Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Interview with Ilia Delio- Grounding God in Evolution

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Ilia Delio about the relationship between God and science as they explore the following questions:

  • When did science and religion come into conflict with one another?
  • Should our understanding of science expand our understanding of God?
  • How does evolution disclose who God is?
  • Where did the idea that science and religion are opposed come from?
  • How can reconciling science and faith be healing for us?
  • What is God’s relationship to evolution?
  • What should we use to understand God better?
  • What are some problems with Darwinian evolution?
  • How does God relate to physics?
  • What does it mean that evolution is a complexification process?
  • Are there some ways in which it is easier to keep science and religion at odds?
  • What is quantum entanglement?


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Ilia Delio you can share. 

  • “What evolution tells us about God is God is not a God of fixed order, God is an order of love.” Ilia Delio
  • “If you want to talk about an order or a logic to God, I think it’s the order and the logic of love.” Ilia Delio
  • “There’s a correlation between evolution and the rise of consciousness itself.” Ilia Delio
  • “The only way we can talk about God is really from creation and our own experience.” Ilia Delio
  • “You can’t change creation without altering the understanding of the Creator.” Ilia Delio
  • “God is a name that points to something that’s ungraspable… God is the horizon of being and therefore that horizon is always drawing us into discovery, into the knowing process.” Ilia Delio

Mentioned in This Episode

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Read the transcript



Pete: You’re listening to The Bible for Normal People. The only God-ordained podcast on the internet. I’m Pete Enns.

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty Intro Music]

Jared: Welcome to the podcast everyone. Today, we are grounding God in evolution.

Pete: Hmm.

Jared: With Ilia Delio. Before we jump into that though, I would like to ground you in some knowledge –

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: About a book that I have coming out here, and I would very much appreciate you checking it out, it’s called Love Matters More: How Fighting to Be Right Keeps Us from Loving Like Jesus. We talk a little bit about love. 

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: I have to say, I’m not as smart as Ilia when it comes to love, but, ya know, I gave it my best shot.

Pete: Yeah, you did.

Jared: So, check that out. You can go to our website, https://peteenns.com/, it’ll be there on the front page. You can go to https://www.jaredbyas.com/book/, you can just to your favorite place you order books and type it in, Love Matters More: How Fighting to Be Right Keeps Us from Loving Like Jesus, hope you check it out. Okay, Pete –

Pete: Yup, and love is, you know, a topic we go to in this podcast, but you wouldn’t think that with the title of “Grounding God in Evolution”. But yeah, Ilia Delio is just a fascinating person to talk to. When I first met her, you know, not personally, but I came across her thinking, because in part of a men’s group, a bunch of old weird Episcopalians, you know. I mean, I hope they’re listening, actually. But no, great bunch of guys. But we’re reading all sorts of interesting stuff, and one of the books that we have been reading and watching a lot of videos on is this book by Ilia Delio called The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love, which are things you don’t normally put in the same sentence, right Jared? So –

Jared: Yeah.

Pete: God and evolution? How about God against evolution love? What’s love got to do with it, right?

Jared: And she is, I mean, we have a lot of smart folks on here. She’s impressively smart, so, she’s a Catholic of the Franciscan Order, but she also is the endowed chair in theology at Villanova. But that’s sort of like, her second life.

Pete: She coaches basketball too.

Jared: Does she?

Pete: I don’t know. She’d probably be really good at it.

Jared: But the, I mean, her background, she has degrees, you know, undergraduate degree and graduate degrees in biology from Seton Hall. She has a Ph.D. in pharmacology from Rutgers, and then she joined a convent –

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: And eventually they asked her to go back to school, because apparently, she is really good at that.

Pete: You seem smart.

Jared: Yeah! So then she ended up getting a master’s degree in theology and a doctorate in historical theology. So, she’s uniquely positioned to bring these worlds together of science and religion and she does it in a fascinating way.

Pete: There are other people like that, but there really aren’t a lot of people who can speak with a sort of a studied authority in these two areas, either of which are not the easiest things to get ahold of. And you know, if you’re, you know, maybe new to what she’s going to say, I imagine a lot of people are, I was very new to this a few years ago when I started thinking about some of this stuff. But it’s, you know, I don’t mind saying, this is, okay. The word that comes to mind is hopeful. This is a hopeful way of thinking about our reality that we live in, the nature of God, and to think about God and to process all this in a way that doesn’t alienate you from your very existence. That sounds rather abstract, but, you know, if you have a God where everything around, where this God doesn’t explain or is not compatible with assumptions we make about every other area of existence, then that God’s not going to hang around for long. And, you know, there’s, this is not an apologetics kind of podcast, but, you know, I, people declare “I don’t think God exists anymore.” And I have to agree with them, because if the God you’re dealing with is one that can’t account for your experiences and the way the world is working around you, then maybe it is a problem to have a god like this.

Jared: Yeah, and to exonerate, you know, Nietzsche, Ilia in our episode mentions Friedrich Nietzsche who says God is dead, and for me that was like a bumper sticker kind of thing in my tradition, but that’s what Nietzsche is really talking about is this, and you’ll hear this in the episode, this Newtonian God, the God of mechanistic ways of thinking, black and white –

Pete: Order.

Jared: Order, not chaos.

Pete: Laws.

Jared: That god is dead. And Nietzsche even says, hey, you don’t recognize it yet, because once you recognize it, it’s going to unmoor us in more ways than one.

Pete: And that god is dead, not because, hey, let’s just wake up one day and be liberal! But god is dead because –

Jared: Our understanding of reality has shifted fundamentally.


Pete: The word that comes to mind is [whispering voice] science. [Regular voice] Don’t tell anybody. See, that’s the thing. Science opens up our understanding of the reality of our existence, like, living in a functionally infinite universe with an infinite number of galaxies and stars, I mean, to start off with that, how do you conceive of God within that reality? That, I don’t mind telling you, that is like a question that has been on my mind for a very, very long time. I find people like Ilia Delio to be extremely thoughtful and helpful in opening up ways of thinking that can actually be, I think for people, at the end of the day, healing. Not antagonistic, but actually hopeful that, my goodness gracious, maybe this universe is just big and wonderful and –

Jared: And God can be there.

Pete: God is already there out ahead of us so to speak.

Jared: Right.

Pete: Not the past that we have to sort of keep dragging along, but in front of us sort of leading us on. And ironically science, I think, that is sometimes antagonistic to faith is something that can help us sort of see some of that bigness of everything.

Jared: And you know, one other thing I couldn’t help but think about that I have to bring in here before we get to the episode is I couldn’t help but think about our previous podcast guest with Brooke Prentiss and she said something really interesting from an Aboriginal –

Pete: The Aboriginal theologian, right?

Jared: Yeah, something very interesting. She said, you know, Aboriginal Christians, we start in Genesis 1 with God as Creator, most of the West starts in Genesis 3, and very human-centered –

Pete: And a problem to be solved.

Jared: And a problem to be solved. And I thought of that, I was like, it’s so interesting that what we think of as these primitive people groups often maybe connect with these deep, sophisticated, scientific worldviews in ways that are just now kind of coming to the surface. So, I just, a just new respect for that episode as well.

Pete: Yeah, God is sort of grounded in creation in Genesis 1. The thing is that our understanding of the nature of the creation… I almost said the created order, which is exactly the wrong thing –

Jared: Exactly.

Pete: But our understanding of the nature of creation is expanding and so maybe God should be thought of in a way that integrates with that. I guess that’s sort of –

Jared: Yeah, with what we understand of creation.

Pete: Well, that’s a rather long intro by us Jared, but that’s okay, because this is a different kind of episode, I think than we’ve ever done, and I think it’s really way cool.

Jared: I agree. All right, well, let’s let people hear it then.

Pete: Yep.

[Music begins]

Ilia: What evolution tells us about God is God is not a God of fixed order, God is an order of love; and if you want to talk about an order or a logic to God, I think it’s the order and logic of love. And if you’ve ever fallen in love, you know that love does not have a linear order. It may have a complexified order, it has a different logic, you know, it doesn’t work by analytical logic.

[Music ends]

Jared: Welcome to the podcast Ilia, it’s great to have you.

Ilia: Thank you, I’m delighted to be here with you.

Jared: Yeah, so, we want to jump right into this question around faith and science, as Pete often says, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. But we want to start with, just give us a little history on these, this, you know, the odd couple here, where did it come from that these are at odds?

Ilia: Well, you know this idea that science and religion are in conflict or at odds with each other is actually relatively recent, and when I mean relatively, I mean within the last few hundred years. And I would say since the 16th century, this growing separation between science and religion has led, in the modern period, to seem as if they’re in conflict with one another. I think you know if you want to look historically, a watershed period is the Galileo affair. In other words, as we moved out of the Middle Ages and into the modern-period, we moved from a earth-centric or heliocentric universe, which was the one described by the Greek astronomer, Ptolemy, and we moved from that into a heliocentric universe described by Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler and others. And so that was our first paradigm shift, you know, that we’re not an earth-centric universe, we’re a sun-centered universe; now we know that we’re not even sun-centered. But that sun-centered universe caused a lot of problems, and one of the major problems historically was actually scripture. Because, if we go back to the beginning of Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth and at the sixth day, the human person was formed, and so the six days of creation were taken to be the order of creation as God intended it. Now once the earth was seen not to be stable and fixed but indeed moving around the sun, the big question was how will we interpret scripture? In other words, we would have to reinterpret things if everything is moving which means everything doesn’t have a fixed place. So, Galileo really, all he set out to do was to confirm the helio-centric universe because he had a very powerful telescope that could actually confirm this more scientifically than what Copernicus could do.


The Catholic church took real issue with that and basically condemned him saying that it was erroneous, in other words, you know, you could be thrown out of the church if you hold that the earth moves around the sun and the sun is center of the earth, which as Cardinal Bellarmine said, is contrary to scripture. So, they placed Galileo under house arrest, not too bad, not too shabby in Florence, Italy, truthfully.

Pete: Right.


Ilia: But this was also around the same time as the Protestant reformation. And so, I think, you know, from one side of history, the Catholic church was being threatened in terms of authority and obedience, right? You have the Protestant reformation, and now we have this, you know, radical heliocentrism. But after Galileo, we begin to see the rise of modern science. In other words, scientists were kind of delighted that they didn’t have to be under this heavy obedience of the church and having to answer everything to theology. So, science began to take off on its own, and religion sort of stayed fixed metaphysically in the Middle Ages. And the Protestant Reformation, of course, you know, as it began to develop in the various traditions, placed a much greater emphasis on sola scriptura, or scripture alone. In other words, meeting that word of God in scripture. And therefore, you could begin to see creation itself sort of drifting away from, you know, scripture, and I’ll get back to that in a minute. But interestingly, a lot of the great scientists in the 17th, 18th centuries, were Protestant scientists. So, it sort of liberated, you know, creation to be discovered. The three people who are associated with this conflict are not only Galileo, but Christopher Columbus, Charles Darwin is a big one –

Pete: Mm hmm.

Ilia: And I just want to take a minute there, because evolution really began to challenge the fixity of order, sacred order, you know, from scripture.

Pete: It’s the cosmos and also biological evolution, at least at first, biological.

Ilia: Yes.

Pete: Okay.

Ilia: Exactly. So, and so cosmology and biological evolution were the two principal challenges to scripture and to understanding of sacred order. Of course, with Darwin, it was the idea that now we could identify mechanisms in nature to explain diversity, things like natural selection or adaptation. So, it looked more and more like God was losing a job in creation, right?

Pete: [Laughter]

Ilia: God was going on unemployment.

Pete: [Continued laughter]

Ilia: And the idea was, well, who needs God to explain this stuff when now we can, you know, explain it scientifically. And it became very problematic, and I think it did lead to a backlash in terms of a literalism scripture, in other words, the fear of losing religion led to, I think, a kind of just doing the opposite. You know, ripping it with, you know, a tight fist so to speak. And so, the idea of literalism, you know, really emerges in the 18th/19th centuries, really places the literal word of God as the word. So, if God said, you know, let there, you know, the human was created on the sixth day, well, darn it, that’s exactly when the human was created.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Ilia: And so, we began to turn a blind eye to what science was telling us, you know, from the point of religion, and you see this growing separation of science and religion and I think quite honestly, if I can just say this here, that this growing gap between science and religion is at the heart of our problems today.

Pete: Mmm.

Ilia: And so, we have really unraveled ourselves. First, by not, you know, by allowing, not allowing science, by not tending to what science was telling us and then reacting to what science was telling us. Now, if I were to back that up a little bit, up to the 13th century, science and religion really worked together quite nicely. They formed a harmonious whole to the point where the big world, what we’d call the macrocosm, and the little world, the world of the human, were really synchronized. And some writers would speak of it as a musical harmony between the spheres and humanity. And then we can trace that back even further if we go all the way back to the Greeks, I mean, the human person learned what to do, in other words, affects was really based on cosmology.


In other words, how the heavens moved and how the stars moved gave us insight on wisdom and goodness and therefore kind of directed humanity to what was right and just in the polis, you know, in the human sphere. So, from the Greeks, you know, to the middle ages, we do see it would have been unthinkable, quite honestly, really unthinkable for the Greeks or early, early Christians to talk about science and religion as if they were two separate spheres. They would have said –

Pete: Can I interject here? I just want to make sure that I’m understanding are we sort of on the same page here. The, you don’t really have the conflict between science and faith for a large, you know, many, many years, you know, centuries from the Greek period to the Medieval period, and maybe, again, I’m trying, correct me if I’m wrong here, but a reason for that might be because there’s nothing in the science that challenges ones view of God or the gods.

Ilia: Right.

Pete: They fit together nicely, right, there’s the order to the cosmos and there’s an order to theology and those two things sort of can support each other so you don’t really have the upheaval, like you might have had with Galileo, right?

Ilia: Right, correct.

Pete: Okay.

Ilia: Yeah, I mean, truthfully, the order was really one order and from a Christian perspective, up to, certainly in the middle ages, theology was the queen of all sciences, so, all knowledge. So, science was known as natural philosophy. So, even natural philosophy was, in a sense, oriented toward theology. Everything came from God, God as creator, so all the order of creation would be oriented toward God. So, it would be unthinkable to think that science could have its own order apart from God, but after Galileo, that is what was begin to see. And it creates an artificiality, you know, in terms of creation and in terms of religion because one God, one creation. That’s how Genesis goes, right? It’s pretty simple.

Pete: [Laughter]

Ilia: One God creates the whole kit and caboodle!

Pete: Yeah.

Ilia: You know, and we have so far strayed from that in the modern period that even the rise of modern philosophy is this, you know, this frantic search to find a new God because the old God seems to be, you know, dead as Nietzsche would say, because God got pushed out of the cosmos with the Copernican revolution, that’s really what happened, you know. We thought, hey, now we can explain all this stuff, who needs God as Lachmann said, or Diloplaus. And so, as we began to push God out of the cosmos, now we had an empty cosmos that needed explanation and there came philosophers, you know, they got a job in the modern period. And we have all sorts of, you know, different philosophies arising to explain why we exist or what we exist for, but it’s really a deep, deep theological gap that’s left by the pushing out of God by the rise of modern science. It didn’t have to be this way, I might add.

Pete: Right.

Ilia: If the Catholic church were just a little bit more willing to listen to Galileo and change.

Pete: But that means changing theology, that’s a very threatening thing.

Ilia: That is correct.

Pete: Yeah. Ain’t it thought?! I mean, you’re a Roman Catholic, you know this as well as anybody, but you know, Jared and I are both from Protestant traditions and Reformed Protestant tradition. But there is, the way we see it, Jared and I were talking about this, there are basically three postures that one can have as a person of faith towards science. One is that antagonistic posture, at least today, not historically, but today. And that’s one that we see commonly, and it usually boils down to Adam has to be a real person or the whole Bible is shot. Which is unfortunately, a little bit simplistic. But that’s really what it comes down to for many people. Another sort of what I would call, a mediating, sort of in the middle, gateway drug kind of position is, well, they’re compatible, let’s just not look at it too deeply. So, if you can find some way, some way to reconcile in a tweet length explanation the evolutionary data and the story of Adam or the big bang and the story of Genesis 1, you sort of have this uneasy truce between the two and as a friend of mine who works in this area puts it, it’s sort of like pinning the evolutionary tale onto the evangelical donkey. You sort of, that’s how you integrate, you just sort of add it onto. But others are saying, and I think, you know, you’re very much in this camp, that is not really an integration.


That is a very inadequate way of accounting for something that in other, that basically explains everything else about our reality, some sort of an evolutionary model whether it’s cosmological or geological or biological. It seems to be around us explaining, almost, well, pretty much everything we know at this point. And the integration comes with, I guess what you’re saying before, what is God like now in view of how we understand the nature of the cosmos. And go. Explain that. Do that. Talk to us. That, to me, that’s the big point. Like, how, okay, here’s what people will say. And talk people off the ledge, they’re ready to jump off a bridge because they’re saying I can’t let science affect how I think about theology. And what would you say to that person to save their lives?

Ilia: Ha. Uhhhh….

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: No pressure.

Ilia: Take five.


Pete: Yeah, right.


Ilia: Let’s go back to the models of relationship that you pointed to. In the 1960’s, Ian Barbour in his book Religion in an Age of Science devised four models to understand the relationship between science and religion. The first model he said, is the conflict model, which is the one that you’re pointing to in the beginning. Antagonism, that science and religion have nothing to do with one another, in fact, they conflict on certain levels. The next model, he said, is called the independence model, or non-overlapping magisteria. Science is science and religion is religion. They are separate domains with different languages, different ways of thinking about things, so don’t confuse them. Allow them just to be themselves and stop trying to make a problem here. The third model is the dialogic model, that science has something to say to religion and religion may have something to say to science, but they are still independent disciplines and should just have like, a friendly conversation sometimes. The fourth model is the integration model, meaning that, just to put it in the shorthand, science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind, and only together can we really understand the world in its unified existence. And so, that’s the model that I opt for.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Ilia: So, if we go back to the God/evolution question, right, so it’s how we’re going to address that question, is God opposed to evolution, is God something other than evolution, is God just in some kind of relationship with evolution, or does evolution give us new insight to who and what God is? So, I think part of the God question is how do we understand God? And that’s a philosophical question as well as a theological one. I mean, what are we using to bring understanding to God? Is it experience, is it Greek metaphysics, is it scripture and then is it a combination of all these things, right? So, if God, you know, says in Exodus 3:14, I Am who I Am, well, how do we understand that? What’s our understanding of “I Am”? Is God a big eye in relation to my little eye? Are we two eyes meeting eye to eye? Or, is God existence itself? I am really talking about beingness, which is what philosophers would say, right? God is existence, God is being. And if God is being, and science tells us a little bit better what being is, that it’s evolving, and by evolution I think that’s another word, you know, that needs a little bit unpacking because I think we hear the word evolution and the first image that comes to mind is a bearded man by the name of Charles Darwin and then a monkey next to him, right? So, our fear is we are monkeys. Just, you know, and like, how can we possibly hold evolution if we believe in God? Right? Because I’m not a monkey and I don’t descend from monkeys. God made me, I’m in the image of God. All of that is completely, quite honestly, just erroneous. It’s just overly simplified and it’s not correct.


At all! For one thing, evolution, the word comes from the Latin ēvolvēre, meaning unfolding. It’s sort of like a scroll. And that’s very consonant from what we know from big bang cosmology. Space time is not something that’s set in stone, right? That’s what Einstein sent to Newton. Sorry, you’re wrong. There is no thing as space and time. But space time is what’s forming.

Pete: Hmm.


Ilia: And so, the whole universe itself is like a scroll. It’s like, unfolding. And on a biological level that’s what life does, it unfolds from simple to more complex. And there’s a beauty to that, there’s a tremendous goodness, because as it unfolds, it actually builds up towards greater unities, things move from say, little bacteria to little cells and then to multicellular organisms and then to, you know, to organs and then eventually into creatures. And with that, what we find is a whole rise of consciousness, which is really quite fantastic, and that’s where we’ll have to talk a little bit about what physics is telling us today.

Pete: Well, yeah. I mean, let’s do that. I mean, either now or at some point, because I think consciousness is just such an importance concept that keeps coming up.

Ilia: Huge! Right, so you know, one of the problems with Darwinian evolution is it explains material existence without mind. It can’t explain the mind. And so, there’s all sorts of problem with Darwinian evolution, but in the early 20th century, you know, one of the key findings in physics was coming out of Einstein’s special relativity theory that matter is, in a sense, a form of energy and energy is a form of matter while conserving mass. So, this interconvertibility of matter and energy was a real, very novel finding because what it led to the reality is, is that all matter is really energy and all energy is, in a sense, a type of matter. And so, you know, the way scientists begin to understand matter and energy was they did experiments like the double slit experiment where they would place two slits in a wall and shoot a beam of electrons or a beam of particles and then realize that they couldn’t tell on the other side, like, where would the particle was. You know, unless they actually measured it because they got this funny wave pattern, particle wave interference pattern. And so, what science began to posit is hey, I need to actually be conscious and aware of what I’m measuring in order to make a determination, and it’s the first realization that consciousness plays a fundamental role in the realization of materiality or matter. And so, since that time, we have developed a number of models to say that mind is not something separate from matter. Like, matter is not just some brute thing, you know, just not innard stuff. There seems to be a level of consciousness, our mind already within matter itself. And we don’t know what this means, I mean, scientists couldn’t say one iota really what is consciousness, we don’t know. That it exists, that we know. Some posit that the universe is consciousness itself, but what we do know is that as matter complexifies, and that’s another word in evolution and an important word, evolution is a complexification process. And by complexity, we mean that the degrees of relationality increase over time. That we move from simple relationships to multi-relationships, and as relationships get more multiple, what we find is that consciousness seems to rise. So, there’s a correlation between evolution and the rise of consciousness itself, which is a very interesting phenomenon.


Pete: Yeah, so, I mean, can we get back to this double slit experiment?

Ilia: Yes!

Pete: Because that’s, I mean, that’s maybe not would fall off everyone’s tongue, necessarily. And again, correct me if I’m simply misunderstanding it, but the observer affects what they see?

Ilia: Correct.

Pete: Is that sort of? Okay.

Ilia: That is correct.

Pete: So that, that’s sort of what, if I’m understanding correctly, that is sort of a way, maybe, of boiling down this issue of how the mind and matter are not really separate. They’re integrated in some deep way –

Ilia: They’re two –

Pete: Yeah.

Ilia: Yeah. They’re two forms of the same reality.

Pete: That’s a game changer. I’m sorry, that’s a big idea, right?

Ilia: Uh huh.

Pete: I mean, this should affect an awful lot of stuff that we think about.

Ilia: Uh huh, including God, by the way.

Pete: Including, well that’s just it, right? I mean, that’s why, I don’t know, it’s so much easier to stay in conflict mode for people. You know, because it’s sort of black and white, it’s the way I’m used to looking at the universe. But, what you’re saying is that our science should really, we need a God who can keep up with it.

Ilia: Yes.

Pete: Right?

Ilia: Absolutely, right. Because there’s a two-way thing here, right? The only way we can talk about God is really from creation in our own experience, right? You know, the early Christian writers would say that nature is the first book of Revelation. I think that’s what Genesis is about, by the way, you know.

Pete: Hmm.

Ilia: So, how do we know God? Well, we can observe the things of nature. And so, as our understanding of nature changes, our understanding of God changes because guess what? God is the God of creation. So, you can’t change creation without altering our understanding of the creator. These two things go together, and when we start fixing God in certain categories while we’re on our web, you know, our phones and internet computers, and so, we’re all part of the great scientific technological age, but we fix God in some box. I’m like, dude, this doesn’t work, ya know.

Pete: So, we’re fixing God in a box that was created –

Ilia: By us.

Pete: By us, with, based on a different way of looking at creation.

Ilia: Yes, based on some age that no longer exists, based on a Newtonian world, based on what we then knew about science or philosophy or the natural world.

Pete: Okay.

Ilia: And that’s the whole thing, like, we actually, I think the poor human brain is probably in some kind of cognitive dissonance, you know, it’s sort of like a split brain, you know. We have God lodged on one side of the brain, and then we have the scientific world on another side of the brain. But this is all, this is all our own construct in undoing it ourselves.

Pete: Yeah, that’s so common. I mean, Jared and I, we both see this where the so-called integration of science and faith usually goes something like this: well, how can I make evolution fit with my theology? Well, I’ve got the God thing down. That’s the part that does, I mean, I know that because the Bible says x, y, and z. Now, how can I bring evolution into that to make it fit, and when you make it fit, you’ve done your job.

Ilia: There we are! Right? God fits into my, the problem with God, I really worry when people talk so assuredly about God. First of all, it’s a name that points to an incomprehensible mystery, right? In other words, if I think that I know God, I mean, I’ve got God in my hand, I don’t think we have God at all. I have something of my own projection, maybe, but that’s not God. God cannot be the Great I Am and then at the same time, held in the palm of my own hand and at my own disposal. So, you know, God is a name that points to something ungraspable. God is the horizon of being, and therefore that horizon is always drawing us into discovery, into the knowing process. So, the first thing I’d like people to do is get over trying to control God, because you don’t have God. You know, Meister Eckhart, the Dominican, said I pray God to get rid of God, because the God we think we have is not God, it’s our God. We’ve created that God and we project onto that God. You can’t grasp God, God is ungraspable, but God grasps us, that is, I think that’s what grace is about. But going back to the evolutionary question, you know, I think a lot of people fear, it’s not fitting God into evolution, it’s how does evolution disclose now who and what God is? How can we know now from a world of complexity, a world of change, a world that is constantly in a sense, in fluidity of relationships, what does this tell us about God? That’s the theological question.

Jared: So yeah, can maybe, let’s try to get real practical here, and I know that may be challenging, but you’ve set up something, I think, that’s interesting. Like, we have a modern science and we have a Newtonian God. What are some practical ways that people can update their view of God that would bring it into, you know, post-Einstein science ways of thinking about the universe and the world? Are there some practical ways to say, you know, there’s all this science, and I think a lot of people aren’t going to be able to track with the science of it because it gets really complicated quickly, but there is, maybe, a way that people can say, yeah, this is a Newtonian view of God, this is more of a quantum view of God or something like that.


Ilia: Well, I think, you know, it’s when we box God, it’s a Newtonian God is a closed system God. So, it’s good and bad; God will bless me if I’m good, God will punish me if I’m bad. It’s right and wrong; you know, what they did was right, what they did was wrong. It’s, you know, the judgement thing; you know, God’s going to judge who’s gonna be saved and who isn’t going to be saved. That’s not God. I mean, at all, because that’s our own fears of what, you know, our own judgement I think sometimes. So, a Newtonian God is a very boxed in God into, and I would say this, it’s binary thinking. That’s about as simple as I can say it. It’s yes and no, in and out, saved and unsaved, heaven and hell, grace –

Pete: Black and white, very clear…

Ilia: Very clear, right.

Pete: No ambiguity.

Ilia: No, that’s it. So, maybe the difference between the Newtonian God and Einstein’s God is Newton’s God is very clear, black and white. Einstein’s God gets a little murky and ambiguity. So, it’s from binary thinking to the ambiguous God, you know, like maybe I don’t really know who you are. Maybe I can leave open room for God doing new things, so, Einstein’s God can do new things. It’s a God of spontaneity, a God of creativity, a God who’s never really in order but always slightly in disorder. So, we don’t think of God as actually a God of chaos, a God who is living always on the edge, but that is actually the God of Einstein’s world. A God who is always on the edge, spontaneously doing new things because this God is a future. This is not a God who’s just of the past, this is not a God who’s living in history, this is a God who’s creating into a new future.

Jared: And you know, that, the words that come to mind when I think of that too, and I don’t want to let theology off the hook completely, but I also think that a lot of our social sciences, if I maybe can speak that broadly, haven’t caught up to this Einsteinian world. And, because I think of other things, like what you’re describing is this idea of a static, like, the Newtonian God is really a projection of how we see ourselves.

Ilia: Correct.

Jared: And we as selves are static and, you know, I know the difference between me and Pete. Pete, you are there; I am here. The same me that’s here today was the same me of ten years ago, and that’s still, you know, you could take kind of religion out of it and we’re still in some social way, in how we think about our world, very Newtonian.

Ilia: Absolutely.

Jared: And this Einsteinian, I don’t know what word we’re using here, is more dynamic and that’s a process, that’s change, that’s seeing the self as this bundle of energy that’s constantly changing and this atoms that are constantly colliding and the same self now isn’t the self of five years ago in any reasonable way of talking about it. Is that a fair way of broadening that?

Ilia: Absolutely. Yeah, in fact if you want a practical example, you could just take our own present pandemic crisis that we’re in and, you know, I won’t go into why I think we might have gotten here, but here we are in a crisis –

Pete: [Laughter]

Ilia: And what is the predominant news? When will we return to normal?

Pete: To normalllllll.

Jared: Mm hmm.

Ilia: Because normal, well, who defines normal? Normal is our everyday routines, right? I get up, I go to work, I work ‘til five o’clock, I come home, I have supper. That is a Newtonian world, right? And so, we live very much in Newton’s universe still to this day, and we can’t understand, you know, if something happens to us, we should be able to get over it, you know, get a vaccine or get some science to cure this thing so we can go back to normal. In Einstein’s world, there is no normal. That is the point. It’s not a closed universe, it’s an open systems universe, which means if we can get over our need to get back to normal, we actually may move into a more sustainable existence together. And we need to begin to understand how life, what science tells us, is life works according to relationality. It works according to creativity. So, we might think of new ways we may be able to reduce our, you know, ecological footprint, the way we might be able to, you know, increase our shared resources. But we’re not thinking at all like that, we just want to go back to normal, get back to work, and like, life resumes on automatic pilot. That’s Newton’s world, it’s going to kill us quite honestly.


Pete: Right, right. And it’s, when Christians defend it, that’s doubly tragic in a way.

Ilia: Well yes, because God, you know, God created this order like Newton’s world and you know, we have to get back on track to that order –

Pete: Right.

Ilia: When, in fact, God is not at all in that order. God is in the disorder and that’s, we don’t understand what evolution tells us about God is God is not a God of fixed order, God is an order of love. And if you want to talk about an order, or a logic to God, I think it’s the order and the logic of love. And if you’ve ever fallen in love, you know that love does not have a linear order.

Pete: Right.

Ilia: It may have a complexified order –

Jared: Mmm.

Ilia: It has a different logic, you know? It doesn’t work by analytical logic.

Pete: Yeah, I mean, let’s get into that in a second because I was hoping to get to love, because that’s sort of like, that put’s a cap –

Jared: It’ll happen one day Pete, it’ll happen.

Pete: One day I’ll learn how to love.

Ilia: [Laughter]

Pete: But it puts a nice, it’s sort of the goal of all this, so to speak. It’s the driving energy and the goal, and I’d love for you to talk about that. Before we get to that, let’s go beyond Einstein and I’d like you, if you can, as succinctly as possible, to define quantum physics.

Ilia: Right.

Pete: Like, what is that, and if you could use something like quantum entanglement –

Ilia: Mm hmm.

Pet: As an example to illustrate, basically, the weirdness of the universe that an ordered, Newtonian world doesn’t simply catch up to, it can’t handle this stuff.

Ilia: Right.

Pete: That might be very helpful to our listeners.

Ilia: Okay. So, you know, quantum physics in a nutshell, I’m not a physicist per se, but I can tell you my brief definition of it. I think it came out of the idea that matter is substance, you know, like, the idea of little atoms or like atoms in the shape of billiard balls, and again, I think those who began studying electromagnetism and light in the early 20th century realized that, you know, a particle can also exist in the form of a wave. So, quantum physics is this wave particle duality due to the interconvertibility of matter and energy. All matter is a form of energy and all energy is a form of matter. So, rather than billiard balls of matter, we have energy or deep relationality. I think what quantum physics points to is the intrinsic relationality of all cosmic life because it’s really filled with fields of energy. And so, what that means is that matter, there’s no matter that exists independent of any other matter. It’s all deep relationality interconnected, fields within fields, and fields of energy. Which means as Paul Dirac said, you know, if I pick a flower on earth, I can move the farthest star. Now, the idea of quantum entanglement was an idea that was first a thought experiment by Einstein and his students that said, well, you know this is really true, that means that if I take two particles that have interacted and I separate them by vast, vast differences and I place, say, one particle on my desk here in Pennsylvania and the other particle on the moon, and if I turn this particle, say, 180 degrees on my desk, the particle on the moon should turn 180 degrees down. Einstein said, I’m not sure on that and his students said, yep, I think that’s true! And that experiment was later shown to be true by John Bell, that particles that have been separate by vast, vast distances will affect one another.

Pete: They’re not communicating, right?

Ilia: They’re not communicating, no, but they’re reciprocally related and if you affect one, you will affect the other.

Pete: Instantaneously?

Ilia: Instantaneously, right. They are –

Pete: So, speed of light means nothing?

Ilia: Correct!

Pete: Okay.

Ilia: I mean, it’s really interesting. They can’t exceed the speed of light, but you know, I mean, again, the way things scientists, I don’t think science has really figured out how these two particles can actually affect one another, but in fact, they do. But we also, this quantum entanglement is very much operative, even on human life. So, the idea that say, for example, I could, you know, get really angry at someone or do something really nasty to someone, our Newtonian way of thinking said well, that’s just this person I really don’t like and I’m going to tell him or her off. But, in an entangled world, my interacting with this person in a negative way could actually have, you know, vast ramifications on other energy fields. Right? So, whoever I’ve interacted with, you know? So, I think quantum entanglement says that we are all, in a sense, in this cosmic wholeness together. And therefore, our actions are not separate and discreet, they affect others. Even –


Pete: That affects – yeah, go ahead.

Ilia: Even our thoughts affect others.

Pete: Yes.

Ilia: Our thinking something… If we have been interacting with someone then I can say, ‘Gee, I wonder how Pat is doing.’ You know, and then in a half an hour I get a phone call or an email from Pat saying I was just thinking about you and that’s how kind of weird it is. So, quantum entanglement is known as spooky action at a distance –

Pete: (laughter)

Ilia: Or nonlocal action at a distance.

Pete: I was going to say, you know, how you think about each other and I was, the first time that I began thinking about this on a very elementary level, but, it affects prayer, how you even think about the notion of what prayer is and what it does.

Ilia: Right.

Pete: It’s not speaking to a divine butler up there to do something for you to something over there. There’s actually a deeper sense of interconnectedness where everything is interrelated. Everything is integrated.

Ilia: Absolutely.

Pete: And God is in there somewhere, but again, this might be too simplistic a question, but God is deeply enmeshed in everything, right?

Ilia: Right.

Pete: Matter, energy, but God isn’t matter and energy.

Ilia: Correct, right.

Pete: Can you, because I think that may be something that people have questions about. This sounds really great, but it sounds like we’re not really left with anything that we can call God if this God is indistinguishable from, you know, from the coffee cup in front of me.

Ilia: [Laughs]

Yeah, right.

Pete: And a relationship. Yeah, right.

Ilia: Yeah, so just going back to that point of prayer, I think that’s really good. You know, I think prayer is quantum entanglement with divine energy, and so that you know prayer does, you know, intercessory prayer is quantum entanglement, that’s a really good way to look at it. People often ask, do my prayers for someone really make a difference? And I’m like, yes, they do. Now, in terms of God being entangled, that’s exactly, I think that’s what creation is. I think creation is the entanglement with God. What do I mean by that? God’s life affects our lives and our lives affect God’s life. Is God really just part of my coffee cup and my matter? Well no, God is God. And yet, how do we understand this? I think two things here, and one is the Trinity, God is relationality. In other words, the Trinity is not just like three men at a tea-party that God has, you know, a social committee with.

Pete: [Laughter]

Ilia: God is relationship. God is personal. God is communicative. And the second is the incarnation, in other words, the Trinitarian relationality of God is what the incarnation is about and, therefore, the incarnation says, hey, God is not something separate and distinct from matter. God is united and one with matter. I think that’s the significance of the person of Jesus Christ. Which means that all matter matters to God and God is in then, in some way, entangled with all matter. And you know, one way we want to distinguish pantheism, all matter is God, from panentheism, God is in all matter and all matter is in God, but God is not all matter and all matter is not God. And you know, well we say, what does this mean? Well, we mean that everything that exists has, we might say, a divine dimension of depth to it, a divine depth dimension, and that means that it’s opened out to an eternal source, it’s opened out to infinity, and yet it’s finite. And it’s a paradox, right? So, I think the God/world relationship is a paradox, it’s mystery I think we can’t, we don’t want to conflate or reduce God to matter, but at the same time matter does have a divine dimension to it, a God dimension we could say. And that’s what makes the world holy. It’s not holy because it has a divine stamp, like, you know, the Good Housekeeping seal on it, that seal is God’s presence. I think that’s what the incarnation means to us. So, I would like to see us kind of get into a new consciousness that the human person is holy, that God is there in this person. This person reflects the face of God. This leaf expresses God’s wisdom and glory. So, that this creation is not just stuff, you can’t just chop it down or chop it up and throw it out, that everything that we’re doing here affects God’s life because that life, God’s life, is our life. So, I don’t know if that helps, but –

Pete: Oh boy, does it.

Jared: Yeah, well, and there’s… so, maybe we can swing back around to the idea of love here the idea of love here, because there’s a lot of language that maybe doesn’t lend to love. I mean, I’m just thinking like, it’s not when I think of quantum mechanics, I’m not thinking love and relationality and, you know, that sort of thing. So how do you connect the dots?


Pete: I’m still thinking a lot of mass.

Jared: Yeah, right. Exactly.

Ilia: Well, I have to tell you, one of the people that I use, one of the thinkers that I use quite often in my work, who was a scientist, is the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. And he was a full-fledged scientist, a paleontologist, his day work was digging up old bones, but he wrote, he began to understand matter from the point of what physics was telling us, that there’s an energy in matter that’s pulling things together and he began to conceive of the idea that the most fundamental energy of all matter, in other words, why does this cell attract to this cell, right? It’s not just a random attraction, there seems to be a center-to-center attraction. And therefore, he said even in the smallest of molecules that love is there as the energy of attraction and the energy of unity. So, he would not see love as the sentiment or emotion that we, like God, we actually conflate love and reduce it and constrict it to us.

But love is an energy, that’s what Teilhard was saying to us, it’s the prime energy of all matter itself, and that is something that science cannot really explain, why there is this irresistible force of attraction in the universe, no matter where you look, in fact, that is what evolution is at the heart of it. It’s an irresistible force of attraction to a greater complex, to a greater complexified life. And Teilhard said that’s because the universe is based on the structure of love, on the energies of love. So, we’re kind of the happy recipients who are conscious of love. And so, he’s saying that on even levels much lower than us that are protoconscious, that love is there as the prime energy, and therefore, we come into the consciousness that this love then, is, in other words, the absolute horizon of this love is God. So, there’s a seamless flow in Teilhard’s thought from the very basis of life beginning with the Big Bang to the human person, and then to the disclosure of God.

Pete: So that is the, Christians use the word, the telos, the goal, the purpose of all this. I mean, how would you describe that? Again, briefly because, I mean, we could go over this for hours –

Ilia: Yeah, right. So, you know –

Pete: What’s the point of the universe I guess is what I’m asking you.

Ilia: What’s the point of it all, right?


Pete: In two sentences. Go ahead.

Ilia: Yeah, so, I you know, I think from the point of process theology and process thought and this way, I think, you know, we are in relationship with the very dynamic God, a God who is creative and a God who is love. I think love is the creativity of life itself and, therefore, where are we headed towards? And I think we’re headed towards, we might say, the fullest consciousness of being in love. And that is, I think, then becomes the embrace of all life, which is, I think, what I think we may call heaven. Heaven is not a place, heaven is the openness of earth to its fulfillment, what it’s capable of in relation to God. And therefore, I think we are oriented toward, I think, a maximization of love in this, it’s like as if you became really fully aware of this full embrace of love in the whole of cosmic life. I think as Saint Paul says, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard all that God has prepared.” You know, because I think our little brains get really, we’re a little bogged down with, you know, our very narrow ways of thinking about things. But we are oriented toward, I think, a complete awareness of the fullness of love, and that’s God.

Jared: Well, I think we, Pete and I could talk about this for hours more, but I think it’s a great place to wrap up with this doxology toward love and a greater consciousness of love, but I do know that a lot of our listeners, this is going to be some of the first times that they’re hearing some of this. This is going to be way over their heads, so can you point people to some of the work that you’ve done so people who are interested, but, you know, they want to learn more. Where can you point people toward for that?

Ilia: Well, Jared, I run a website called the Omega Center and I write a lot of blogs, very short pieces there. We have Omega groups; you can join a discussion group. We have various videos, in case there’s anything, you know, if nothing made sense here this afternoon, you can watch a video. But the point of the Omega Center is to help us deepen an awareness of a dynamic God who is entangled with us in this dynamic universe where love is the heart, love is the root reality of all life in the universe. So, I would direct people toward the Omega Center. Then I have a score of books if they’re really into this, they can start reading the books.


Jared: Excellent, yeah. We’ll make sure we point people to that after here in our outro. But, is there any, can you maybe give a final word of just a practical first step, besides reading, that would help someone maybe move from a Newtonian view of God to this quantum view of God.

Ilia: Yeah, you know, I think the first thing really is let God be God. I would say, very simply, let go, let God. Here I think prayer is really important. In other words, coming to know yourself, like what’s the heart of your life. What’s at center? And then, growing, to really growing into a God who is deeply in love with us. Right? Deeply related to us. And we know, if you’re parents or whatever, that where there is deep love, you know, we may get things wrong, we might go astray, but that love is always faithful, always present. So, I would say do not fear of letting go of your old Newtonian God, God would be perfectly at home with that. God will probably have a party actually.

Pete: [Laughter]

Ilia: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Pete: Yes.

Ilia: Let go and let God be God and enjoy! I mean, really enter into a God who is dynamic and not static. Not this elderly male figure who is playing chess, you know, in heaven. This is a God who is deeply engaged in our lives.

Jared: Sorry to all the chess players who are listening. No offense.

Pete: [Laughter]

Jared: Well, Ilia, this just has been delightful. It’s just been such a different world of thinking about God and I think it’s much needed. You know, Pete and I talk about these kind of things quite a bit, so I think it’s just great for everyone to hear it. Really appreciate you coming on.

Pete: Yeah, very much.

Ilia: Oh sure. My pleasure. Nice to be with you guys.

Pete: Yes. Thank you, Ilia.

Ilia: Okay.

Jared: See ya.

[Music begins]

Pete: Alright folks, thanks again for listening to this episode. I’ve had a lot of fun; hope you have had some fun too. And again, if you want to learn more about Ilia, the book that I mentioned before is The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love and also the website she mentioned, Omega Center, that is a lot of wonderful and bite-sized information to be gleaned from that because she really does want to connect with normal, weird physics for normal people, that’s sort of what we’re dealing with here.


Pete: You know, evolution for normal people.

Jared: Good. Well, and before we go, we always want to give a shout-out and a thanks to our team, we couldn’t do what we do without them, so thanks to Tessa Stultz, creative director; Dave Gerhart, our audio engineer; Reed Lively, marketing and administration; Megan Cammack, our producer here at the podcast; and Stephanie Speight, who transcribes all of our episodes. Thank you so much, we’ll see everyone next time.

Pete: See you.

[Music ends]

[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.

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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.