Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Episode 182: Pete & Jared – The Evolution of Adam

Can Christianity and evolution coexist? In this episode of The Bible for Normal People,  Pete and Jared discuss a path forward for Christians who accept evolution and want to take the Bible seriously. Together they explore the following questions: 

  • What kind of literature is Genesis? 
  • Is the creation story in Genesis meant to be taken as literal history? 
  • Does Genesis provide an accurate view of how the ancient world was scientifically constructed?
  • What is the theological perspective known as “the god of the gaps?”
  • If God isn’t there to explain how the world works, then what is the point of God? 
  • What do we miss if we’re preoccupied with how the Bible does or does not fit with modern ways of thinking about science? 
  • What can we learn from the origin stories of other ancient people groups?
  • How can science and archeology help us understand what Genesis is trying to say? 
  • What is Genesis as a whole doing and how does Adam fit into that? 
  • Okay, I’ve got to know. Was the fruit that Adam and Eve ate actually an apple? 
  • What is “sorrowful conception” and what examples do we see of this concept in Genesis? 
  • What do we have the right to expect from Genesis in terms of information about how things began?


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

  • “I accept evolution as a model, and then I talk about the Bible in light of that. Instead of making the science fit the Bible or making the Bible fit science, I’m just letting them talk their own language.” @peteenns 
  • “If you took science out of the picture entirely, I still would not read Genesis 2 & 3 as literal history. Everybody has an origin story & each origin story is unique & distinct, but they also have overlapping themes & it’s pretty clear they’re sort of breathing the same air.”  @peteenns 
  • “The Christian idea of original sin is not, I’m going to say this emphatically, it is absolutely not in the story in Genesis. It’s part of Christian tradition, and Augustine is the one responsible for that.” @peteenns 
  • “The Adam and Eve story, one way of reading it is it’s sort of like a mini version of the basic main storyline of the Old Testament. The parallelism is so striking. Once you see it, it’s very hard to unsee it.” @peteenns 
  • “One of the real advantages of having Genesis 1 & 2 next to each other is we’re seeing portrayed for us at the very beginning of the Bible the two views of God you’re going to encounter throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible – the God of transcendence and the God of eminence.” @peteenns 
  • “If Genesis two and three did not happen literally or at all that doesn’t mean God is lying because God never meant for you to take that literally.” @peteenns
  • “Studying Genesis critiques our assumptions about the nature of the text, even the nature of God. Don’t make God subject to your view of how you think the Bible has to work.” @peteenns

Mentioned in This Episode

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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.

Pete: Welcome everybody to this episode of the podcast, and our topic today is “The Evolution of Adam.”

Jared: And it’s just a conversation with Pete and I today, and the reason for that is Pete has a book called The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, and you have a second edition coming out.

Pete: Right. The first edition was 2012, the second edition is coming out a little later this month and not quite 10 years, but it’s the 10th anniversary edition. We’re a couple of months shy of that. So anyway.

Jared: We’re used to missing years with COVID now.

Pete:Exactly. And who cares, really? So yes, it’s I’m really thrilled about that, actually, to have this book that I poured a lot of myself into being honored this way. And, you know, I’ve made some changes, actually, in this book. You know, if you read the first edition, you definitely want to run out and buy this second one. I can’t imagine you living your life without getting this book. But you know what I did? I actually went through, unlike the Inspiration and Incarnation, which is another book that came out on the 10th anniversary edition a couple of years ago. I didn’t make a lot of changes. I just added a bunch at the end, like reflecting on the past 10 years. Well, I do that in this book, too, but I actually went through the entire manuscript for about two months and I cleaned up a lot of the prose. I don’t think I knew how to write English 10 years ago, Jared. I don’t know what it was, but convoluted sentences, and I just tried to support things a little bit better. So, it is sort of a different feel, a different experience with this one.

Jared: Also, I wanted to mention that this conversation goes pretty long. And so, we actually have a part two of this for our patrons. Not as a shameless plug for Patreon, but if you did want to listen to part two where we jump into various Adams of Jewish interpretations, get into the Second Temple period, and understanding how Adam was used there and how that influences Paul, go to patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople. You can get the second episode of this podcast there exclusively on Patreon.

Pete:Yeah, so I mean, anyway, just a tiny bit, a little background story for why I even wrote the first edition. It just, you know, I mean, a lot of you know my story and you know, Jared and I, we were at Westminster together – I was a professor, he was a student. But I wound up leaving in 20–. What year was that?

Jared: 2008?

Pete: 2008 or 2009? No, I know. Yeah, 2008 I wind up leaving.

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: And a friend of mine said, “You know, Pete, I’ve always wondered about evolution. I wonder, maybe now that you have a little bit more freedom, you can write about that.” And I said, “Yeah, what could be the harm?” So, I started thinking about it and I, you know, decided to put it into a book which came out a few years later. And you know, the thing that hit me was how clearly the Bible speaks a different language than the language of science. That, to me, is rather, it’s almost a non-negotiable point. It’s so foundationally true. And also, you know, here’s the big thing that hit me early on. This was a real aha moment in this whole issue – if evolution is true, you really don’t have a first couple. And if you don’t have a first couple, my exact question that I asked myself as I started thinking about this is, what’s God so mad about, right? If there wasn’t this original couple that did something that was sort of downloaded onto everyone –

Jared: You’re talking about sin, like original sin?

Pete: Sin, yeah, exactly.

Jared: That gets downloaded onto everyone. So, what’s the big deal?

Pete:So, what’s the big deal, right?

Jared: Okay.

Pete: So, and that got me into thinking, you know, in that book, the book is basically divided into two parts. The first part is about Genesis, like, what’s Genesis doing and who’s Adam and what role does he play? And you know, what kind of literature is Genesis? And the second part is Paul, because that’s really the issue for Christians. You know, if I sort of quip in the book somewhere that if Adam had just stayed where he belonged in the Old Testament, you know, we wouldn’t have this problem. But Paul brings up Adam a couple of times, and that raises the ante. You know, I don’t see a lot of Christians being really animated about, let’s say, literal trees in in this paradise place. I think many Christians recognize the metaphorical or symbolic nature. But when it comes to the reality of Adam as a first person, that gets really important. Because for Paul, Jesus is sort of the second Adam that corrects what the first Adam did. He fixes the problem, and that’s Romans 5. So, yeah, and that’s but it got me thinking that, you know, there’s just so much at play. There are so many moving parts in this issue. It’s far more complicated and interesting than simply, “well, Paul mentions Adam, so that’s it. That’s the end of the discussion.” No, that’s the beginning of the discussion.


Jared: Yeah. Well, let’s, I wonder if we can go back and set this up a little bit in terms of this language of science piece, because I think that’s really, for some people that is a hard nut to crack and a hard system to kind of override from how they were going. I just thought of just a few weeks ago in class, we’re going through Genesis, and I bring up, we’re going through the first chapter of Genesis. I bring up the idea of the firmament and I bring up the idea of the Ancient Near East and how in the ancient world they would have thought of creation. I show them a diagram. We walk through this whole thing, and I give them the idea of, you know, so there’s this raqia, right?

Pete: Yeah, the Hebrew word for, yeah.

Jared: In Genesis 1:6, it’s translated all these different ways – expanse, firmament. I love the ICB, which translates it, “Let there be something.”

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: They’re just like, “We don’t even know! What does this mean?!”

Pete:We’re done.”

Jared: But so, I bring that all up, and one of my unsuspecting students raises his hand and says, “OK, but where? Where was the waters above?”

Pete: Yeah, right.

Jared: Like, he’s still in this mindset that Genesis has to be giving us this accurate view of how the ancient world was scientifically constructed, what it actually was like. And so, we went through this whole thing for 20 minutes, and he still asked, “but where was the waters above?”

Pete: Did you fail him? Did you fail him?

Jared: Immediately, and I told him to get out. I said, “Get out.”

Pete: Yeah, perfect. Off with his head.

Jared: But maybe help us understand that disconnect.

Pete:Well, I mean, first of all, it’s understandable the student’s reaction, because, you know, if you’re raised in, let’s call it, conservative Protestant Christianity in the West, you really are taught quite deliberately and also unintentionally of like the unimpeachable historical nature of these texts and science and history really go together because what science does, it really is an investigation into the past and what sort of footprints are left that scientists today can study that takes us back to the past. And when you’re talking about the dawn of time, creation, the beginning of things, that is very much a historical scientific kind of investigation. And so, you know, the Bible says something and that is taken as being, you know, literally true or at least essentially literally true. Maybe a little embellishment, a little bit of metaphor here and there, but it’s basically something that happened. And the problem, though, is that the historical scientific study of the past has studied these footprints.

And, you know, with cosmology, its background radiation that goes back to the dawn, you know, to the Big Bang, which a lot of scientists still think is the answer. But, you know, evolution, we do have things like the study of species over time, we have fossils, we have the layers of sediment in the Earth. Looking especially at hills, you can sort of see how much time has gone by and why people think that the species are related to each other, you know, just looking at the chromosomes and DNA. It just, it’s very revealing. And so, evolution – I mean, again, remember, I’m not a scientist. I make that very clear in the book, I accept evolution as a model, and then I go on, I talk about the Bible in light of that. Instead of making the science fit the Bible or making the Bible fit science, I’m just letting them talk their own language, right? And then I say, “Well, how do we read these texts now in light of, I’m going to say, the fact that we can’t take the Genesis stories of creation as a literal indication of things that happened?”

Jared: And we can’t do that. I want to be very clear of what you’re saying. We can’t do that because the evidence is clear for evolution? Is that what you’re saying?

Pete: Yeah, the evidence is clear for evolution and other things that are sort of tied to that.

Jared: The geological records –

Pete: Exactly.

Jared: Cosmology, physics, we think of the universe in general.

Pete: Yeah. I mean, we can get into that later just how the universe is evolutionary. Everything that we look at is explained in an evolutionary way. It’s like the big story of our existence, really, and it’s a profound story.

Jared: Is part of the problem, one of the, I think… it seems to me that when science has all these discoveries, it doesn’t seem to ruffle feathers or make us afraid as Christians unless one of two things happen. I think one, if it goes against what the Bible says, because now we have to have a different framework for what the Bible is and what we do with it. But I wonder, too, if part of it is that God, for a lot of people, was there to be, as the explanation for things?

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, that’s where I feel like for a lot of Christians, it gets really –

Pete:And those twothings are related that you just mentioned.

Jared: Right, right. But it gets really tricky because it’s like, well, what’s the point of God if God’s not there just to explain phenomena?


Pete: Right, right.

Jared: And so, that’s for me, that’s how it was always couched as either/or. It’s because, well, the real battle is who gets to explain how the world works. We either have God as the way the world works, or we have this natural explanation for how the world works.

Pete: Or fallible humans.

Jared: Right, right. And so, I don’t know. I just think there’s something there in terms of origins that’s almost like, well, what’s the point of God? Which I think is a very anemic theology that’s based only on what’s called, historically, the god of the gaps, right? It’s sort of, we insert God when there’s a gap in knowledge. We say, “Oh, that must be God.” And so, whenever all those things are explained, we’re left with like, well, what’s the point of God then?

Pete: Right.

Jared: But I think that starts from a faulty assumption that that’s the point – that’s the purpose of God.

Pete: Right, right. It’s very informational, which is, it is truly a very modern-ish kind of way of looking at it, that the Bible exists largely to give us sort of factual information. And you know this, we can go so far afield. A big rabbit trail here is, well, let’s talk about the nature of the Bible and whether they’re consistent in their historical outlooks and whatnot. But you know, the big thing for me is not just that there is evidence for evolution, but there is also evidence for the nature of biblical literature that see, that’s the big thing. In other words –

Jared: What do you mean by that? Yeah, say more about that.

Pete: If you took science out of the picture entirely, I still would not read Genesis chapters two and three as literal history because there are other peoples. Everybody has an origin story, and each origin story of each people is unique and distinct, but they also have overlapping themes and it’s pretty clear that they’re sort of breathing the same air. And, you know, I called it in the book genre calibration, that’s sort of a fancy way of putting it. But you know, what’s the nature of the literature of this story, Genesis two and three? And of course, we can keep going in Genesis, but just those two chapters with the Adam and Eve story. But what’s the genre of literature? Well, in the abstract, you can try to answer that question in different ways and through history, some Christians, I mean, thoughtful Christians, have said, “Well, I mean, yeah, the Bible says this is the way it happened.” They wouldn’t have known anything else. This is this is their source of information and no one’s, you know, uncovering fossils in the 14th century, right? So, it would have been understandable for them to come to certain conclusions.

But we have a lot of knowledge on hand now about the ancient world and about what religions did and how they wrote their stories. And we have stories from other peoples, too. And that helps us calibrate the genre, right? OK, OK. It’s hard to look at Genesis now and just simply say, well, this is historical narrative the way we might think of it today. It’s something else in, and the word myth is not always helpful to people and we can talk about that or not talk about it, but it is highly similar. Look, it’s trying to get at something else using well known ways of talking about origins.

Jared: Mm hmm, right.

Pete: So, and that’s something worth looking at. And so, you put those two things together the scientific language and then the language of the Bible understood in its context – it’s like, OK, listen, we’re not dealing here with what you would call, you know, the Gettysburg Address happening, you know, or things like that.

Jared: Well, and I think it’s helpful when you say even in its context, because sometimes it can be seen that we’re like saying that’s compared to our way of speaking today. But when you say, “in its context,” there are other accounts from that area like Enuma Elish or the Gilgamesh Epic. There are actual tablets that we’ve discovered that have stories in them that read similar to the Genesis account we have in our Bible. Right? So that’s what we mean by context is we actually have other stories stacked up against Genesis that look similar and do similar things.

Pete:And again, it’s not like they’re doing the same thing, but they’re similar. And it’s not like the biblical writer has a copy of, let’s say, the Gilgamesh Epic or the Atrahasis Epic or Enuma Elish, these, you know, creation stories from other nations, and it’s like copying them. It’s more like this is just the way stories were told and the Israelites give their slant on it. Right? So, and it’s interesting the slant. I mean, actually, that’s where the fun and the action is. It’s what slant are they giving to these old symbolic, and again, I might use the word mythical stories about ultimate reality and where things begin? That’s their theology, right? And that’s the irony of it –


We miss their theology if we’re preoccupied with how does this or does this not fit with modern ways of thinking about, you know, science? And how does this fit with our view of the Bible is inspired or even inerrant, things like that.

Jared: Like, would it be fair to say that when we talk about the genre, we can’t divorce that from the purpose for which it is written and the purpose for which it is written isn’t this abstract historical account of what happened, but it’s often where did we as a people come from? What does this God expect of us?

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And that’s going to shape how these stories are told.

Pete: I mean, I agree with that. Unfortunately, there is no heading in these stories saying, “here’s the purpose for which these stories are written.”

Jared: Right,

Pete: You have to patiently, I think, intelligently with sensitivity to the literature, try to put pieces together, try to engage. People have thought about this a good long time. And yeah, when you do that, you’re trying to put together the question – OK, why did somebody write this? Like, what’s the purpose of writing this? Which is frankly a great question to ask about pretty much anything in the Bible, like, as you know, James Kugel, who was on the podcast a couple of times, he was my doctoral professor? He said back then, he said, “Paper wasn’t cheap. You know, they didn’t just, you know, throw it out. They thought about what they were going to say, and they had a purpose for doing it.” And those purposes are largely very religious purposes, which includes not just what you believe, but how you live. It’s also political because you don’t separate church and state in antiquity. Those two things come together. They’re almost, thery’re two sides of the same coin. And when you look at that, it’s like, this is actually, these stories are actually very interesting. The beginning chapters of Genesis and they’re saying a lot and we know something of what they’re trying to say because we have a larger background for understanding these stories because of the work done by archeologists and others and helping us understand the context.

Before, you know, the 19th, really the 18th century a little bit, before that point in time, we didn’t have this information, but now we do. So, we get to ask these questions that maybe, you know, John Calvin or Thomas Aquinas or Augustine weren’t asking themselves. Even though Augustine, who lived around 400… speaking of Genesis 1, he says, “You got to have a screw loose,” I’m interpreting his language, but he says, “Yeah, you don’t want to go around saying this stuff is literally true because you’re going to get laughed at. You’re going to make Christianity look stupid.” That’s pretty much the quote from Augustine in his Genesis commentary, right? Now, I don’t think he would say that about Adam. See, again, this is because the Adam thing is so tied to Paul.

Jared: Right? It’s this interpretive way of reading the Bible that I think Christians throughout history maybe have done intuitively where if it’s brought into the New Testament, it’s more relevant and more important, like we have to hold on to it.

Pete: Right.

Jared: If it just stays in the Old Testament, ehh, you know, iffy in terms of what we can do with it or not do with it, there’s more room there. But yes, I think that’s an interpretive idea that you mentioned earlier, which is, yeah, you know, we don’t have to really think too much about a lot of the Genesis narrative because it’s kind of left in Genesis. But Adam is one of those things that really is there. So, maybe, can we do this because I think we’ve been talking about really important things, but they’re like principles for reading the text and ideas of history and context. So, can we, can you do like a recounting quickly of kind of the salient points of the story? And then let’s talk about what is Genesis as a whole doing? And then how does Adam fit into that?

Pete: Yeah. I mean, those are big questions. Those are the kinds of things that occupy biblical scholars who are interested in explaining, you know, the Adam and Eve story in the book of Genesis. But, you know, basically, you know, the I guess the plot of the story is you have in contrast to Genesis 1, it gets really interesting, really fast. You don’t have all humans created at the end on day six. Here you have one human who’s created and out of dust, and God breathes life into him, and he’s placed into this paradise. And God sees, yeah, it’s not good for this poor guy to be all alone. So, he makes animals for them, and then he is supposed to name the animals, and he does. But then the story says, you know, it still isn’t working because there’s no one like him to be a companion for him.

And there’s one rabbinic tradition that says that Adam was watching the animals having sex and he’s like, “Well, what about me?”

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: You know, but that’s not in the text. That’s a very fanciful interpretation, very entertaining one.


But, so that’s when God puts him to sleep and takes from his side, which is probably the right translation, not a rib, but actually side. It’s almost like peeling off a whole section of him and from that, making a woman. And that’s why when Adam wakes up from his stupor, he says, “Now at last – bone of my bone.” And it’s like, “OK, finally, plan A was the animals, that didn’t work. Plan B was the woman.”

So, in the meantime, you know, Adam was given the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And on the day you eat of it, you shall die. So, what happens is that Eve is created and then, you know, the next scene we see Eve happens to get into a conversation with the serpent who is a serpent in the story. You know, he’s not the devil. Christian tradition has expressed itself that way, and there are theological reasons for doing that. I’m not against it, but the story itself, he was more crafty than any animal the Lord God had put into the garden, and she basically tricks Eve into eating of the forbidden fruit, which is not an apple.

Jared: I heard that that’s from a Latin connection to malus.

Pete: Yes. It’s a pun.

Jared: And apple being really close in Latin.

Pete: Exactly, right. And that’s why it became an apple, which again, in the Latin history of the Christian church, of course, it makes a lot of sense. But it’s like, the kind of fruit is not the point. Is it a pomegranate? Is it a fig? No. Just come on, just get on with this. Cause clearly the writer doesn’t care. So, she eats of it. She’s tricked because this is a crafty creature, and Eve is like a naive, you know, creature here. But then it says, and then she gave some to Adam, who was standing by her. Like, he’s watching this whole thing, right? It’s like, it’s ludicrous, almost. It’s like, oh, Adam, come on. You didn’t try to stop her. There’s no, he’s just a passive bystander and she does this, and that’s when they realize their nakedness and they’re ashamed and God finds them in the garden. You know, “What are you hiding from me for? Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat of that fruit I told you not to eat of?” And, yeah. And then Adam’s response is hilarious. He goes, “Well, it’s this woman you gave me.” Not taking any responsibility –  

Jared: “Finally! Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” And then, “Well, but no, I mean, it’s this woman you gave me!”

Pete: Thisis not a good idea at all. It’s your fault. So, Adam, he shifts blame onto Eve and Eve, her response is I was tricked by the serpent.

Jared: Right. It’s a passing of blame down the line.

Pete: But she actually, the thing about Eve is that she doesn’t pass the blame. She actually says, “Yes, I was fooled by the serpent.” And she basically said, “I did this.” And it wasn’t like, “Well, it’s a serpent you made.” She says, “I did do this.” Right?

Jared: Right.

Pete: And so, then they all get their punishments and curses and things like that.

Jared: As you as you would expect in the Bible, everyone gets their punishments and curses.   

Pete: Right. And the two things about the punishments. One is to Eve, and it’s really interesting how – and there are different interpretations of this – but she will basically be in pain in childbirth. And a way of understanding the Hebrew is that, I mean, it’s a little bit cumbersome, but it’s she will have “sorrowful conceptions.” And why that’s so interesting is because it means the act of conceiving will be difficult, or maybe the result of the conceptions will be difficult. Right? So, what’s the first story after Adam and Eve? It’s Cain and Abel. The thing that’s supposed to be the beautiful thing of being fruitful and multiplying – the first two kids, one of them kills the other. Right? And how many examples of sibling rivalry do we have in Genesis? Well, there’s Isaac and Ishmael, right? There’s Jacob and Esau, there’s Joseph and his brothers. These are sorrowful conceptions

Jared:Yeah, those are examples of sorrowful conception. Oh, that’s interesting.  

Pete:Andeven Sarah, Abraham and Sarah, not being able to conceive. Right? And you know, Jacob and Rachel, you know, she has trouble conceiving, too. So, you know that that curse or that punishment on Eve, not to get too far ahead of ourselves, because we’re still dealing with the story, but that connects well with Genesis. It’s like this is setting up the action in Genesis, right? And then the punishment to Adam is not what I think a lot of Christians might assume. That boy, Adam, you did this. From now on, every person born is going to be born in a state of sin and it’s your fault and they can’t get out of it until Jesus comes. No, the punishment is you’re going to have a hard time growing things out of the ground. And there’s this beautiful pun in, actually Genesis, these chapters of full of puns. But, you know, the Hebrew word for Adam is Adam, and the Hebrew word for ground is Adamah. Adam is taken from the ground and given life by God’s breath, but it’s like the very thing that he’s taken from, he’s alienated from.


He’s in a state of alienation. And then on top of that, you’ll live and then you’re going to die. So, death is the result of what Adam did. It’s not downloading sin genetically because two people have sex and they have a kid, which is what Augustine thought. That was his –

Jared: Right. It was like physiologically, happened.

Pete: Right.And that’s why the Christian idea of original sin is not, I’m going to say this emphatically, it is absolutely not in the story in Genesis, it’s part of Christian tradition. And Augustine is the one responsible for that. Right? I’m not Augustine bashing. He was a brilliant guy, blah blah blah, but he may have had a hang up about sex or something. And just, this is the way it happens, this is the beginning of the problem.

So, that’s the story. And so, after they do this, the story ends with them being exiled from the Garden of Eden, which is interesting because God tells Adam in chapter two, I think it’s verse 17, around there, “On the day you eat of it, you shall die.” You expect them just to die, but they don’t die. What they do is they leave the garden so they no longer have access to the tree of life. Right? Which brings up a really interesting question. I mean, I can’t talk about the story without trying to deal with some of the interpretive complexities because there’s no baseline to the story, right? It’s not just, well, here’s basically the things everybody agrees on. It’s not that easy.

Jared: Very ambiguous. It’s very

Pete:It’s very ambiguous, and I think intentionally ambiguous. That’s why it opens itself up to different types of interpretations that are all, I think, very legitimate. But, you know, “On the day you eat of it, you shall die.” Well, he doesn’t die. He’s exiled instead, but what he’s,  what they’re barred from, they’re barred from reentering the garden. Why would they want to reenter the garden? Well, to eat the Tree of Life, to have immortality. So, my take on this, and again, this is not unanimous, but I’m not alone in this either. I think Adam and Eve were created mortal. They had immortality as long as they had access to the Tree of Life. They could eat freely of that tree.

Jared: OK, so I was going to ask that question. So, go back for a second, because I think it’s important in Christian theology that Adam introduces death into the picture. But what you just said is, actually, the created order seems to maybe already have had death in it. This tree just staved that death off for anyone who eats of it, which is very different.

Pete:Right, yes.

Jared:So, maybe Adam’s disobedience didn’t actually bring death or sin in that sense, like, in the text itself.

Pete: Right.

Jared: Because, yeah, it sounds to me like Adam was going to die anyway. You just, as long as you eat the tree…

Pete:He would have died if he were outside of the presence of God in the presence of the garden.

Jared: Right.

Pete: You see, God is life, right?

Jared: Yes.

Pete: The presence of God is life.

Jared: Yes.

Pete: And that’s what, I mean, thinking of it in terms of physical death – eh, maybe. But metaphorical death, there is an angle there too that people take. I mean, you can talk about physical death if you want to, but there’s another angle to it. It’s not just a story. It’s not just an etiology of why people die, right?

Jared: Exactly.

Pete: It’s something else going on. Etiology is just a fancy word for like a story of origins, why things are the way they are. So, ancient people told stories to sort explain –

Jared: Well, anytime a story ends with, “and that’s why blank, blank, blank,” that’s an ideological story, right?

Pete: Right, yeah.

Jared: OK, well, let’s go back because, well, maybe not go back. Let’s go forward. Because what you just said for me, that was a light bulb moment when I was reading this, where it says, “In the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Adam doesn’t die.

Pete: Right.

Jared: So, what do we do with that? How do we explain that? And that’s what led me to –  probably because professors like you actually told me this – but what is Adam doing in this story? Like, what’s the big picture of the function of Adam? Why is Adam there?

Pete:Well, yeah. And I think one clue to that is the fact that he doesn’t physically die on the spot. You expect “I will kill you if you eat this,” right, but “you shall die,” which means he doesn’t have access to immortality anymore. But there’s a little more to it than that because he’s driven out of this paradise land with Eve, and he’s exiled. He has to leave. And I think it’s very intentional that language there because, you know, you might think about another exilic moment in Israel’s history, which is the Babylonian exile where just like Adam, you’re kicked out of the land, you’re kicked out of paradise, you go into exile and to be in exile is to be in a place of death. And Israelite ideology, I mean, especially, I’m thinking of places like Deuteronomy chapter, is it 30 or 31? Somewhere towards the end there, were likewise being in the land is life, to be outside of the land is death. But now they’re talking about the Babylonian captivity. Right?


So, there is a there’s a way of understanding the Adam and Eve story. I’m not going to tell you it’s the only way. I don’t believe that. I think there are multiple layers and multiple things to get out of this because it’s such a beautifully crafted, ambiguous story. But what that led me to conclude, and this is also a part of medieval Judaism. I’m not making this up. I actually got it from rabbis, 500 or so, this, on a commentary in Genesis. It’s a very, very old way of looking at it. There’s a parallel between Adam and Israel. Almost like Adam is a miniature version of Israel or the Adam and Eve story is like a table of contents for Israel’s entire journey.

Jared:A foreshadowing of this story of the people.

Pete: A foreshadowing ofstory of where this is going. A people that just don’t listen and suffer the consequences of it. So, Adam is created by God and put into this paradise land and it’s contingent upon obedience. If you obey, you stay. If you disobey, you’ll leave and you’ll go to the death place, right? That’s Israel’s whole story – created by God out of slavery and given laws to obey, the Mosaic Laws, right, especially about worship, that’s the key one. And if you obey and if you worship me, you’ll stay in the land; if you disobey, if you’re idolatrous, if you worship other gods – you’ll be cast out of the land, you’ll go into exile. So, the Adam and Eve story, one way of reading it is it’s sort of like a mini version of the basic main storyline of the Old Testament. And it, I know it makes some sense to me to read it that way because it’s so… the parallelism is so rather striking. Once you see it, it’s very hard to unsee it.

Jared: Yeah, I think that’s, I think it’s important because it connects… I think it’s important for this reason, again, growing up for me, Genesis was extracted from its historical context, and it was placed right next to say, a modern textbook of science and that’s what it was meant for. So, this for me, reconnects what’s happening in the early chapters of Genesis with the context that this is Israel’s story.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And it’s not at all surprising that it looks very Israe-like, both in terms of content, but also in terms of themes, like themes and all kinds of other things. And so that’s what it did for me was it connected to Israel, sort of like – oh, it makes a lot of sense that Adam is Israel story.

Pete: Right.

Jared: And we see this actually throughout Genesis, a recapitulation of themes through, that actually end up being historically accurate within Israel. I think of Judah and the place that the tribe of Judah plays throughout Genesis. And interestingly enough, how all these things shape out. It’s like – oh, this is mirroring this larger story of Israel.

Pete:Yeah. And to get into all that is to have a very, very long podcast on the book of Genesis. I did one a little while ago on, you know, reading Genesis differently. But it’s true because when we think of the Adam and Eve story, not as a another story of cosmic creation… That’s Genesis 1, complete with human beings created on the sixth day, by the way, after the animals. Notice in the Genesis 2 and 3 story – first Adam, then the animals, then the woman. It’s a very different kind of story, and it helps us to sort of accept that story as being different if we think of it as like, OK, we told the cosmic story in Chapter 1. Now let’s get to the real issue we want to talk about is who are we as a people? Where did we come from? Why do we keep having these issues with God? You know, why is disobedience such a big problem for us? And that does play out, you know, elsewhere in in the Bible, in the story of Jacob, when he is coming back from a long hiatus in Haran, and he’s pretty sure he’s going to meet Esau again, who pretty much ripped off like 20 years earlier, you know, and just took his birthright and everything. Just not a good story. But, you know, on the way he sends his family away and he basically winds up wrestling with a being of some sort. It seems to be God, even though it’s a man at first and the wrestling and then, you know –

Jared:  But then he says, like, “Who has seen the face of God and lived?” and he names at that.

Pete: Yeah, the face of God. So, and he mentions of that. But the thing is that this God who appears in the form of a human and they wrestle and Jacob won’t let go of him. He just wants to keep wrestling, but his name is changed from Jacob to Israel. And you know, what Israel means historically is actually, it’s a tricky thing, but the Israelites who wrote this story, they understood Israel to mean like “striving with God” or “God is striving,” right?


Baked into the name of Israel is the Israelites own self-conception of a people who constantly struggle with God. I find that amazing. And the first story after creation, when everything is good and then very good, the first story is a story of conflict between, let’s call it Proto Israel, you know, and us. And it really lends itself to the idea that the story is really about everybody, right, from the point of view of ancient Israel. You know, basically this describes all of us. This is just who we are. This is what we do. So, it’s a story that’s supposed to have, I think, meaning for them in their moment, not just a curiosity, about history, about where we came from and the symbolism of the story, I think, pushes us in in that direction. And, you know, that’s not always an easy thing, I think, for people to accept, if you know, they’ve been used to thinking about Genesis in a certain way. But I just want to, you know, encourage people – it’s OK, you know, it’s OK to sort of think about this stuff. God’s not mad at you for thinking about these things and you’d be joining a very broad, interesting conversation about what are these stories doing? How do they function in the book of Genesis? How do they function in how Israel’s thought about themselves and just the Bible as a whole? Because they do.

Jared:Yeah. And I think for me, when I start to let go of those expectations of what I thought Genesis had to be and the creation account had to be is when actually the stories came alive to me because when it’s facts on a page, they’re sort of dead to me. What do we do with that? We just memorize the facts and then we move on. But to see the engagement with this story from an Israelite perspective and how they engaged in the story and how they continue to reinterpret it and reinterpret it and it’s true for the entire Old Testament, I would argue, but it makes it come alive in a new way.

And, so then, again, you know, sometimes – I’m sure you get this to – and people ask, “OK, well, then how was the world made?”

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: And I think there’s a level of learning to accept the uncertainty of that, but also maybe learning to accept to get our facts from different sources than just the biblical account of things and starting to open up and broaden our horizons a little bit. Because again, when students are or people ask me that, I say, “well, the Bible doesn’t actually address that right question, really, of how did the world get created,” if we’re talking scientifically.

Pete: Right.

Jared: That’s not really what it’s there to do, right? And so, if you want the answer to that question, you can get it, but you’re going to have to go outside. It’s like, how do you make lasagna? You wouldn’t be disappointed that the Bible doesn’t tell us that. It’s like, you can find the answer to that, but it’s not going to be in this book because this book can’t be the answer to everything,

Pete: Right. Although, I think, I mean, I agree with you. I think some people would say, “Yeah, but the Bible doesn’t claim to have a lasagna recipe in it.”

Jared: Right.

Pete: If it did, that would be different. Of course, there is Ezekiel Bread, right?

Jared: [Laughter]

That’s right!

Pete: There’s a recipe in the Bible, but it’s not because they can’t do that because it tastes like crap, so they have to add things to it. But anyway, I think it tastes like crap anyway. But anyway, but I’m unhealthy.

Jared: [Laughter]

Well, we’re going to have Ezekiel Bread as a sponsor, that’s for sure.  

Pete: Maybe we will, maybe we will.

Jared: [Continued laughter]

Pete: But the thing is that the Bible does talk about what we would call creation or beginnings, but that’s that doesn’t mean – see, this all comes down to what is the Bible anyway and how do we read it, right? That doesn’t mean that it’s giving us answers that we ask from our frame of mind, from our position, from our backdrop, from our background. Right, and that’s that whole genre calibration thing. We’re back to that. And another way of putting it, maybe a simpler way, is what do we have the right to expect from Genesis in terms of information about how things began? And my answer is really very, very little other than it’s a God thing, right? And the assumption that the Adam and Eve story is another creation story like Genesis 1 is, you know, I mean, I talk about this in the book. It may have functioned that way in Israel’s history at some point in time, but we only know of the story of Adam and Eve as coming after Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is the creation of the cosmos and everything that is. Genesis 2, it’s like we’re shifting topics already, you know, and the Israelites are using an older creation story that is more – what’s the best word – folkloristic or story like? And not as grand and as big as Genesis 1.


They’re really, they’re two different types of literature doing very different kinds of things. I just emphasize that because it’s not like Genesis 2 follows easily from Genesis 1. It’s not like there’s a break, it’s like, wait a minute. It’s like a second beginning. I mean, again, I’m saying this to people who might be struggling with this. One of the real advantages of having Genesis 1 and then the second story next to each other is we’re seeing portrayed for us at the very beginning of the Bible – and I think I think this is intentional on the part of the editors – the two views of God you’re going to encounter throughout the rest of the Hebrew Bible, the God of transcendence and the God of eminence. The God who’s transcendent, Genesis 1, God is a button pusher –

Jared: God says it and it happens.

Pete: God says it and that’s it, right? Genesis 2 is the imminent God –

Jared: Or God is molding things.

Pete: Yes. He’s molding, he’s what else is he doing? He’s talking, he’s walking.

Jared: He’s not knowing. He’s asking questions.

Pete: He is trying to, OK, the flood story, right? It all goes kaput. And God says, basically, what have I done? This is not working out at all. And we read there an aggrieved God, right?

Jared: God regretted in some translations.

Pete: Yeah, right? Well, it says both actually, it aggrieved him and he regretted what he had done. And you know, it’s the same thing with the animals, right? The animals. Maybe that will be a companion, no that’s not it. I know I’ll put you to sleep. It’s like God is in the process – God is very human-like in Genesis chapter two and following is very not human, like in Genesis Chapter one. Those two are next to each other because Israel encounters God is the utterly transcendent one. And then as the completely eminent one, the one who’s down to earth with us. And I think a lot of our listeners, you know, especially from a Christian context, you can relate to that as well. God is like so far off and aloof. But then the other minute sort of you feel God’s presence close by to you. That’s that is the normal sort of paradox, let’s say, of the religious experience. And you have that sort of baked into Genesis one and two. I think it’s brilliant, you know? And to just be sort of all amped up about, yeah, but did it happen? And, you know, if it didn’t happen that way, then God is a liar. Well, no, I don’t think God – nobody’s lying to anybody. It’s just this is what ancient people thought. And this is the context. And this is how they-

Jared: It remindsme of my son, who often is – he can be really dramatic. And so, he’ll come up to me and say things like, basically, it would be like, “Hey, can we play this game later?” And I say, “Maybe, yeah.” And then like three hours later and I’m like, “I’m sorry, but I had too much going on. Maybe tomorrow.” He says, “You’re a liar.” It’s like, Well, I never said I was going to do it, and I feel like that’s how people treat the Bible. I was like, Well, then God’s a liar. It’s like, Oh, God never said this is how it is. This is what the Bible is. This is what we’re supposed to do with it. So don’t put that on God just because your expectations aren’t met.

Pete:And I think what that issue puts right before us, as that’s why the opening chapters of Genesis are the most complicated, the most theologically and doctrinally risky things to talk about. It’s not the place like a new believer or something will read like, I need to start at the beginning. Oh, no, no, no, don’t do that. Read this Psalm. Read Mark, right? Do not read Paul. Maybe Philemon or Philippians too, but not too complicated. But we see here the importance of again, this is going to sound heretical for some people, of separating God and the Bible. They’re not the same thing. Well, God inspired the writers. Okay, we could talk about what that means and let’s accept it for argument’s sake, that sort of in the standard way that doesn’t take the writers outside of their context, right? That really doesn’t happen. Show me in the Bible where biblical writers are taken out of their moment in time, out of their context. That’s part of an incarnational kind of thing that Christianity is very much based on. That God is very much imminent, right? With creation and with humans, and they tell the story from their own perspective, right? And not unlike, you know, when people today tried to tell the story of creation, you know, Christians, I say try to tell the story of creation from their own context, their own moment, right? We can’t help being human. And I think that’s a wonderful part about these stories that they remind us that if Genesis two and three did not happen literally or at all that doesn’t mean God is lying because God, let me put it this way God never meant for you to take that literally. Right? I mean, I would make that argument, you know, so I can imagine this conversation between God and whoever wrote Genesis saying, we’re going to get this story down and God says, “Okay, fine, but I don’t want people to sort of start thinking like, this is me or something. So, just let’s make sure they get this idea.” So, they tell this story with basically two magic trees in the middle of a garden, right? It sounds not historical. Or a talking serpent, it sounds not historical. I wonder why we make the assumption that ancient Israelites thought animals talked. If there was ever a genre clue that this is not historical in our sense of the word, it’s a talking snake. Right? But what does the talking snake symbolize? Great question. I mean, you know, ancient mythologies. Sometimes it was death, sometimes wisdom. And both of those things are happening in that story. It’s about Eve is not wise and the Serpent has a craftiness, which is how the book of Proverbs describes wisdom. The word is crafty. It’s the same word there. And so, we have hyper wise, but also a being that seems intent on tripping up these humans – where did they come  – where did the serpent come from? No explanation given in the text, right? And the point is, don’t make God subject to your view of how you think the Bible has to work because God might be much bigger than that or much other than that. And I think studying Genesis critiques our assumptions about the nature of the text, even the nature of God. That’s why these are such wonderful, beautiful texts to actually study. leaving aside our assumptions as much as we can, which is the idea of being a critically minded person. Critically minded means you don’t assume your own point of view as the center of the universe. You put that to the side and you study it, you know.


Jared: Well, to that point, you know two things even outside of the text, just from a logic standpoint, or maybe even from an ethical standpoint, I think of it in terms of to steal C.S. Lewis’s term chronological snobbery is when people insist that they’re- that science and the Bible comport in this way. I often will say so you’re telling me that the ancients wouldn’t have understood what was really going on for the last 2,000 years until modern science was invented. Because you’re telling me that the Bible was actually reflecting modern science, so they didn’t understand it for 2,000 years. That makes no sense to me. Not only that, but you’re also, to your point about the center of the universe, we’re also arrogant enough to think that we now have the science exactly right. And so, the Bible, of course, reflects our science now. Well, what happens in 500 years from now when our ideas of creation maybe shift again? And now we’re going say no, but the Bible, really-  

Pete: It was there it was all along.

Jared: It’s now, we have it right. It’s like we, again when we assume that, it just feels very arrogant to be like, “Well, we have it right now.” And so, the Bible has to be reflected into what we currently know because we clearly are right. It’s like that doesn’t make any sense along the way.

Pete:And I agree with that. I can imagine though someone listening saying, “Wait Pete, you and Jared, you guys are actually practicing chronological snobbery because you won’t take the Bible literally. You’ll let science tell you what the Bible should say.” And I would say, “No, that’s not chronological snobbery. That’s just being in tune to and working with and engaging actual evidence we have, right? That helps us understand the nature of these texts. It doesn’t come from a place of hostility. It comes from a place of trying to understand the texts, and we have information that people haven’t had, you know, didn’t have hundreds of years ago or, you know, certainly not 2,000 or 3,000 years ago. That helps us understand, not that the text was wrong, but that the text has a different kind of purpose than the one we assume it should have, particularly if you believe that the Bible has to be inerrant and inerrant means largely historically accurate. If you were there with a video camera, what would you see? I think the Bible is a book that tells the stories of Israel and how they believed in God, how they understood themselves, how they honestly struggled quite openly with that whole thing. And what can we learn from that? That begins in Genesis Chapter two. I think that’s a beautiful thing. You know, I mean, and if we have to push aside- if our theology has to change as a result of that, then by all means let it change. Why not? Because we have to be right about God, there’s a little snobbery in there as well.”

Jared: Well, that’s a great place to take a pause again, as we mentioned at the beginning of the episode. We didn’t even get into Paul yet. And so, we’re going to be taking this second episode over to Patreon if you want to give it a listen, patreon.com/thebiblefornormalpeople. We’ll talk about Paul and Adam and how all this fits within Christian theology and what we can do with it from here on out.

[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/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 is produced by Stephanie Speight; Audio Engineer, Dave Gerhart; Creative Director, Tessa Stultz; Community Champion, Ashley Ward; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. 

© 2021, The Bible for Normal People. 

All rights reserved. 

In other words…

Producer’s offspring: No copying or you’re in big trouble! 

Dave: For Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team – thanks for listening.

[Music ends]


Jared: You can get the second… shit, you can get the second. I shouldn’t say that with Dave.

Pete: I know!

[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


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

Jared:  And I’m Jared Byas.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

27:42 BREAK


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

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

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

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

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

Just a few highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for food and water.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving toward the end here.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.