Bible itself that God has had names, the primary ones are El and Yahweh, and again, then the question is, well, you know, why don’t we use them?

Pete: Well, can we back up to the biblical stories because, you know, Yahweh’s in there. Right? That’s a name, but they also say God an awful lot. So, that’s interesting why sometimes there’s a name and sometimes there’s a title, but maybe even more interesting is why English translations do what they do. Could you explain that? Why do we have Lord in our English Bibles when it seems to be it’d be better to put God’s name in there rather than sort of reduce the name to a title?

Ted: One of the reasons why we don’t use God’s name is because of the results of monotheism. If there is only one God, then you can refer to that being as God and it kind of functions as a name. So, that’s one reason. Another reason is just reverence and I love the Jewish tradition that says you should love God so much that you take special care never to break his laws. And there’s a section in the Talmud called “The Sayings of the Father.”

9:56

It says you should build hedge around the Torah. It’s kind of a like a fence that would keep you from even getting close to breaking God’s commandments. So, if we have the commandment in Exodus 20, don’t take the name of God in vain, well, one of the ways to make sure you don’t do it is just never to use God’s personal name. So, again, in Jewish tradition, it said let’s just use a substitute rather than using God’s sacred name Yahweh that they use all the time in biblical period, let’s just put a safeguard in and read a substitute. For example, the word Adonai just means Lord, just use that instead. You know, Christianity had something similar in which, you know, think of the Lord’s prayer. We talk about “hallowed be thy name,” and yet we don’t have that same type of reverence that you would have of observant Jews who would say don’t even use it at all. I have, you know, students from Jewish backgrounds who will say, “I can’t use name Yahweh in your class, so I’ll either write YHWH, use the consonants, or I’ll use the substitute Adonai, which is just a noun meaning Lord, or even in English, I’ll write G-D.” But it’s that lovely tradition of you should love God so much you’d never even come close to taking his name in vain. Well, then, just don’t use it and that’ll protect you.

But I wear a historian’s hat. My historian hat says, yes, but in biblical times, they use God’s name on a daily basis. And I’m interested in, you know, what is that name and what did it mean and what’s the difference between Yahweh and El, these different names for God? And how does that reflect, you know, Israelite religion for all of society?

Jared: I think that’s a really important point, because you mentioned earlier that the historian is looking at the cultural context and to use a generic name, the name God as the title in our context really lifts us out of the ancient context and just makes it more relevant or applicable to us. I just think we would have a very different view of God if everyone used Yahweh because it sort of places us in a historical context where there are other Gods around, and so, it would’ve been really important to use God’s name because if you would’ve just said God back then, the first thing would be like, well, which god? You know? It’s like, growing up in Texas, we used Coke for all the names for soda –

Pete: [Laughter]

That’s blasphemy.

Jared: And then I come to the Northeast, and I say, can I get a Coke and they walk off! I’m like, no, you’re supposed to ask me what kind! And that’s kind of how it would’ve been, it’s like, well, God. Now we would just walk off, like, we know what you’re talking about. But back then they would ask, what kind? Like, who are you talking about? And I just think it definitely changes the dynamic of how we read our Bible. But you mentioned, you know, the differences between El and Yahweh, and I would throw in there maybe like, Elohim is a word that people have heard too. Could you maybe draw some distinctions in how those would’ve been used in the ancient world?

Ted: Yeah, I mean, first of all, we have all the data even in our English translations, you just have to know how to decode it. So, if you look at your English translation and they use the word LORD in small caps, that’s translating a Hebrew word Adonai, which just means lord or master. If you look at your English translation and it has LORD in all caps, typically small caps, that’s translating in the Hebrew God’s personal name Yahweh. So, that’s one way to kind of look and you can even figure out what the Hebrew says even without knowing any Hebrew. Whenever you see God translated in English translations, underneath that is either the personal name El, you know, many people know the personal name El Shaddai, I can talk more about that in a minute. So, God can have underneath it in the Hebrew, El, or it can just mean a common noun just meaning god small “g.” Similarly, the plural Elohim, you know, that too can be translated as God and that’s really hard for the translator. So, whenever you have the Hebrew that says El or Elohim, we translate it as God, but it could also be a personal name so you really have to study the text carefully to see where is it a personal name, and where is it just a common noun meaning God? It’s easier with Lord and Yahweh, it’s harder with the translation of El and Elohim.

Pete: And Elohim can also mean gods.

Ted: Yeah, it can mean the plural.

Pete: Just to complicate things even further.

Ted: Yeah, very complicated.

14:46

Pete: Right, so, I mean, I guess gets us back to, you know, what were the ancients thinking? You know? Like, I guess, I don’t mean to have this be too vague, but why did they talk like this about their deity? Like, why did they refer to their deity by a generic name like Elohim or El or are they generic names? Where do they come from?

Ted: El is not a generic name. El is actually a personal name, but once again these are obscured in our translation so that the most common personal name you see for El is El Shaddai. Older Christians recognize that because Amy Grant made a famous song in 1992.

Pete: Oh yes.

Jared: [Laughter]

Ted: You know? If you look at your English translations, that’s just translated God Almighty. But underneath in the Hebrew is a personal name El Shaddai. There’s other El names like El Berith, the God of the Covenant it’s usually translated, or El Elyon, God the Most High. In Hebrew, these are personal names. El Elyon, that’s who Melchizedek worshipped. A key verse to really see this and it puts it in a bit of a historical context too is Exodus 6:2-3 where God says to Moses in Hebrew, “I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El Shaddai. But by my name Yahweh, I did not make myself known to them.” So right away, you see even a historical context there, that the writer is saying the patriarchs worship God under the name of El, specifically El Shaddai, again, in our English translations God Almighty, and then in Moses’s time, God reveals his special name Yahweh and says, “now this is new.”

Pete: So, El Shaddai, I mean, how would that best be translated to English? Should it just be translated as El, Almighty? Or should we say God Almighty because again, it’s not a title, it’s a personal name. Sort of the same problem with calling Yahweh Lord, right? It’s obscuring things a little bit?

Ted: Yeah. There’s a huge long debate, we don’t have to get into it here, as far as what the name means. You know, El Shaddai, it could mean God Almighty, but that root shadad can also refer to destruction, it can mean El, the one who destroys, and we even see that in the book of Job where it talks about, it comes like the destruction from the Almighty and it makes a word play, like the shôd from Shaddai.

Pete: Mmm.

Ted: It can also mean feel, the word shôd can also mean feel, so it can mean God of the feel, an agrarian title. It can mean the word breast, you know, God who gives fertility. So, in Genesis 49:25 is a really old poetic section about El is one who gives the blessings of breasts and womb. You know, he gives you children and helps them grow strong. So, there’s a huge debate about what does El Shaddai mean. They certainly knew back in their time, that’s why when they would use El Shaddai, it had that nuance to it.


Jared: So, let me see if I get this right, and I may not. But when God reveals, in Exodus 6, it’s El Shaddai, is that a, I guess I’m trying to understand is this God sort of absorbing all the other gods? Was there an El Shaddai that would’ve been a well-known deity in the region at the time and now Yahweh is saying, in the past, I was revealing myself as this El Shaddai, but actually, when you thought it was El Shaddai it was actually me and my real name is Yahweh. Is that what you’re saying?

Ted: Partly. The Bible is part of its world, you know, the Bible is an Ancient Near Eastern text that comes from the Ancient Middle East and reflects that world, so it’s going to have a lot of the similar vocabulary of their neighbors. The name El for God as a personal name was known in northern Syria as the name of the God of their pantheon. They had a full on pantheon, the head of the pantheon is a God named El. We have statues of that deity, we know what he looked like, he was elderly, he had a beard, he’s typically seen seated with his hand up raised in a benedictory position to bless you. So, the Bible is a part of that world, so it doesn’t, shouldn’t surprise us at all that the Bible also uses that name El for their God.

19:59

We can get more into like, the origin of Yahweh but what’s fascinating is Yahweh doesn’t appear anywhere outside of ancient Israel which is just a fascinating question because we have a lot of shared terms like that ancient society in Syria, it’s called Ugarit. They also have the name Baal, they also have a goddess by the name of Asherah. Well, read your Bible and those Canaanite gods pop right up in the book of Kings. So, the Bible is a part of that Canaanite world, and it reflects a lot of the language of that world and they have, you know, shared terms and yet the biggest distinctive of Israelite religion is the God Yahweh and that is fascinating. Then, well, where does he come from?

Pete: Yes. Where does it come from?

Jared: Yeah, let’s talk about that a little bit.

Pete: I’d love to at least hear your thoughts about that.

Jared: Yeah, because, and I want to position it too in terms of, so that people can stay clear on the narrative here. So, there’s a few different places where scholars think that Yahweh came from and you just explained one which comes from the North as part of this Canaanite, you know, because there is these other shared terms like El. But then, maybe continue on that story of where do scholars think Yahweh came from?

Ted: Yeah, so, again, I’m putting on my historian’s hat, okay? So again, I’m not asking questions of ontology or theology as far as God existence. I, for me, God is a given. As a historian, I’m trying to figure out what did the ancients think if you asked them, well, where did Yahweh come from? Did he travel with Abraham, you know, coming from Mesopotamia? Did he come with Moses up out of Egypt? Where did humans think that they first ran into this deity Yahweh? And of course, history is messy and it’s really, really messy when it comes to the historical origin of Yahweh because we have two sets of data and you can’t, it’s hard to reconcile the two.

The first one is the option of Yahweh came from the North. Why do we posit this? If you go straight North, you’re in the land of Syria. These are, the major civilization would be called Ugarit in the late Bronze period, Aramean traditions, so all this is ancient Syria. And if you look at the language they used to talk about religion, it’s extremely close linguistically and culturally to everything you see in the Bible. So, for example, their language for sacrifice is going to have the same word, or the same cognate word. So, it’d be equivalent to we have the word dictionary in English, French cognate dictionnaire – you can see, it’s the same cognate word. So, and their word for sacrifice would sound exactly cognate to the Hebrew word for sacrifice. Same, the same term for altar, the same term for their offerings whether it’s sheep or goats or doves, the name of the priest, the name of the high priest, it’s exactly the same cognate terms. And then you start adding everything, like, where do they practice religion? The word for temple, the word for sanctuary, the word for altar – they’re all exact cognates.

So, if you look at this you’ll say, well, it certainly looks like Israelite religion is part of this linguistic and cultural continuum coming down from the North. If you want to put biblical traditions in there, you have the patriarchs coming from the East, but they come down to the land of Israel through the North. So, everything is a perfect fit for all these northern origins except for one thing – no Yahweh. Right? So, the Northern tradition has all the culture and language. It’s the obvious place to look, and yet there’s not one mention of Yahweh.

In contrast, let’s look to the South. If you look to the South, and again, this would resonate with biblical traditions of the Exodus, Yahweh coming up from Egypt, well, here it’s really tantalizing that we have explicit references to what seems to be Yahweh, but very, very brief and very, very minor.

Pete: Are you saying Egyptian evidence?

Ted: Yeah, Egyptian.

Pete: Okay.

24:53

Ted: So, let me take you, everybody knows, you know, New Kingdom Egypt. These are the famous pharaohs we read about as far as Ramses II, Thutmose III, Akhenaten, the so called heretic pharoah who tried to work a version of monotheism with the sun god. Well, if you look in New Kingdom Egypt and this is basically, you know, 15th, 14th centuries BC, they know all about Semitic deities or Canaanite deities. So, look at even New Kingdom Egypt with their full Egyptian pantheon, there are six Canaanite deities who are extremely prominent. Three male – Baal, Resheph, and a guy named Horon; three female goddesses – Anat, Astarte, and a goddess named Qudshu. So, they know all about Canaanite deities and even kind of wove them into, you know, their Egyptian religion. What’s missing? Yahweh!

Okay, so, it’s really confusing why isn’t Yahweh among those six. Well, then, let’s go indigenous. Let’s go to the actual land of Canaan, right before you have all the Israelite presence in there. So, this could be, say, 14th century BC. The land of Israel, called the land of Canaan back then, was governed by the Egyptians. And we have Egyptian governors writing 382 letters back to pharaohs back in Egypt. So they give us a window into real indigenous, what’s going on in the land of Canaan or pre-Israel if you would, and they reflect their culture and one of the ways we can see what people, who people worship is throughout the ancient world, you put the names of the god who you worshipped in your personal names and in your children’s name, right, so why do we know there are the God El and Yahweh in ancient Israel? Well, think of someone like Ishmael. Ishmael’s name means “may the God El hear,” hear my prayer, probably. Or the king Uzziah, “iah” is shortened for Yahweh, so that would mean Uzziah’s name was Yahweh is my strength. So, personal names are like a personal testimony of your faith. Go back to those Egyptian letters. We have 382 letters filled with personal names and they have every god imaginable except for Yahweh. They’ve got, you know, Egyptian gods – Horus, Rah, Seth, the god Thoth; they’ve got Mesopotamian names in there – god Asheru, goddess Ninurta, West Semitic gods, you know, Asherah, Baal, etc., and no Yahweh. 2808

So, again, we’re, you almost feel like Yahweh is not there either – except for – we’ve got a little bit of data. We’ve got some geographical lists coming from the 18th and 19th Egyptian dynasties. This is, again, famous Ramses II. Often people think he’s the Pharaoh of the Exodus, and they’re very cryptic geographical lists and they talk about the land of the Shasu nomads of Yahweh.

Pete: Okay. Explain that.

Ted: They also talk about these same Shasu nomads, Shasu nomads of a place called Seir. So, it’s really a brief amount of material, but it’s got the name Yahweh in there and they’re also, the Shasu nomads have a place called Seir. We have archaic biblical poetry which we can tell and date linguistically and there’s two passages that talk about Yahweh coming from the South and coming from Seir, the same designation. One is Deuteronomy 33:2 that talks, “Yahweh came from Sinai, he dawned from Seir and with him were the myriads of holy ones.” Another passage is Judges 5, an old war poem, Judges 5:4-5 reads, “Oh Yahweh, when you settle from Seir, when you march from the staph of Edom,” which is in the South, “all the earth quaked before you,” before Yahweh coming up from Sinai.

30:03

So, these Shasu bedouin texts, these nomad texts, it’s really, really, you know, brief references, but we can locate it in time, and it seems to line up with this old poetry that says Yahweh came from the South.

Pete: So, Ted, Seir is in Edom?

Ted: We don’t know for sure –

Pete: But it’s South.

Ted: But when we look at parallel terms, you know, it seems to be south of the Dead Sea, straight south. And you see that in Judges 5:4, they have these parallel terms. Yahweh, when you march forth from Seir, parallel term, when you march from Edom.

Pete: Uh huh.

Ted: So, we have a good feel for where Edom is and that’s just south of the Dead Sea.

Pete: Okay, so, what do you feel about connecting back with I guess another theory, another south theory of Midian being sort of an important possible place, maybe, again, I’m not talking as a historian here, but at least what people thought where the location of Mount Sinai might be. So, I don’t know if we can fold those things together to try to get a sense of what the ancient Israelites were thinking about the origins of their God. Because Midian is even further South, right?

Ted: Yeah, now we’re getting really messy. And again, that’s why I love being a historian because it’s so messy you get to really wrestle. I mean, if you love detective stories and mysteries you’ve got to be a historian, right? Because that’s what we have all over the place.

Pete: Yeah.

Ted: So, the Midianites, there’s a classic theory in the field called the Midianite hypothesis, which is actually a pretty radical theory. It says not only was Mount Sinai maybe in Midian, but maybe the Midianites are the ones who first came up with Yahweh. And remember, Moses’s father-in-law was a priest of Midian, so maybe his father-in-law taught him all about Yahweh. So, unpack it a little more. Well, who are the Midianites? Well, the Midianites, you know, they’re mixed with another group of people called the Kenites. It is so mixed together that sometimes they’re called Midianites and sometimes Kenites. And as you start putting all this material together, sometimes they’re good guys and sometimes they’re bad guys.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Ted: So, if you read Exodus 2-3, Moses had great, Moses has great relations with the Midianites. He marries Zipporah, a Midianite. He tends her father’s herds. You know, her father is a pious Midianite priest and he’s a trusted advisor who comes all, gives Moses ideas about legal administration in Exodus 18 that Moses then follows.

Pete: Yeah.

Ted: If you flip it over and look at other traditions about the Midianites, they’re terrible! You know, the Midianites sell Joseph into slavery. In Numbers 31 there’s a holy war against Midianites where they kill them. You know, Gideon defeats the Midianites in Judges 6. And then the Midianites are mixed with the Kenites named after Cain, the first murderer in the Bible. So, are Midianites good guys or bad guys? Well, they’ve got mixed traditions about this and the whole thing about did Moses’s father-in-law teach Moses about Yahweh comes out primarily to Exodus 18. In Exodus 18 talks about Moses’s father is named Jethro in this story. By the way, he goes by about three or four names if you want to track all this down.

Pete: [Light laughter]

Ted: Sometimes in Exodus 2 it’s called Reuel, you know, sometimes he’s called Hobab, sometimes he’s called the son of Reuel sometimes he’s called Jethro, and sometimes he’s called Jeth.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Ted: So again, if you want messy data, it’s all over the place. In Exodus 18, here they call him Jethro, they call him a priest of Midian. And Moses, in Exodus 18, tells Jethro all that Yahweh did to pharoah and how Yahweh delivered them. Jethro rejoices in all the good things that Yahweh did, says, “Blessed be Yahweh who delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians,” and then he sacrifices burnt offerings to God.

34:55

Well, the theory that wants to promote the story that Jethro taught Moses says, well, he’s a known Midianite. Well, who is he gonna be sacrificing to? He’s sacrificing, probably to Yahweh, that he always knew of Yahweh. You know, it wouldn’t be the actions of a new initiate to the faith if he just got religion, Yahwistic religion right then, when he immediately sacrificed. No, he’s probably sacrificed to his old god, which is probably Yahweh.

Pete: Yeah.

Ted: The critique of this is if you read it carefully, after Moses tells Jethro all this material, Jethro says, now I know that Yahweh is greater. So, in my view, it’s more Moses’s attestation about this deliverance, which is a link that makes him become a priest of Yahweh. He’s never called a priest of Yahweh. So, I think that more than you know, Jethro becomes a convert to Yahwism.

Pete: Okay. So, let’s leave the Midianites out of this because they’re not helping at the moment. Right? So, I tried, but it’s an interesting hypothesis, but the hypothesis explains some things, but it doesn’t explain very well other things.

Ted: Right, exactly.

Pete: So, we have this Shasu that you mentioned, who are nomads that the Egyptians refer to. They’re from the South and the word “Yahweh” seems to be connected to these nomads.

Ted: Right.

Pete: Right, so –

Ted: And it probably was a people group.

Pete: It probably was a people group.

Ted: Yeah, and there’s a scholar at New York University, Dan Fleming, who just wrote a brand new entire book on that.

Pete: Really? Okay.

Ted: It’s called, basically, you know, Yahweh Before Israel. But originally, Yahweh is the name of a people group and then later, it got attached to the deity Yahweh.

Pete: Okay, yeah, that’s exactly what my memory, my memory clearly does serve me right. Yahweh is, in that context, in those Egyptian documentations, is not necessarily the name of the deity.

Ted: Right.

Pete: It’s the name of a people group, but it, you know, and Dan makes this argument that it sort of got folded into a religious system of some sort, I guess? Is that a way of putting it?

Ted: Right. And to clarify, the Shasu nomads can be in the North too, and Dan Fleming says, actually, the earlier stuff doesn’t have the Shasu tied up to the southern location Seir, so he basically throws out the southern aspect of Yahweh coming up from the South. So, he thinks that Yahweh people are northern group who eventually name, the deity is named after them.

Pete: How far north?

Ted: Up into Syria.

Pete: All the way up there? Okay. Interesting. I mean, you’re right, we have like, we have these foundational questions about Israelite religion, which is behind the text, you know, the text tells a much simpler kind of story, probably reflecting, you know, many, many centuries later, you know, in terms of how to put the stories together. But we have just a few tantalizing pieces of evidence, but the bottom line is I feel like we’re working with like, an 1,000 piece puzzle and we have about 40-50 pieces. You know? And we’re trying to put this picture together and like you said, it’s sort of the gift that keeps on giving if you’re a historian trying to ferret all this out and to suggest plausible ways of thinking about where this name Yahweh comes from.

Ted: Right. And I think it’s incredibly rich too, that by studying personal names of God, you see the different types of religion. So, in my work, you know, I’ve wrote two whole chapters on the God El because I found it so fascinating. If you look at the God El, he’s more tied to family protection. He’s like, there’s a segment or if you’ll call family religion. So, if you look at all the El traditions, it’s sacred space on small scale. We’re talking about stones and trees. You don’t have a massive temple. And it’s usually about families providing for their children, flocks, land, God is a shepherd – that’s a huge contrast to a national deity and that’s where the name Yahweh really resonates.

Pete: Mm hmm.

39:52

Ted: The god El is not a national deity tied to the monarchy. You know? So, again, there’s a huge change when we turn from the family El religion to state religion associated with Yahweh. It’s equivalent to Constantine in Christianity, you know?

Pete: Interesting, yeah.

Ted: El is just, you know, more a family deity. There’s no centralized city state system of governance, there’s no centralized temple, there’s no elaborate priesthood…

Pete: Like with Abraham and the stories in Genesis, right?

Ted: Yeah, and it’s really family religion. And it really turns, you know, Yahweh becomes adopted, you know, the name, really as state formation. And it’s really sociologic, a whole different game.

Jared: I want to try to clarify, because the way you’re talking about it, it kind of goes back to what I was saying earlier. Could you clarify the relationship between El and Yahweh in the ancient mind? Like, you say, you know, El was this kind of deity – would the ancients have seen those as two different deities, or would they have absorbed in the one conception the other as time dragged on? You know, you go through the centuries and El just becomes Yahweh. Or was there a time where they were two distinct deities?

Ted: Both/and.

Jared: Okay.

Ted: So, for some people they would’ve said, well, maybe these are two different deities, and again, if they’re in ancient Syria, they certainly would’ve thought there’s a difference between El, the patriarchal god, and Baal, the storm god, the warrior god, the fertility god. When you come into ancient Israelite religion, as much as the historian of Israelite religion might want to suggest otherwise, you know, that there might be two deities, that’s not the witness of the data we have. In the text that we have, El is fully conflated with Yahweh. Yahweh is El, El is Yahweh. So, all the adjectives, you know, associated with El, are fully woven onto Yahweh. So, just as El is a family god, Yahweh is also a family god.

Jared: So interesting.

Pete: And complicated. I think maybe, that’s one of the words for today and, but you know, I think it’s good just to understand that. You know? And it’s not to minimize, you know, the role of scripture in the lives of people because that’s, like, the first place we go to try to ferret some of these things out and then bring archeology and other kinds of artifacts into it, but the bottom line is that it is history is complicated and it’s messy and it’s probably a good idea just to sort of understand that and not come away with simplistic notions of, you know, the Bible is presenting this, you know, if you were there, things would’ve panned out exactly the way you read them there. It’s probably much, much more complicated. It is more complicated.

Ted: I love the fact that you’re using this vocabulary because if you ask my students, they laugh because that’s a sound bite I give them.

Pete: Yeah.

Ted: Especially my graduate students, whenever you’re pinned to say “What about this? We need a sound bite.” I said, “What are the first two words that should come out of your mouth? They should be, ‘it’s complicated.’”

Pete: Mm hmm, yeah!

Ted: Because it’s always complicated.

Pete: It’s true.

Jared: But Pete, I want to maybe, I don’t think challenge what you said, but I think explain it, because earlier you said that, and you even just kind of mentioned it there, that the text kind of tidies some of this up. But just from hearing you, Ted, and I think other guests we’ve had, if you read closely enough, it is still there.

Pete: Yeah, right.  

Jared: You just have to know what to look for.

Pete: On the surface. Yeah, if you just go to like, like you mentioned Ted, Exodus 6 for example.

Ted: Yeah, that’s a perfect example. That they’re giving you the data, they’re giving you their history.

Pete: Right.

Ted: You know, that I was known as El Shaddai, but now I’m Yahweh. So, they put it right out there. At the same time, they’re saying, but Yahweh encompasses all that.

Pete: Yeah. And at the same time, they refer to Israel’s God as Yahweh in those ancient stories of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

Ted: Yup.

Pete: I just, like, well, how can that be? You know, well, it’s complicated! Right? It’s complicated!

Jared: Well, the very name of Israel we have El in the name of Israel and then the God is actually Yahweh, which is confusing.

Ted: Yeah, and that’s, you know, why I start my book looking at El worship because I’m talking Israelite religion, and Israel has got the name of El and not Yahweh in the name of their people.

Pete: Right.

Ted: And sometimes you’ll see how, you know, things are, you know, edited in real time. So, it’ll talk about how you know, she called him Ismael because Yahweh heard her prayer.

Pete: Yes.

Ted: It’s like, wait. Ishmael –

Pete: Hold on a minute! Yeah.

[Laughter]

44:55

Ted: Ishmael means may El hear my prayer. So, you see, right in real time they’re kind of doing the update and it’s what we do in reception history, right? We receive all these texts, and we update them for our modern times. Well, the ancients are doing reception history too.

Jared: Meaning that we should take that, say, that particular example as an example not that, you know, historically they would have interchanged those, although they probably would have, but that also reflects a later updating where we’re going to put in her mouth the name Yahweh, but her name we’re not going to change and it still has, you know, his name would still have El in it. And so, we’re getting, we’re getting two traditions, I guess, within one narrative.

Ted: Yeah, I mean, again, the past time talking about Genesis 16:11, you know, “Behold you are with child, you should bear a son, you should call his name Ishmael,” which means in Hebrew, El hears, “because Yahweh has heard your affliction.”

Pete: Mm hmm.

Ted: You know, the beautiful thing, and frustrating thing about you know, the Bible, is it’s an edited text. It’s passed down precisely because it had a type of sacred quality to it. It’s meaningful. This is their cultural heritage. They pass it down and thankfully, we have it to this very day. But as they pass it down, they don’t have any problem doing revisions along the way!

Pete: Mm hmm.

Ted: You know, it’s not canonized yet, it’s not fixed yet. You know, so, of course if Yahweh is the main term they’re using, they’re going to update it that way. You know, and you can set, you know, Exodus 6, which is as clear as you want where you know, God says, you know, “by my name, Yahweh, they did not know me,” you can set that up against Genesis passages that talk about, you know, they were referring to Yahweh back in the days of, you know, the patriarchs and Enos. So, again, somebody is updating that unless you want to throw Exodus 6 out the window.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Well, I think we could have this conversation for a lot longer, we didn’t even get to everything we were hoping to get to, and we’re already up against the time here, and that’s disappointing to me because this was just, I think such a rich conversation. I don’t know if that speaks to our nerdiness

Pete: Mm hmm!

Jared: Or just the interesting nature of the topic, but –

Pete: Our non-normalness, oh well!

Jared: It was really good, Ted, to have you on and just explain something that we all agree is very complicated, but I thought you did a wonderful job breaking it down for us and at least laying out what some of these challenges are.

Ted: Well, I just love inquiring minds. So again, thank you for being detectives along the way that, you know, history is messy, really messy, but so is modern life. But you just, if you’re inquisitive person, the Bible just gives you this rich data set to work with and it’s a messy data set, and then adding archeology and inscriptions and it’s just, I don’t see yet how a person couldn’t be attracted to being a historian if you have that type of inquisitive mind where you just have to know.

Pete: Well, thank you for being an inquisitive mind on our podcast.

Jared: Yeah, it was great to have you.

Pete: Thank you, Ted.

Ted: Yup, thank you!

[Music begins]

Stephanie: You just made it through another entire episode of The Bible for Normal People. Well done to you! And well done to everyone who supports us by rating the podcast, leaving us a review, or telling others about our show. We are especially grateful for our Producer’s Group who support us over on Patreon. They are the reason we are able to keep bringing podcasts and other content to you. If you would like to help support the podcast, head over to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople, where for as little as $3 a month you can receive bonus material, be a part of an online community, get course discounts, and much more. We couldn’t do what we do without your support.

Dave: Our show was produced by Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Community Champion, Ashley Ward; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People Team, thanks for listening.

[Outtakes]

[Beep]

Pete: [In a hushed tone that his handy dandy microphone picked up anyway]

I have to pee. If that’s on there…

[Regular speech volume]

We could start with that!

Jared: Yeah.

[End of recorded material]

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Pete Ruins Exodus Part 4

Pete Ruins Exodus: Part 4

September 2, 2019

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

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

Mentioned in this episode:

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Read the transcript

00:00

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

Jared:  And I’m Jared Byas.

MUSIC

00:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

09:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17:05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20:57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26:45

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

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

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

27:42 BREAK

29:10

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

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

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

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


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

Just a few highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

34:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for food and water.

39:45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

45:45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving toward the end here.

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

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

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

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

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

53:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

55:57  MUSIC

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

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

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