Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Episode 187: Kirsten Powers – How Grace Saves Us

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People, Kirsten Powers joins Pete and Jared to discuss toxic public discourse, non-dualistic thinking, and a look at how grace might hold a different meaning than we previously imagined. Together they explore the following questions: 

  • Is it possible we have misunderstood the meaning of grace? 
  • How does a move toward non-dualistic thinking factor into a conversation about grace? 
  • How can we fall prey to “ignorant versus evil” logic? 
  • How can dehumanization affect our ability to show grace? 
  • Are there certain situations where binary thinking can be helpful? 
  • What are ways a misunderstanding of grace can be weaponized? 
  • How do we navigate grace and cancel culture in real-world scenarios? 
  • What is the difference between accountability and annihilation? 
  • What is the impact of the way we conduct ourselves on social media? 
  • How can internal work on ourselves help us have grace for other people? 


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Kirsten Powers you can share. 

  • “Some people misunderstand grace to think that it just means letting people get away with everything. That’s weaponizing grace. Grace does not mean that people aren’t held accountable, it just means that they’re held accountable with humanity.” @KirstenPowers
  • “Holding someone accountable is not a lack of grace. Saying something that’s true is not a lack of grace. You’re getting into the area of a lack of grace when you’re now judging, labeling, demonizing and all of these other things.” @KirstenPowers
  • “We do need to look to the people who’ve actually experienced harm, because sometimes we’ll be very quick to say something’s not that big of a deal because it doesn’t affect us. So, we don’t really understand the impact of it.” @KirstenPowers
  • “If you don’t like cancel culture, then start dealing with the things that people have been complaining about literally since forever. Generation after generation, people have been complaining about racism, sexual harassment, and really haven’t been listened to.” @KirstenPowers
  • “I also think it’s really important for people to do whatever work they need to do, to be able to have grace for themselves. Because if you can’t have grace for yourself, then you can’t have grace for other people.” @KirstenPowers
  • “Once you look back and you have some humility about where you’ve gone wrong, then you won’t be so quick to judge another person or refuse to give them grace for their mistakes.” @KirstenPowers

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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.

[Jaunty intro music]

Jared: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the episode. Before we get started, just an update on the campaign that we mentioned last week. It was one week only, but you didn’t even need a week – we raised that support within just a couple of days, and we could not be more thrilled. 

Pete: Yayyyy! 

Jared: So, our goal was $40,000. As of today, right this minute, I mean, probably that’s not true, $44,378.50. Which is more than $40,000. 

Pete: I thought it was like, $800,000 or something like that. 

Jared: You were misinformed. 

Pete: Someone didn’t tell me the truth. Anyway, but that’s, yeah. That’s still amazing. Listen, we have a lot of people to thank. Two team members who were just instrumental in making this work – Stephanie Speight and Tessa Stultz. 

Jared: Absolutely. And thank you so much to Sarah Bessey and Brian McLaren, who jumped on, provided some wonderful affirmations of the work that we’re trying to do. Really appreciate their support. 

Pete: Yeah, and, you know, obviously most of all – all you people who are just so generous and just, you know, it’s very, it just blows us away, you know, that we had so much support so quickly and it’s really gonna help us. 

Jared: Yeah, and I think, for me, I don’t know about you, but it really galvanizes kind of our passion for the work and the mission of bringing the best in biblical scholarship to everyday people and seeing the need and seeing that a lot of people are in it with us, I think, it just means a lot. 

Pete: Yeah, it’s fantastic. So, it’s going to help us continue doing things like, you know, Nerds-in-Residence which we’ve talked about having, bringing scholars on to partner with us in bringing just amazing content to all of you. 

Jared: Yeah, and just accessibility. Bringing more free content to everyone that we can get our hands on. That sounds creepy. But, ya know…

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: Metaphorically. Digitally speaking. 

Pete: Legally, legally. 

Jared: [Laughter]

Yes, as well as a new platform. 

Pete: Can you tell we don’t rehearse anything here, folks? We just go for it, you know, whatever. And we say dumb things. 

Jared: And then what’s the fourth thing? 

Pete: Oh, yeah. The platform! The platform is the thing too. That’s the big thing to make it, like you’re saying, to make everything just neater and nicer, but also, we have the Pastors for Normal People, which is something that just, Jared, why don’t you tell a little about that? That’s a really great thing that we’ve started doing. 

Jared: Yeah, helping just to resource pastors, you know, the most we think about how do we help bring the biblical scholarship to everyday people, what better way than to resource pastors who are with people in their congregations every week who are going through challenges and how do we give them support and give them resources. So, those are the four things we’re planning to do with this. 

Pete: Yeah, absolutely. So, folks, again, thanks so much for all your support, it means a lot to us. 

Jared: Excellent. 

[Music begins, then fades as Pete begins speaking]

Pete: Hey, everybody, welcome to our podcast today and our episode is “How Grace Saves Us” and our guest is none other than Kirsten Powers and she is a best-selling author. A lot of you probably know her. She is a CNN Senior Political Analyst and she just came out with a book called Saving Grace: Speak Your Truth, Stay Centered, and Learn to Coexist with People Who Drive You Nuts. That’s pretty irrelevant, don’t you think, Jared?

Jared: Uh, yeah. I don’t know what possessed her to write a book like this. 

Pete: Yeah, really. Just write a book about martians.

Jared: So unrelatable.

Pete: I know, whatever.

Jared: No, I thought we got into some great stuff. I really appreciated toward the end, where we talk about our own trauma and our own baggage and how doing some of this inner work helps us because I do think, sometimes we use things like social media as a scapegoat. Sure, social media, not great for polarization, but it really just amplifies what’s going on inside of us in a lot of ways.

Pete: Yeah, we’re making it polarized. 

Jared: Right. 

Pete: Right, right.

Jared: Right. It’s just a tool, and we’re just maybe using it badly.

Pete: I appreciate Kirsten, you know, bringing her own life. She’s thought about this a lot. She’s experienced things. And she’s really thinking, “How do I want to live in this climate?” That’s really what it comes down to and I’m like, yeah, you’ve got something going on here. I think this is worth listening to.

Jared: All right, well, let’s jump in.

[Music begins]

Kirsten: We all have our different things that we could do, if we actually really want to change the world, that don’t involve demonizing other people. Holding someone accountable is not a lack of grace, saying something that’s true is not a lack of grace, you’re getting into the area of a lack of grace, when you’re now judging, labeling, demonizing. If you don’t like cancel culture, then start dealing with the things that people have been complaining about literally since forever.

[Music ends]

Pete: What led you to write the book? Sorry about that question.

Kirsten: I think what made me write the book is interesting, because I think it’s what sort of plagues many of us, which is, I sort of hit a wall with the rage and the fury and the contempt and all the things that are happening.

Pete: Rage, what rage?

Kirsten: Yeah, I’m sure you don’t have that problem.


Pete: I didn’t sleep for three months during the election last time. That was just horrible.


Kirsten: Yeah, it just, it became untenable for me and I really, I hit a wall and I just realized I can’t keep living like this. And my behavior and just the thoughts and the sort of soundtrack of doom in my head was not in any way aligned with my beliefs. 

Pete: Hmm. 

Kirsten: So, the idea that I should love my neighbor or even love my enemies, right? I was so far away from that I couldn’t even get to a place where I even wanted to do that. It wasn’t even like, I believe that and I’m going to try to do that. I just was like, I just I’m not even sure I even believe that anymore. I can’t, there’s no way. And so, I just realized that something was really wrong. And I pulled back from social media a little bit, I took some time to reflect. And what I came back to and I ended up writing a column, I write for USA Today, I ended up writing a column about this just about how toxic our public discourse is, but also looking at how I was participating in that, and mostly online. And it was pretty shame inducing, honestly, when I looked at it, because I didn’t really feel, again, aligned with who I feel I am and who I think a lot of people would say, “Oh, well, you’re, you’re the voice of reason. You’re so reasonable.” And that’s true, I am often very reasonable and also what I realized is I could also be very toxic. 

Jared: Those aren’t mutually exclusive.

Kirsten: Yeah, yeah. And so, I had to- in a way that I don’t think I was before, necessarily, 2016. 

So, I had an intuition that what we needed was grace. But until I really started writing this book, I don’t think I really even understood what I was saying. I think I was thinking about it almost in a kind of spiritual bypassing kind of way, right? Like grace is going to solve this problem. And it wasn’t really until I got into the book and really had to delve deep into this, that I realized that yes, I think that is what we need, but I actually completely misunderstood what grace was. And it ended up being so much more than what I had even thought it was in the first place. So, I think that where I got to was where a lot of people have gotten to, and I think a lot of people were thinking, “Oh, it’s going to be different after the election,” but of course, spoiler alert, it’s not. So, it’s like, if anything, it feels like it’s getting worse.

Jared: Well, maybe back up, because I think that’s a really good place to start is that the idea of grace maybe wasn’t what you thought it was and I don’t want to put you on the spot because you wrote a whole book on it. So, it may not be easy to really define, but how would you now, kind of gone through all this, how would you define grace?

Kirsten: The way I define grace, I use the Christian paradigm of unmerited favor. But usually, when Christians talk about grace, they’re talking about grace from God, so unmerited favor from God. But if we apply that to each other, then it’s basically looking at other people and seeing the humanity in them if you’re a believer, maybe seeing the divinity in them. No matter what they have done, or said, or believe, or who they voted for and being able to really allow them to not be you without being demonized. And so, I think that, it creates a kind of space, I think, between us and people who are upsetting us, and we’re and so it’s something that you give to other people, not because of anything they’ve done to deserve it, right? It’s you just have grace for people because they’re people, right? They’re human beings, complicated human beings that are more than the sum of the thing that they’re doing that’s maybe really, really bad, right? It may legitimately be really bad. It may just be something that you have exaggerated into being really bad. 

Jared: Okay, so let’s talk about this concept you use quite a bit, which is non-dualistic thinking, because it seems to be foundational to how you think about grace. So, what do you mean by non-dualism? And then how does it factor into this conversation about grace?

Kirsten: You’re right, it is very foundational and it was a real turning point for me. And I think that had I not encountered that idea, which is basically everything is not black and white, everything is not either/or, there are gray areas. There, you know, it doesn’t have to be this all or nothing thinking, which I was particularly inclined to, but I think in our culture, it is very much the way that we’re trained to think. And had I not encountered that, and I encountered it through the teachings of Richard Rohr.


And I, I don’t even know that I would have been able to come up with the idea of grace being a solution. I think that was the thing that just gave me just enough space to step back and say, “Maybe I’m not seeing things totally clearly here. Or maybe there aren’t- maybe there are other ways to think about things that are different than the way that I think about them. Maybe everybody’s not so evil.” Right? It’s possible that somebody could think something that I don’t think and not be evil. I was very locked into that really hyper-binary thinking, and so, when I discovered Richard Rohr and then I also at the same time met James Martin, who’s, some people might know, who’s a Jesuit priest, and he became my spiritual director. And he also really was encouraging me to embrace mystery and embrace that kind of gray area and the kind of not knowing and that was really new for me and I think that just helped me kind of turn a corner and start moving in the direction of being open to the idea of grace.

Jared: Yeah, it reminds me of- I talk about this sometimes, where if the truth is obvious, if it is very obvious, which is like that black and white thinking, we can fall prey to what I call ignorant versus evil logic, right? So, if the truth is obvious and we disagree, there’s really only two options: either you’re that dumb, like you’re ignorant, or you’re that evil, meaning you’re purposely skewing what’s obvious for your own nefarious purposes. And so, without the grayness of breaking down the binary of the non-dualism of maybe there’s a spectrum of things, maybe this stuff that we’re talking about is really complicated and reasonable people can disagree about really complicated stuff. I think without that, we don’t really have a lot of options. People who disagree are either really stupid or really bad. And so, it sounds like you this non-dualism-

Kirsten: Yeah. Isn’t that what most people think?

Jared: Yeah. Right!

Kirsten: That’s the thing. I mean, I cite, you know, surveys and studies and all sorts of things in the book where when they ask people what they think of people, you know, ask a Republican what they think of Democrats and ask Democrats what they think of Republicans- they think they’re subhuman. 

Pete: Yeah. 

Kirsten: At this point, right? Where they actually wished- they think the country better off if large-

Pete: Yes, if they weren’t there.

Kirsten: Yeah, if they died, basically. If large numbers died of the opposing party. So, it really, we have dehumanized people and I think that is obviously made worse by the fact that we’ve really sorted ourselves into these bubbles where we don’t really encounter people or even ideas really, that are that different than us, except when they’re given to us by people who think like us and then it’s always the caricature of what other people think. Right? So, it’s like, you’re getting all your information about Republicans from some liberal on Twitter. And you’re getting all your information about Democrats from Fox News. 

Pete: Right. 

Kirsten: So, it’s like, you’re not really- that’s not really how you learn about what people think. And the studies show, social science shows that when people can even think of one person that they know, it’s not even a friend, just somebody that they know, who they like. You know, if they can just think about one person, they will immediately depolarize- a person who thinks differently than they do and belongs to the other party. And so, it just takes that one person where they can take it out of the abstract, because it’s very easy to hate abstract people and take it to a real person. And then they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, okay. Yeah, I could see how, yeah, I don’t agree with them. But I can see that they’re actually not, you know, evil.”

Pete: You can’t show grace to a person who’s dehumanized. You know, I mean, you have to really, I mean, I think that’s a great point, you have to really make them into people, make them just recognize what they are right. Of course, social media doesn’t help all this. But you know, the abstractions and the and the distance we have from each other, but it’s about really, I guess, I mean, the way I would put it from what I’m hearing you say, is just remembering that just as issues are not black and white dualistic, people aren’t either. And even if they come across a certain way, they have a story. They have a history and there are things going on. And people have fears and people have hopes and dreams and then getting to that, and I think just even having conversations with people that you disagree with strongly- and they know you do- that’s a sign of grace, right there I think. That can go a long way.

Kirsten: Yeah. And then, like I said, it’s allowing people to not be you and not be turned into a monster. 

Pete: Right.


Kirsten: Because that’s basically what I was doing. It’s like, “You think what?”

Now, I do want to say that sometimes binary thinking is helpful, because there are some things that are clear. So, to me, it is clear, and I don’t actually know a lot of people that would disagree with what I’m about to say, that racism is wrong. Right? So, we can recognize that that’s wrong, what we can’t know is what a person believes because they voted for Donald Trump. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s like, we make all of these assumptions about people or a person does something that’s misogynist, for example, then they are a misogynist versus a person who, like you said, has a story, has all sorts of good qualities that we don’t know about and is more than this one moment in their life. Now, that doesn’t mean the person is not responsible for what they did. 

So, some people also I think, misunderstand grace to think that it just means letting people get away with everything and it’s often invoked that way by people to say basically like to marginalize people, well just have grace for the people who are saying the racist things, just have grace for the person who sexually harassed you. That’s not- that’s weaponizing grace. And grace does not mean that people aren’t held accountable, it just means that they’re held accountable with humanity. So, and they’re held accountable, hopefully, with the idea of some sort of restoration with, you know, hopefully, they will repent and they could be welcomed back into wholeness, and there could be wholeness where that brokenness was created. But, as I talk about in the book, if you look at our criminal justice system, that is the opposite of what goes on there. So, it’s not really that surprising that we also sort of reenact this kind of thinking in our other relationships, in our other interactions, that we have an entire system in our country that is just so vengeful and inhumane and I think that that’s kind of a mentality that we have just accepted the kind of brutality, right, of how we treat each other. And in this book, I’m trying to get people to step back and say – we don’t have to treat each other this way. We also don’t have to be unified and agreeing on everything, I’m realistic about that. You know, I don’t think that-

Pete: Of course.

Kirsten: I think where both sides are, I mean, I don’t see unity. Even though, you know, the President’s now calling for that. But I do see a situation where we could have grace and we could try to, you know, try to turn it down a little bit and step back from dehumanization and demonization of people who are different than us.

Pete: So let me ask, you mentioned before, you know, a statement that, you know, most people would certainly agree with that racism is wrong, but there are some who would probably say I disagree with that, but they just have different definitions of racism, and they may actually be racist, and have not a problem with it.

Kirsten: Well, see, because I always find it interesting that racists always insist they’re not racist.

Pete: Right, exactly. Because it’s just the natural order of things. I’m not doing anything wrong.

Kirsten: But they’re admitting that racism is wrong. You see what I’m saying? 

Pete: Yeah, no, I agree with you.

Kirsten: Yeah, very few people would just say like, “Racism is great. Let’s all be racist.”

Pete: Yeah. 

Kirsten: Like, it’s yeah, it’s like, I think most people would be like, “No, racism is wrong. And I’m not racist,” even if they’re doing something –

Pete: How would you show- I’m assuming, just from what you’re saying, that grace can be shown to those people and probably should be, or am I misreading you here? Again, grace doesn’t mean you’re fine, whatever, it doesn’t matter. It just means how you talk to them, and maybe trying to find out their story. Maybe there’s something going on in there. There’s a way to talk to them that can at least crack open the doors to help them see something from a different angle.

Kirsten: Yes, though, I don’t think- and I think we may have even talked about this last time I was on, I don’t think that you should just befriend people to try to change them. So, you know, seeing somebody as your little ministry or your little like, you’re gonna save them. I think if you’re going to enter into any kind of relationship- 

Pete: Well, that’s why you’re on our podcast.

Kirsten: Yeah.

Pete: I think I actually made that joke last time. 

Kirsten: Yeah.

Pete: Let’s move on from this. I have four jokes I recycle.

Kirsten: So, I would say that, I think that it’s basically seeing the whole person and not like reducing them to this one thing, but also being very clear about what’s wrong and naming that. So, you can name what some- you can name something that’s wrong without judging somebody. And so, I talk a lot about that in the book. I think grace helps us to be non-judgmental. 


So, it’s you can make a judgement, which is like discernment, versus being judgmental, where you immediately start down the road of what a monster this person is and they’re so horrible. And the next thing you know, you’re like, marinating in this person’s stuff. 

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: Right? And you’re not helping anybody. You’re not making anything better. And I mean, a lot of what I talk about in the book isn’t really about changing other people. It’s more about how can you not absorb things that really don’t belong to you, right? So, if you are concerned about somebody who’s done something misogynist, you can say something to them. But there’s also a lot of causes you could volunteer for, there’s people you could give money to. If you’re me, you could write a column. We all have our different things that we could do if we actually really want to change the world that don’t involve demonizing other people. So, I think that we can name that somebody has done something and say that this is a problem. In an ideal world, if you know them, I talked about calling people in first, right? You could, instead of humiliating them on Twitter, try to talk to them and say, “Hey, you know, you said this thing, did you realize that it was offensive?” And maybe they’re going to say, “Oh, my gosh, I had no idea I’m going to apologize.” Give people an opportunity to try to do better. And then sometimes people get called in and they get called in, they get called in and they just don’t listen and they just keep doing the things. And then, ultimately, they get caught up in something and they lose their job. Right? Like, this happens. And, you know, in that case, sometimes I don’t like it when people lose their jobs, but sometimes people – that is the accountability, that is the consequence of their actions, right? And so, holding someone accountable is not a lack of grace. Saying something that’s true is not a lack of grace, you’re getting into the area of a lack of grace, when you’re now judging, labeling, demonizing and all of these other things. Does that make sense?

Jared: Yeah, I really appreciate the way you said it earlier that we don’t want to reduce people to their poor behavior, to that one thing. And yet, we also- that doesn’t mean we can’t name it and say this isn’t okay. It’s that reduction and reducing people to demonizing that is the challenge.

Kirsten: Well, it’s also just recognizing that people are doing the best that they can with what they have. And that even if it doesn’t seem very good to you, and maybe it legitimately isn’t very good, that you know, having you know, having some grace for them, also showing a little humility about the fact that probably you’ve done some things that are pretty messed up in your life, even though everybody is always the one who’s never done anything. You know, people have shown you a lot of grace and treat that person the way you would like to be treated if you screwed up.

Jared: Can we talk about that a little more? Because I think, in some ways, not that we’re purposely dancing around this, but I think it’s worth talking about cancel culture and this idea of, you know, forgiveness and how to balance forgiveness and accountability. So, can you speak specifically to that, like, what is grace? You talked about restoration and so, like, specifically, when people are called out for, hey, we found these 10 racist tweets that you put up, you know, 12 years ago? What do you, in kind of the context of what you’re talking about in this grace, what might be a better response? Or is the response that often happens, which we call it up, there’s this a lot of outrage, and then the person, you know, loses their job, is that accountability? Is that a lack of grace? How do we kind of navigate this in real world scenarios here?

Kirsten: Well, I mean, it’s a very complicated issue, I think, and unfortunately, everything gets oversimplified in our culture. And so, I don’t think any of these two cases are the same, even though they all get treated as being exactly the same. And so, you know, ideally, there would be some sort of multi-layered analysis, right? Just basic things in terms of is this the first time a person has done this? Did it happen 10 years ago or did it happen last week? How old were they when that happened? Were they a teenager or were they, you know, why are we holding somebody who’s 26 years old, accountable for something they tweeted when they were 16? Right? We should be able to look at these different things. Are they sorry? Are they a different person? Do they still even believe it? Right? That’s another thing, I’m always- no one’s asking this person like you did this is do you really believe this? And they might say, “No, I think that’s stupid. I can’t believe that I said that and I’m so sorry that I said that.” But that’s not really the way we approach things. It’s like this person did this 10 years ago, so therefore, this is who the person is. Which of course, I’m not even the same person I was two years ago, let alone ten years ago. So, I think that it oversimplifies things. 


At the same time, I think that the reason, first of all, cancel culture, I wish we could just retire the phrase, because it actually doesn’t mean anything. It means different things to everybody. And it grew out of cancellation, which was a term that was used in a very different way and that was sort of co-opted by elites online and then it turned into this thing. And then conservatives started calling it cancel culture, it seems, with the intention of making it so that anytime anybody confronted racism, sexism, homophobia, they would be accused of canceling people. Right?

Jared: Right.

Kirsten: So, it’s a tactic, actually. And it’s not- it’s been so disconnected from what its original purpose was, and then is now used to try to silence like black activists. I mean, it’s very twisted. And so, I think, you know, at the same time, I think that it can be very problematic when accountability, we call something accountability, but it’s actually annihilation. Sometimes people will say, well, the person is just being held accountable. It’s like, really? Because it looks like their whole life has been completely ruined. That doesn’t really like that doesn’t strike me as accountability. Accountability is getting suspended for your first time offense, right? It’s not losing your job, your reputation, your health insurance, probably any chances of being employed again.

Pete: It’s very retributive. 

Kirsten: Yeah, it really is. And so, you know, sometimes somebody does something that deserves that. But that’s not an everyday occurrence. So, it’s like, what, what would accountability look like? I think that you do have to, in different circumstances, listen to the people who are harmed. So, I would be very careful about stepping into a situation where something racist happen and saying, “Hey, I think this is what’s supposed to happen.” I would want to hear from people who were part of the community that was harmed, you know, what did they think? If something happens with sexual harassment or sexual assault, you know, I think for men coming in and then saying, “Let’s just have grace for him, you know, in this situation for harassing this woman at work.” It’s like, well, are you really in a position to even talk about that? Do you even understand what it’s like, right? Like, I think there, I think we do need to look to the people who’ve actually experienced it, because sometimes we’ll be very quick to say something’s not that big of a deal because it doesn’t affect us. So, we don’t really understand the impact of it. 

The thing I also say in the book, which I think some people are going to have a hard time with, is that if you don’t like cancel culture, then start dealing with the things that people have been complaining about literally since forever. Right? Like generation after generation after generation, people have been complaining about racism, people have been complaining about sexual harassment, and really haven’t been listened to. And we’ve sort of drove people to the edge and we now have a situation where, again, someone will come out, a white person will say the N word and they’ll be like, “Oh, I didn’t know.” And when I talk to my black friends about it, they’re like, how can you not know that? How could you be alive in this country and not know that, right? So, to them, it just feels like they’re not vengeful, they’re not looking to destroy anybody’s life. They’re just like, when are you going to see us? 

Jared: Mmm. 

Kirsten: You know, when are you actually going to listen to what we’re saying? And so, when is it? It’s when people’s jobs are on the line? Right? It’s when- it isn’t until people are afraid of having their reputations destroyed and their jobs are on a line that people start listening and start paying attention. And now, you know, everybody’s having the trainings, diversity/inclusion trainings, and all these things. But would any of that have happened had it not been for so called cancel culture? I don’t think so.

Jared: Right. It’s telling that what gets the airtime and the red flags is cancel culture, but there wasn’t a lot of racism culture-

Kirsten: Exactly. 

Jared: Or like sexism culture talked about over the last twenty or thirty years.

Kirsten: Well, right. And as soon as you know, #MeToo happened, I mean, we were five minutes into #MeToo, and people are coming up, “This has gotten out of hand.” You know? And it’s like, really? “All these men are losing their jobs.” Like really? 

Jared: Right.

Kirsten: Like, this is what’s out of hand? Because it feels like it was the sexual harassment that was out of hand. You know, and so it’s like for my entire life, right? And it’s like, so, yeah, it’s very problematic that, you know, where you have conservatives also coming out and talking about like Pepe LePew being canceled-

Pete: Yeah.


Kirsten: But have never complained about police brutality, you know? Have never complained about racism against black people at any point, you know? And it’s like, in fact, if they talk about racism, it’s this like, alleged racism against white people. So, you start to look at it, you’re like, wait, we’re just getting like, taken totally off course here. And we’re not talking about why sometimes people, I guess some people would say, they overreact. I don’t really know that you could overreact to like hundreds of years of racism. But they’ll say, well, they’re, you know, they’re not, you know, they tone police them, they’re not saying it the right way. Of course, they’re never protesting in the right way. They’re never at the right place, which is apparently a place where no one will ever see it. And so, that people would finally maybe just get so fed up, that they would just start saying, like, “Yeah, you should lose your job. I don’t care.” Right? 

Jared: Yeah. 

Kirsten: Isn’t that just normal behavior?

Jared: Yeah, it’s like every action kind of has the equal and opposite reaction. It’s sort of like, if you’re looking at this reaction, maybe it’s time to look at the action and see what caused it.

Pete: Right.

Kirsten: And recognize how much grace you’ve gotten. 

Jared: Mm hmm, right. 

Kirsten: Because this country wouldn’t function if there hadn’t been, marginalized people hadn’t been giving people grace, right? It’s just the things that have happened in this country and the way people have been treated and the way they’ve been ignored. The only way that you could even live in this country would have to be because you’re offering grace to the people who are causing the harm, right? And so, to be thankful for that and notice like how much grace you’ve gotten and stop asking other people to give more grace, because that’s kind of the dynamic. It’s why can’t people have more grace when this person said the n-word at work or whatever, and it’s like, you have- there hasn’t been enough grace? Like, I just feel like there’s been so much grace.

Jared: As we’ve been talking about this, you know, I’ve been putting the pieces together on maybe why, you know, non-dualistic thinking is so foundational to this, because almost like the phrase that comes to mind is almost like structural grace, like the idea to slow down and say, maybe there’s filters or variables that we need to look at in terms of what you were talking about. There are all these criteria of, you know, how long ago did they say it? Do they still believe it? How old were they? Like those kinds of things kind of build in grace. It’s almost- I almost think of like, the ideals that our justice system was founded on, not that it always happens, but it’s like, innocent until proven guilty. Like there’s some- that’s kind of a grace-based statement. And there’s these structures that maybe could be put in place and that, for me, is the non-dualism. It’s not either they should be, you know, or shouldn’t be. It’s slow down; there’s these other seven questions we might need to ask first, before we figure out what the right thing to do is. 

Kirsten: Yeah. And I think the thing that you run into is that when you start saying that, so- we’ll just use racism as an example. And white people start saying that when something racist has happened, then I think what, like my black friends were saying to me, when I was discussing all these topics with them, it’s like, well where’s the grace for the black boys, and we’re getting kicked out of school. Right? It’s like, there’s no grace and nobody cares. And so the same people who have never said a word about the well-documented, unequal treatment of black children in schools literally having their lives canceled, right? Like taken off track by being expelled for things that white students aren’t getting expelled for, you know, and punished much more harshly than white students are getting punished, the same people who never say a word about that are now talking about how this person who did something racist needs grace. Do you see what I’m saying? 

Pete: Yeah.

Kirsten: And so I think if you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, it’s like, “Well, wait. So, now I’m supposed to have grace for the person who’s doing the racist things? But like, nobody cares about the fact that my son, if he does something at school will get no grace.” Not like the assumption, he’ll get like- the white kid will get grace for it, but the black kid won’t. And so, it’s, you know, so then at that point, someone usually says, “Yes, but the solution is that we just we want to treat white kids and black kids exactly the same way.” So, it’s we don’t want to like harm the white person because we’re harming the black person, and I agree with that. The problem is, I just feel like, and I say in the book, I am guilty of this, it’s a talking point. It’s something that I used to say. And so, I really stopped and thought about it. And I was like, well, I say this, but what are we doing to make it so? Right? It’s like a nice philosophy. 


And it’s true, we want- the solution isn’t that we want to harm other people, but are we doing anything to stop harming the black kids? Like, are we actively trying to change that? 

So, I think we have to look at why these things are happening. And, you know, I really try to do that now when I’m with anybody, honestly, of any issue. I tend now, when I look at people, whereas I used to be very judgmental, I tend now to have a lot more empathy. You know, and I don’t get hung up on how people are communicating things or, you know, if they’re saying it the right way. I’m just really interested to hear what they’re saying. And, you know, even if it’s something that I don’t necessarily identify with, like what is the pain that’s underneath what they’re doing and having more empathy for people. And so, and I feel like this whole “cancel culture” thing really takes us off track from that, that takes us off track of stopping and saying, “Why is this happening?”

Jared: And that seems like maybe a good segue into talking about- because cancel culture, in a lot of ways, at least as far as I’ve experienced it, maybe that’s just because of my own bias here, is on social media. And I just think there’s a lot of conversation around social media, when it comes to the polarization conversation and how we disagree with one another, and how maybe we don’t have enough grace for each other. So, do you have ideas as you’ve been thinking about this and writing about this, like how we can better handle ourselves with social media? You know, even if it’s- and Pete, you could speak into this because you are kind of in this conversation over the last year with social media and how it impacts us and how it impacts our brains and there’s a whole thing we could talk about, but particularly around this topic of how we get along or don’t get along or show grace or don’t show grace. You know, how do we handle ourselves with social media? What’s the impact?

Kirsten: The impact is huge. And I don’t think that- I think it’s very difficult to spend a lot of time on social media and have grace for people. It’s because it’s designed to activate you and enrich you. And so, it’s designed to actually interact with your brain in a way, knowing all of the things that your brain will do, to seek out information that confirms what you already believe, to make really quick binary, you know, judgments, which was super helpful when much more primitive times, not helpful at all now. It’s not helpful when it comes to trying to discern complicated issues. And then what happens is you see a tweet, you make a snap judgment about something, you see other people doing it, the whole sort of, you know, mob mentality takes over. And even though you’re not in an actual physical mob, a lot of the same dynamics start to play out. And so, you also are often seeing people who are not really necessarily at their best and they’re acting in a very toxic manner, and I don’t know about other people, for me, that can be very triggering. And so, the first thing I did was I got off of social media. And I mean, completely off. And I didn’t get on social media for probably a month. And at that point, when I got back on, I was like, this really messed up and I found it kind of repulsive.

Pete: Cal Newport’s book, Digital Minimalism, that’s what he says. He says, “If you want to break it, break the cycle, get off for one month,” I think he says one month or six weeks, then when you come back, it’s like, what was I doing here? You know, it’s like, and I’ve tried, I haven’t quite had the guts to do that, because social media is a little bit more of what we do. But like, I might not check it for three days. And then I’m on it for like 10 minutes and then I’m done. You know, but the reason to bring that up is because, you know, if we want to show grace to other people, we might have to train ourselves to avoid those triggering times and not get drawn into the social media machinery, which really does try to agitate us and it rewards us for being agitated.

Kirsten: It does. And I think also, though, we have to look at- I mean, in the book I talk a lot about coming to terms with some of my emotional issues and dealing with some of my past traumas, which also really drove me further into binary thinking, which is pretty typical people who’ve been traumatized. So, I think that you have to also do that work on yourself. So, it’s a lot harder now. It would take a lot more time on social media to activate me or to pull me in because my boundaries are so strong. So, I don’t, because I don’t judge, I mean, I can’t say I never judge people, of course, it happens. But before, all I did was judge people. So it’s like, I just was constantly judging and labeling. 


And whereas now when I see something, it’ll register like, that’s no. Right? And I just move on. And that’s it. I don’t think about it again. I don’t have that kind of- I haven’t now intertwined myself with this person. Whereas in the past, I would get so wrapped up in this person, I’d be like telling my fiancé about it. I’d be thinking about it, right? It’s like you, you take it all on, whereas now I’m really just kind of looking at it like, going no, and I move on to the next thing. And I don’t, I just don’t get involved. And I just don’t get in Twitter fights.

Pete: Yes, amen. 

Kirsten: I don’t call people out. I don’t, whatever, I just don’t do it. And so, if I’m going to tweet something, I tweet it. Right? It’s like, I’m not going to get into something with somebody.

Pete: Every time I call somebody out, I regret it like ten minutes later. And then I’ve got several days of crap I have to deal with. And yeah, you know, the more you become aware, I mean, I really like what you’re saying here about-

Jared: If you’re going to talk about me, Pete, you just say it to my face. You don’t have to say it passively, okay?

Pete: Can I say it anonymously online? But I think, you know, knowing- I guess, I mean, if I’m hearing you right, working through trauma has helped you become more gracious. 

Kirsten: 1,000%

Pete: Is that right? 

Kirsten: Oh, yeah. 

Pete: Okay. And could you flesh that out a little bit? Because a lot of people experience trauma.

Kirsten: Yes. 

Pete: Right? And we don’t always realize how much we’re acting out of the trauma that we’ve experienced either big issues or the slow boil over many, many years. So, I think, talk about that a little bit, because I think that’s going to be really relevant to a lot of people listening. 

Kirsten: Yeah, well, for me, it really was- do we do the Enneagram here? 

Jared: Sure, yeah. 

Kirsten: Enneagram people? 

Pete and Jared: Yeah.

Kirsten: So, the Enneagram-

Pete: That satanic thing? Okay, got it.

Jared: We got a pentagram. We’re talking about the pentagram now?

Kirsten: That’s it. That’s it. So, the around the time I saw Richard Rohr, of course wrote a book on the Enneagram, so I think that’s when I first was really introduced to it. I’d heard about it, but I always thought it was kind of nutty. And then I started to look into it a little bit. Long story short, turns out I’m in Enneagram Eight, which is the Challenger.

Pete: Oh gosh! That’s the worst one.

Jared: That’s me. Pete, come on. That’s me too.

Kirsten: Oh, you are? 

Jared: Yup. 

Kirsten: And so, Enneagram 8’s and 1’s, I also had I thought it was a 1, turns out I’m an 8, are very prone to binary thinking, and so, even more than the average person. And it’s what I did in response to my trauma, right? To make myself feel safe.

Jared: Yeah, when you control. Binary thinking helps you feel in control.

Kirsten: Exactly. And so I would, I would make these really quick decisions. I always thought I was right about everything and then I would insist other people had to agree with me. That was my dynamic, that’s very unhealthy eight behavior. And so, once I understood the Enneagram, was basically saying we create these personalities in response to our trauma, then I was able to really work on that with my therapist, and really start unpacking that, and even practicing things like how to say something, how to not be judgmental, right? So, I would say something and she said, “That’s a little judgmental.” And I’d say, “But it’s true.” And she’s like, “Well, it might be, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s judgmental.” Then she’s like, “Wanting to try saying it again?” And so, I’d say it again, she’d be like, “Still judgmental.” 

And so, I actually would start, you know, learning, like, what does that mean? And how can I just be discerning? And so, that was helpful to me, and then actually going back through and really working through a lot of these traumatic issues. And then I went to this place called Onsite in Tennessee. And that was a major turning point for me, where I dealt with some traumas that actually had happened in my adult life. And then I had just a huge, huge turning point where I really felt my capacity for grace, just expand-

Pete: Is that a trauma recovery place, Onsite?

Kirsten: Onsite is, like, I don’t know how you describe it, they do all sorts of different things. They do have a trauma-I forget what you call it, like, I guess, a trauma recovery place. What I did is something called the Living Center program. And it’s a seven-day program and it’s in a group. And I had tons and tons of friends go there and they all said it changed their life. But I just always felt like I just don’t want to spend seven days doing therapy. It sounds so horrible. And once I realized, though, that I knew that I had some trauma that needed to be dealt with. And I just sucked it up, and I went, and it really, it was night and day, I just can’t even describe how different I was after I did it. And I really did process grief around my father dying and then my grandmother dying and then my stepfather died, it happened in very rapid succession, and I didn’t really understand even till I wrote the book, when I was interviewing a therapist who actually does work at Onsite. And she was saying that if our, if our grief is not witnessed, we get stuck in it. 

And so, because I was in this group that was witnessing my grief and I was processing it with them, and they didn’t have any of the baggage that like my family would have. Because often it’s very hard for our families to help us with that, because they are having their own feelings about it. And so, I actually was able to really process this grief in a way that I never had. And after that I just didn’t have that need to be so certain or so right about everything. 

And then it was done in conjunction with a lot of spiritual work as well. I mean, I have spiritual director, and we were spending a lot of time really on trying to, I guess, unlearn a lot of you know, my time in the White Evangelical Church was kind of a recipe for disaster considering my trauma, right? Like, I was already prone to be so binary that I just latched on to that and I probably took it too far in a way. You know, I think there are some people who go to those churches and that doesn’t happen to them. They can kind of look at it and go, ‘Well, this is okay, I’ll do this and not that.” Where I was like, “I have to follow everything to the letter. And if I don’t, then I’m a bad person.” Right? It just was very, very narrow binary thinking. And then I was able to move into a space of being totally comfortable with not knowing things with, yeah, just saying it’s a mystery. I don’t know. I just don’t know. Yeah, and that’s fine.

Pete: Join the club.

Kirsten: Yeah. 

Jared: Yeah, it’s funny. We just someone a few days ago, I was talking to at a church I was speaking at and they said, “Yeah, you know, I was like, taking, I used to take this so seriously, and I had to get it right. And then I started asking these questions, and I started coming to different conclusions, and I talked to my husband who’s like, you know, doesn’t take it all that seriously. And I started saying these things. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, I’ve kind of always thought that.’” And she’s like, “You, you are kidding me.” And he’s like, “Yeah, I just I thought everyone just kind of showed up and kind of, you know, you shrug off what you don’t like and you just take what you do.” And she’s like, “Oh, my gosh.”

Pete: You can do that? 

Jared: But no one told me. So, okay, as we wrap up here, I think I want to maybe ask this question in a way that we, it’s a little different than how we normally ask it, because what you were just saying I think is so important for people to understand is that showing grace to others isn’t always an external work. It’s not just about these, it’s not always about the other person. Oftentimes, it’s about cleaning up our own house, like it’s this inner work of figuring out, you know, the people who talk down to who can’t stand up for their own belief without talking down to me, I realized, have some insecurities in themselves. There’s something going on in them. 

And so, as we kind of wrap up, are there other things, just what you’re talking about? So great. Could you- is there anything else that people could be doing for their own internal work that might actually help them have grace for other people, if they could kind of work through their own stuff?

Kirsten: Yeah, I mean, I think first of all, learning about boundaries is really important. And I have a whole chapter on that, but there are other places you can learn about boundaries. So that when you have the desire to kind of go there in terms of the judgment, the demonization to stop and just say, “Actually, I have a tool, and it’s called boundaries.” And I’ll have to do that. But I also think it’s really important for people to do whatever work they need to do, to be able to have grace for themselves. Because if you can’t have grace for yourself, then you can’t have grace for other people. And as awful as I really could be to other people, like, I was just as horrible to myself, right? 

I was, you know, I had that just monstrous inner critic that was just always on me, always, you know, never cutting me any slack, never none of those things. And so, really having to, you know, become more integrated. And deal with your traumas, so that you can start having grace for yourself, which will make it easier for you to have grace for other people. But I also really found doing this kind of look back, like I did it in a very structured way where I actually sat down and thought about, you know, where have I gone wrong? And then I had all the shame around it. 

And then I had to do this process with my therapist, where she’s like, where’s the grace for Kirsten? Right? Because I would be like, I can’t believe I did that. I can’t believe I said that, or I can’t believe this or that. And I just couldn’t let it go. Right? I couldn’t even have grace for myself. 


And so, once I got to the place where I was like, “You’re right, I was doing the best I could. I was a mess. But I was doing the best I could.” It’s much easier to see that in other people, right? When- once you look back and you have some humility about where you’ve gone wrong, then you won’t be so quick to judge another person or refuse to give them grace for their mistakes because you just think what kind of person could possibly do that? It’s like, well, you might not have done that. But you did something else. Right? Like we’re all doing our own little messed up things. And so, I think that those, those things really help and you know, I am a big also, you know, if you have a spiritual life, identify if you have any binary inclinations and start trying to unlearn that a little bit. Start trying to lean into the idea of mystery and of not knowing and being okay with not knowing.

Jared: So practical and helpful. Really appreciate you coming on, Kirsten, and sharing some of your story which has to be vulnerable now knowing you’re an 8 I’m like, “Ugh, airing dirty laundry. No, thank you. Yuck. I’ll just, I’ll teach you.”

Kirsten: It is pretty awful.

Jared: Yeah, geez. So, thank you so much for doing that. I know how hard that can be, but I think it will be helpful for a lot of people. I think it was helpful for Pete and I, as well, to be thinking about some of this stuff. So, thanks again for coming back on the podcast. It was great to have you again.

Kirsten: Thank you for having me. It was so much fun.

Pete: Thank you, Kirsten.

[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; and Web Developer, Nick Striegel. For Pete, Jared, and the entire Bible for Normal People team – thanks for listening.

[Music ends]


Pete: Welcome, everybody, to our podcasts and our episode today is “How Grace Saves Us,” and our guest. I’m going to start over again because I didn’t say “saves us” correctly.

Jared: Mm hmm. 


Kirsten: I’m sorry. There’s never any noise in my house, and now my dogs are just, like, going crazy.

Pete: [Laughter]

This is my life. Kirsten, by the way.


Jared: So, we’ll just jump right in. We might actually even use what we already recorded from that beginning part as part of the intro, I don’t know. We’ll leave that up to our-

Pete: It’s fun.

Jared: Leave up to Dave, our audio engineer, who at the end of this last episode, put on our podcast episode me saying God d*&% it.

Pete: As an outtake? 

Jared: As an outtake at the end. I’m like, Dave, you’re listening to this. Don’t do that anymore. Geez.

Pete: Don’t do that, Dave. I don’t believe you. 

Kirsten: Come on, Dave.

Jared: We don’t run a tight ship, apparently. All right. Okay.

[End of recorded material]

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Pete Ruins Exodus Part 2

Pete Ruins Exodus (Part 2)

May 7, 2019

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

Mentioned in this episode

Read the transcript


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

Jared:  And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty Intro Music]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope that sounds okay.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s for the Mountain of God.

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

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

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

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

It’s hard to identify who this character is. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



“So Moses, is that enough for you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?  Exactly.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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