fbpx

Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Interview with Martha Himmelfarb: Second Temple Judaism & Apocalyptic Literature

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with professor Martha Himmelfarb about what the Bible means when it talks about the apocalypse as they explore the following questions:

  • What does apocalyptic mean?
  • Was Jesus an apocalyptic prophet?
  • What is meant by the “end of the world”?
  • Do we need to understand apocalypse to understand Jesus?
  • Where is apocalyptic literature found in the Bible?
  • What’s the difference between prophesy and apocalyptic literature?
  • Why did apocalyptic literature start becoming popular?
  • Are there other apocalyptic books that didn’t make it into the biblical canon?
  • What is the Book of the Watchers?
  • What are some key features of apocalyptic literature?
  • Where does apocalyptic thought show up throughout the New Testament? 
  • Is the afterlife a part of apocalyptic thinking?

Tweetables

Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Martha Himmelfarb you can share. 

  • “One could easily use the word apocalyptic to understand the Christian narrative. It’s a story about God and Jesus taking actions that are ultimately going to lead to a new age. That’s certainly apocalyptic in some sense.”  — Martha Himmelfarb
  • “Conflicts between nations on earth is understood as the earthly counterpart of conflict that’s taking place in the heavens, and each nation has its prince, its angelic embodiment.” — Martha Himmelfarb
  • “All these angels are a way of saying, you know, the divine world is very accessible. There are a lot of angels around and you can have contact with them.” — Martha Himmelfarb
  • “Those glimpses of the other world must be very inspiring, you know, to have some sense, even a glimpse of what that heavenly reality looks like. I think that must be very appealing.” — Martha Himmelfarb
  • “What do apocalypses add? I think probably they add some kind of confidence that the end is near or even if it isn’t near, that it’s certainly coming. God has promised the end is going to come, and it’s going to be an end that will be good for us. It will be bad for our persecutors, bad for the, you know, the evil empires out there and good for us.” — Martha Himmelfarb

Mentioned in This Episode

Powered by RedCircle

Read the transcript

[Introduction]

0:00

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

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty intro music]

Jared: Welcome, everyone, to this episode of the podcast. Today, we’re going to ask the question what does the Bible mean by the apocalypse? And we’re talking with Martha Himmelfarb, professor of religion at Princeton University for over 40 years, she knows her stuff.

Pete: Yeah, and her area of study is Judaism, starting from the Second Temple Period to up to Islam and you know, Jared, we keep coming back to this Second Temple Period business, and we might sound like a broken record, but frankly, I don’t really care. Do you, Jared? I think it’s a good record to break –

Jared: Yup.

Pete: Because, you know, we could do an entire, like, we could do Second Temple Judaism for Normal People. This is what we could do. This whole thing –

Jared: Right.

Pete: Because it’s such an important period of time. And again, if you want the details, you can go back to the Paula Fredriksen episode where we talk a little bit more in the intro about what this period of time is, but basically it’s a time of the Second Temple Period, which is, that’s it. What else do you have to know?

Jared: It’s appropriately named, I mean.

Pete: 516 BCE to about 70 CE. That’s roughly, you know, a 600-year period almost, where the Second Temple was standing, and a lot of stuff happened in Judaism that really directly affected Christianity. So, it’s like a non-negotiable area of study if you want to understand Jesus and Paul and the rest of, just the early Christian movement.

Jared: Well, and to that point, if you really want to understand what the Bible means by the apocalypse, you have to understand Second Temple Judaism as well.

Pete: Right. Because it wasn’t invented in the book of Revelation. It’s actually already in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament or the First Testament, but in this world of Second Temple Judaism, it became more of the thing, let’s say, and there might be some reasons for that, believe it or not. So, yeah, that’s a big thing, and you know, she also mentions a term that I think has come up in other podcasts, Jared, but Hellenism, which is the influence of Greek culture on Judaism, which was a really, really big deal. Especially like, beginning in the 3rd century BCE and very much in the 2nd century and it caused a lot of tensions which led to something called the Maccabean revolt, and she mentions this as well. There is a period of time in the early 2nd century where the Greek ruler at the time, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, really, really wanted to make Judaism very Greek looking, and with the support of some Jews, oddly enough. Like, all Jews weren’t against this. Things like, you know, what you eat and worshipping in the temple a certain way, and you know, he sacrificed a pig to Zeus in the temple, which is like five layers of like desecrating the temple. But the Maccabees and the family called the Maccabees led by, you know, father and some sons after him, they fought for independence, and that’s where the holiday of Hannukah comes. So, but I know that Martha, she mentions the Maccabees somewhat in passing, but it’s like, one of these core moments and core periods in the development of Judaism that had a real direct impact on the New Testament. So, it’s just good stuff to keep remembering all these sort of terms and some of these dates are actually pretty important, I think.

Jared: All right.

Pete: All right, folks. Let’s listen to this episode with Martha Himmelfarb!

[Music begins]

Martha: One could easily use the word apocalyptic to understand the Christian narrative. It’s a story about God and Jesus taking actions that are ultimately going to lead to a new age. That’s certainly apocalyptic in some sense. The book of Revelation looks, from a literary point of view, very different from the Gospels, but the content of the Gospels certainly could be described as apocalyptic.

[Music ends]

Pete: So yeah, why don’t we start right there Martha. Why don’t you define for us this word that, like, we use a lot but that word apocalyptic, which, may not mean… it’s a word that might not mean what people think it means.

Martha: Right, well it probably does mean what they think it means, but it means other things as well. It’s, so, the Greek word, the Greek root apocalypto means to uncover something. So, it really means a revelation and I think that the book of Revelation in the New Testament is the first work to label itself, apokalypsis, a revelation, and that probably, you know, is very important for how the word has been received.

4:44

And when most people think about apocalypse or apocalyptic, they think about the end of the world, but in fact, most of the, well, most of my own work has been devoted to apocalypses that aren’t so interested in the end of the world, they’re more interested in other kinds of revelation about the secrets of the heavens, the secrets of the cosmos, God’s throne, the fate of souls after death. So, all these things –

Pete: Well, Martha, back up. What do you mean, like end of the world? That, when I think of that, I think when a lot of people think of that they just mean, like, the explosion of the planet earth and disintegrating into nothing. Is that what you mean by end of the world? Like, its physical destruction?

Martha: So, I think, you know, I’m trying to represent what, you know, ancient Jews and Christians think, and they certainly don’t think the world is going to end in that sense. They think history as we know it is going to come to an end because God is going to bring it to an end and, you know, they have different thoughts about how exactly that will come about, but they do imagine an era beginning that is, you know, totally different from the world that we’re living in now.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Jared: So, I’m just trying to wrap my mind around the differences between those two things. I think because of my tradition, those would have been conflated. I’m having a hard time pulling apart the end of the world from the destruction of the world and even some of the language you used, I kind of automatically just, I think put a bunch of baggage into that. So, when the ancients were talking about the end of the world, could you maybe just flesh out a little more of what that might’ve looked like for them?

Martha: I mean, I think, if you think of Daniel, so, you know, there were two apocalypses that made it into the Christian cannon, only one that made it into the Jewish cannon; Daniel in the Jewish cannon, and Daniel and Revelation in the Christian cannon. Daniel, you know, has that picture of the four empires that will succeed each other ruling the world, and at the very end there will be, you know, the kingdom of the holy ones of the most high. So, there will be a new world empire that will be God’s empire. So, I don’t think any kind of, you know, there are a lot of war had to take place, and presumably it brought some destruction with it, but the world didn’t have to be destroyed and recreated there. So, if you follow the book of Daniel, you imagine major political changes, but you don’t imagine that, you know, the world needs to be physically annihilated.

Pete: So, it’s like the end of the world as we know it, so to speak, the way it functions, the way it operates?

Martha: Yes, I guess you could say that, and you know, it’s not always entirely clear whether it’s simply a matter of who the ruling powers will be or whether nature will somehow be transformed. I mean, that seems to be, you know, going back as far as Isaiah, that seems to be an idea about what will happen in the last days, but many of the apocalypses aren’t really explicit about that. But, you know, I think you can imagine a somewhat more, less catastrophic apocalypse than maybe the popular view.

Jared: So, how does that function together? Because again, this is going to be an episode where I bring probably a lot of my baggage from my childhood in, but I, because one of the things that I think was pretty prominent was all of these apocalyptic pieces fit together to make one giant end times story, right? So, you have these pieces of Isaiah and we gotta put that together with these pieces of Daniel, and if you can kind of crack the code, so to speak, you can put together this mosaic of what the end times will look like and then we can sort of backfill and kind of figure it out from there so we can all see the signs of the end times and you know, Revelation is obviously a big part of, it’s a bigger puzzle piece. And, how would these have fit together in, like, you know, when the author or compiler of Revelation is putting this together, how would it have fit with Isaiah and Daniel and yeah, just curious how that would’ve happened.

Martha: That’s a really good, that’s a great way of sort of thinking about it. And I mean, I actually think Revelation is, you know, tremendously influential because it becomes part of the cannon, but it’s also quite distinctive and in some ways, really unusual. Apocalypses typically do draw on earlier traditions, but Revelation, I think, you know, just that the way it makes use of prophetic, the language of prophets of Ezekiel and Isaiah and its use of Daniel, I mean, I think they’re really more almost than any other apocalypse I can think of, the language is just so profoundly indebted to earlier prophets.

9:49

And I think actually, I mean, my own view is that John is, we think that when he calls his book Apokalypsis, you know, Revelation, he’s entering it in this new genre, but I think he really wants to represent himself as a prophet. You know, he sees himself standing in the same tradition as Isaiah and Ezekiel, and I think for him, Daniel was also a prophet.

Pete: Mmm.

Martha: So, I think he’s creating his picture of the end of days drawing on what, yes, what for him are authoritative works. And then, of course, as Revelation becomes an authoritative work, you’re right, it becomes yet another element of this schema that Christians particularly will draw.

Pete: Yeah, and you mention Isaiah a couple of times, and in the context of an apocalyptic, right? So, here you have a biblical prophet that’s a complex book, you know, it’s stages and over centuries, you know, was expanded upon and such and such. But we think of Isaiah as basically a prophet, but there are you know, there seem to be apocalyptic elements in the book of Isaiah. So, can you expand a little bit on like, what’s the difference between prophecy and apocalyptic, and why would you have two things like that in the same book and, you know?

Martha: Yeah. I think it’s a really, that’s a wonderful question and it’s a very complicated question, so I hope, you know, I’ll probably forget where I’m going, so just pull me back.

Pete: [Laughter]

Martha: So, I mean, one way of thinking about it is, you know, prophets have views of how the world is going to end; prophesy sort of, at least, the prophets who make it into the Hebrew Bible sort of peter out sometime, you know, not so long after the rebuilding of the Second Temple. It doesn’t mean there weren’t people running around giving prophesy, but then this other form of revelation seems to emerge sometime in the later part of the Second Temple Period. One difference, I think, you know, that people rightly point to when it comes to thinking about this, you know, this coming end of the world as we know it, is in general, I mean, Isaiah here again is a little bit of an exception, but if you look at Amos, go back to the very beginnings of prophesy, Amos tells you you really shouldn’t be hoping for the day of the Lord. It’s darkness and not light, bad things are going to happen, it’s going to be disastrous. And really, the message is repent and that won’t happen. Apocalyptic literature seems to look forward to the coming of the end, and you should repent, because that will mean you’re one of the righteous and you’ll get to enjoy the new world that’s going to emerge, but it’s not, it’s not telling you to repent so that the end will be close by.

Pete: Can I just interrupt just to have clarity, for I think, timelines here. You mentioned Amos, the beginning of prophesy. So, Amos is like 8th century?

Martha: That’s right.

Pete: Right? And the day of the Lord is not something you want to, like, just don’t go there. But then you mention the Second Temple Period, and you may have said the late Second Temple Period for, and not to put words in your mouth, the emergence of apocalyptic, a different way of thinking? Or…

Martha: Well, yeah… I mean, the question of when apocalyptic literature emerges is one question and the question of when an apocalyptic way of thinking emerges is a different question. Probably those, you know, the idea that history is all determined and that there’s going to be some kind of major break that we can’t do anything about, I think that probably emerges probably in the later part, yaybe in the Hellenistic period. You know, we have it in Daniel, so that puts us in the middle of the 2nd century BCE when exactly, you know, those ideas emerge, I think it’s hard to say.

Pete: But, can you take a stab at why they emerge?

Martha: So, I think one possibility is that the political circumstances are sufficiently different. That idea that, you know, repentant things will get better, which is meaningful in a period when the people of Israel enjoyed sovereignty and lived in their own land. Now, when they’ve been living under foreign imperial rule for a long time, that, you know, it seems as if history is heading in a particular direction and it’s not a good direction and all that can change things is for God to intervene in some way. They don’t have a king anymore, they don’t have an army, so they need God to, you know, bring history to an end. I think that’s probably a part of it.

14:46

Some recent scholarship has argued that it’s, that an important component of this is the Seleucid’s have a new way of thinking about time. That the Seleucid’s, the, so the Hellenistic dynasty that came to rule Palestine from the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, that this dynasty, Seleucus was one of Alexander’s generals, and when Alexander died, his empire got divided up among his generals. Seleucus, the dynasty Seleucus founded at the beginning of the 3rd century, at the end of the 4th, beginning of the 3rd century BCE, had a particular attitude toward time. It became counting time from Seleucus’ ascendency, and it just kept counting. It didn’t go rain by rain by rain. So, it represented itself as something new and that maybe apocalyptic literature is a kind of response to that. You know, you have your time, well, we have a different kind of time. I’m not sure I’m persuaded by that, but it’s what I think is useful about that is it reminds us, you know, that these ideas emerge both in the context of ancient Judaism and later ancient Christianity, but that there’s a larger world out there as well, which has an impact on it. Precisely what the impact is, I wish I could tell you.

Jared: Well, one thing I think that’s important is in that, you know, one implication of that is we’ve talked about Isaiah and Daniel and almost like, these proto-apocalyptic, they’re not fully developed in that way. And then we have Revelation, which seems to be very sophisticated, and then there’s this whole time period in between, the Second Temple Period, where there are books that didn’t make it into our cannon that look very similar to some of these other books. There were other apocalypses that were being written during this time. Would that be fair to say? What are some of those that maybe we wouldn’t have heard of?

Martha: Okay. Well, let me, I would want to make one adjustment to what you said. That is, critical scholars would tell you that Daniel was as composed, Daniel has probably earlier material in it, but that it takes a form in which we have it now probably right during the Maccabean revolt. So, that’s actually, we can date it, you know, if you’re skeptical about its ability to prophesy, if you think that it gets historical events right up to a certain point and then it doesn’t seem to get them right, you can date it pretty precisely to the middle of the Maccabean revolt. So, that would put it in the 160’s BCE.

Jared: So, it’s more squarely into that Second Temple Period, it just is one that got in the cannon.

Martha: That’s right. And it’s a very interesting question why it got in the cannon when it now, it looks like it may be the earliest work we would identify as an apocalypse that’s primarily concerned with the end of history, but it’s not the earliest work that people have, you know, usually talked about as an apocalypse. Let me talk about, you know, a great favorite of mine, which is not maybe not the earliest apocalypse, but it’s certainly the, it has some claim to be called that and extremely influential text, and that’s the Book of the Watchers. It survives, or it’s passed down as part of the Ethiopic book of 1 Enoch, but it’s also preserved, you know, quite fragmentary form in Aramaic among the Dead Sea Scrolls, but those Aramaic fragments allow us to be pretty confident that it’s a little bit earlier than Daniel, and we’ve got some Greek for it also. So, we’re not just dependent on a significantly later translation. And what’s really interesting to me about it is, you know, there’s some interesting points of contact with Daniel. You know, the famous throne vision in Daniel 7 where Daniel sees the Ancient of Days seated on his fiery throne. There’s a description of Enoch ascends to heaven and he sees God in the throne, the great glory he calls God, enthroned, and the description is very close. And I don’t think that Daniel was using the Book of the Watchers, but they appear to have a source in common there, a poetic source probably. But this is a book that involves in part, a retelling or a set of traditions about those sons of God who marry daughters of men and all sorts of bad things happen. In Genesis 6, and Genesis 6 just sort of gestures as them, but the Book of the Watchers tells their story in much more detail, and then it has Enoch ascend to heaven where he sees God enthroned and he gets to talk to God, pretty much face to face, and then he takes a tour of the cosmos and a tour of the world, of the earth really. He sees cosmological phenomena, but he’s on the earth. He goes to parts of the earth no human being has ever seen in the company of angels.

19:54

So, he’s obviously got some kind of angelic status, which, you know, might remind you of Isaiah back in Isaiah 6 when Isaiah sees God enthroned in the temple and God needs a messenger and Isaiah volunteers, you know, all those angels around him, but Isaiah gets to take the message.

Pete: So, there’s like an otherworldly dimension to apocalyptic too. You know, it’s the end of the, you know, it’s the end of the system of the age so to speak, and there’s a glimpse into a different kind of reality?

Martha: Yes, and the Book of the Watchers, I think, is much less concerned with the end of the age than it is with that different reality. I mean, one of the things that really, I find so fascinating about the book of Revelation is that for all, I mean, people tend to be focused on its interest in the end, but its full of that kind of other reality. I mean, John is watching what’s going on in the heavenly temple. He’s watching the liturgy of the heavenly temple, and even those events on earth are, have, you know, an impact on the heavenly temple. I mean, I think it’s, you know, there really are some very, it’s not a work that’s concerned only, I mean, for all its interest in the end, that’s not all its concerned with.

Jared: Well, I think that’s really important, and maybe you can correct me if I’m wrong, but I also think of, I remember reading Bruggemann’s commentary on Jeremiah, and that really stood out that, you know, within prophesy we often think of that as telling a future kind of time distant reality, but often it’s a, in their mind, kind of a spatial, spatially distant reality. It’s what’s happening right now, but it’s happening in the heavenly realm and is that kind of, one thing that ties prophesy and apocalyptic together is they’re both trying to wrestle with the spiritual reality of what’s happening physically right now.

Martha: Yes, I think that’s right, and I think you might say that, you know, apocalyptic literature kind of makes that more kind of material –

Pete: Mmm.

Martha: You think of Daniel 10 when Gabriel appears to Daniel and tells him, well, I was busy trying to fight off the Prince of Persia, the Prince of Greece, and, but I had to come talk to you, so I sent Michael to, Michael agreed to take over for me so I could come and talk to you. So, clearly, conflicts between nations on earth is understood as the earthly counterpart of conflict that’s taking place in the heavens, and each nation has its prince, its angelic embodiment –

Jared: Representative?

Martha: Representative, that’s right. So, I think the, you know, the difference between the way modern people look at the world and the way the apocalypses look at the world is the apocalypses think the really important action is taking place in heaven. You know, the armies on earth are only going to be as successful as the angels slugging it out in heaven, whereas, to go back to prophesy, I don’t think most prophets would put it in quite such concrete terms.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Martha: There’s, rightly said, there’s a kind of a spiritual reality and a physical reality on earth in some of the apocalypses, that spiritual reality has become very concrete.

Jared: Hmm.

Pete: Yeah.

Jared: Which is maybe something you would expect kind of at the end of the age, where these worlds begin to meld?

Martha: Yes, maybe. You know, I mean, I think, you know, this maybe raises the question of the role of angels. You know, angels certainly are present in the Hebrew Bible, and they do, I was talking a moment ago about the passage in Isaiah, they certainly play a role in prophesy, but I think they play even larger role in apocalyptic literature and you know, I mean, the old thing to say was, you know, the 19th, early 20th century thing was to say it’s because, you know, for ancient Jews, God had come to seem so distant and there was a sort of covert, not so covert view that, and that’s why we needed Christianity to fix this problem.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Martha: I, you know, I actually think you could argue the other way about all these angels. All these angels are a way of saying, you know, the divine world is very accessible. There are a lot of angels around and you can have contact with them, and in fact, the boundary is not for ordinary people so much, but for great figures, you know, heroes like Daniel and Enoch, they get to have conversations with angels. Enoch gets to go through the heavenly temple and stand before God where even the angels are scared to go. So, there’s something also very uplifting for human beings to feel that they’re able to have these, you know, these conversations with angels that the angel tells John in chapter 19, don’t call me Lord, I am your fellow servant. You know, so, human beings really can achieve the same, you know, status as angels.

24:57

So, I think you could actually flip it and say, you know, the multiplication of angels should be read as a kind of a sign of the nearness of the divine.

[Music begins]

[Producer’s group endorsement]

[Music ends]

Pete: So, okay, so we have in the New Testament, we have an apocalyptic book, so called, the book of Revelation, which is apocalyptic. But I guess what’s striking me is there are apocalyptic elements, maybe, not to overstate, maybe throughout the New Testament and maybe can we talk about that a little bit? Because there are things that might be, might make more sense to readers of the New Testament if they’re aware of the apocalyptic background to some of these things. So, do you, I mean, do you have anything that you want to comment on, anything come to mind immediately about that?

Martha: Well, I mean, I think the whole, you know, the whole, from, what one could easily use the word apocalyptic to understand the whole, you know, scenario of the Christian narrative, that is, you know, that’s a story about God and Jesus taking actions that are ultimately going to lead to a new age. I mean, that’s, that’s certainly apocalyptic in some sense. And, you know, this just goes to the different, you know, the scholarly interest in defining the genre of apocalyptic, you know, the book of Revelation looks from a literary point of view, very different from the Gospels, but the content of the Gospels certainly could be described as apocalyptic from, you know, from many points of view.

Pete: Yeah, and that’s a different model, I think, for people who are reading the New Testament, for many people, to think about how pervasive this idea of apocalyptic is. I mean, isn’t one of the ways of describing Jesus was to call him an apocalyptic prophet or something, an apocalyptic preacher? Or, that seems to be sort of central to what he was all about. Not, I guess, again, I don’t want to drive too sharp a wedge that’s not necessary between apocalyptic and prophesy, but if Jesus was sort of a prophet, he’s an apocalyptic kind of prophet.

Martha: Yes, absolutely. You think of John the Baptist, I mean, that’s, you know, certainly that kind of preaching, that repent because the kingdom of God is coming really soon, and you’re repenting not to make it not come and to have God change his mind, you’re repenting so that when he comes, you will be, you know, judged as one of the righteous.

Pete: Yeah.

Martha: Yes, I think –

Pete: And not to state the obvious, but let’s do it anyway. This is a really good, maybe, example for why understanding Jesus in the New Testament is more than just sort of poking our noses in portions of the Hebrew Bible. There’s also this development of the idea of an apocalypse, or apocalyptic genre that seems to be so foundational to a story that, you know, people read in church on every Sunday, and we just sort of read these words, but when you look at them historically there’s a background to some of this stuff that Jesus says, and I guess Paul too. I mean, where do you see an apocalyptic element in Paul or is that just all over the place too? Like in the Gospels.

Martha: Yeah, no, I think it’s all over the place.

Pete: Yeah.

29:32

Martha: I mean, I’m always, I mean, it seems to me, you know, my reading of Paul, you know, it seems to me that he’s really expecting the world to end any day now, very, very soon. He also, I mean, I think, you know, one of the things that I think is interesting and maybe this is more surprising to people coming at this material from the direction of ancient Judaism than for people raised in the Christian tradition, but, you know, I think there’s sometimes a feeling that, you know, the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels, the more human Jesus is more in keeping with Jewish expectations, but I actually think that’s not true at all. If you look at Daniel, is there a Messiah in Daniel? Not so clear that there’s a human Messiah. I mean, there’s, you know, Michael seems to be some kind of, that son of man figure, whoever that is.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Martha: So, I, you know, I think that’s, you know, Paul’s, if you can use this, Paul and his very high Christology and his view of a really exalted Christ, and Revelation as well. I mean, I, you know, it’s become, if I can, I don’t know if this is of interest to you, but you know, it was very popular when I was in graduate school to talk about Paul as, you know, one of the most important writers we have from Jewish writers of the 1st century. You know, how many Jewish writers that we know by name do we have from the 1st century? Very few, and Paul is one of them. I think that’s absolutely right, and Paul should inform what we think about 1st century Judaism, but I think that’s even more true of the book of Revelation. I mean, as I read the book of Revelation, John is someone who parts company with Paul. He thinks purity laws actually are important. I mean, I take it to be, you know, not just coming out of Jewish tradition, but to be, you know, not to be convinced that you should really get rid of all that stuff the way Paul seems to be. So, I think Revelation is very important for, to flip your question, I mean, yes, obviously to understand earliest Christianity, you need to understand ancient Jewish apocalyptic expectations. But I would flip it and say that, you know, early Christianity gives us some very good evidence for what ancient Jews thought.

Pete: Yeah, and I guess, that’s a really interesting observation about the difference between the book of Revelation and Paul and the question of purity and I’m sure other things as well, as a reminder that there are different kinds of Judaism in the 1st century that are shaping themselves around this Jesus person, this leader, their Messiah, but they still, they’re still picking up maybe on different strands of Jewish traditions which was diverse, and I guess, so, it shouldn’t surprise readers of the New Testament to see that kind of theological diversity embedded into the pages because they were not always looking at things the same way.

Martha: No, that seems exactly right, and of course, there are all kinds of other, you know, factors, influences, cultural, culture that has an impact on the New Testament, but I think that’s exactly right that even the Jewish materials are very varied.

Pete: Yeah. Can we, another thought is coming to my mind here, and that is the, I guess the role of the afterlife in all of this? Is it, first of all, is it accurate to say that a part of apocalyptic thinking involves afterlife thinking as well?

Martha: That’s a really, that’s a great question. On the book, I mean, if you try to ask the question where does a belief in reward and punishment after death emerge in ancient Judaism, you know, if you read, it seems to me if you read most of pre-Second Temple Hebrew Bible with an open mind, you know, it’s certainly not that they think people cease to exist at death, but it doesn’t sound like there’s reward and punishment. There’s Sheol, and it doesn’t sound like it’s a great place to be, and I guess if you’re lucky you get gathered to your ancestors and then maybe that’s a more pleasant form of Sheol. So, when does that idea emerge and I think it’s, you know, hard to say exactly when, but in the Book of the Watchers, so probably at the end of the 3rd, beginning of the 2nd century when Enoch is taking his tour to the ends of the earth, one of the things he sees are some hollows in which souls are stored waiting for the last judgment. So, there’s the souls are kind of on hold until the last judgment. But there’s one hollow has a fountain and light, and that’s presumably for the good souls.

Pete: Hmm.

34:37

Martha: So, that’s kind of a way of integrating these things. This is certainly something that later Jewish tradition struggles with, how to relate the world to come as they call it, life after death, to the days of the Messiah. So, the Book of the Watchers has a kind of solution. Daniel, a little later, has a very kind of limited sense of resurrection there. I mean, many of those who sleep in the dust will awake. Some to everlasting life and some to eternal reproach. So, some of, some people are going to get resurrected and some of those, and you might think only good people would, but it sounds like some good people will and some bad people will.

Pete: Uh huh.

Martha: And that’s really curious, and I guess one way of making sense of it is to say that, you know, the Maccabean revolt means martyrdom, it means people dying precisely for their loyalty to the Torah. So, that creates a situation in which you need to imagine that there’s some kind of reward for them. It’s not, I’m sure it was obvious to people from earliest days that, you know, bad things happen to good people and good people doesn’t always have good lives, but, you know, the experience of the Maccabean persecution made that particularly evident. So, it may be that the idea is if you’re a good person and you live to a ripe old age and have a good life, you don’t need to get resurrected and if you’re a bad person and you came to a bad end you don’t need to get resurrected, but the people who didn’t get their just desserts, I’m really not sure what to make of that and it’s kind of surprising to me that it’s not more developed there. But, you know, within the next century or so, the idea really takes off and you can certainly see that in the New Testament where I think, you know, I mean, it’s an idea that ancient Jews, I think, probably contributed to ancient Christians and shared with them.

Pete: So, again, I’m trying not to oversimplify, but what I’m hearing you say is that this whole idea of reward and punishment in the afterlife, it’s hard to pin like, a particular cause that might develop that, but persecution seems to be, you’re saying it seems to have a role in that. God has to have something better than this.

Martha: Yes. That may be.

Pete: Okay.

Martha: Another thing people have played with is, you know, when the Jews met the Greeks and at least some strands of Greek tradition, the platonic tradition and other strands think that the soul is immortal, that maybe that gave some kind of impetus. I mean, I don’t think it’s a borrowed idea, but there might be things that encourage the growth of the idea. And again, it’s not that I think that the earliest literature thinks that, you know, has a kind of naturalistic, you know, death is the end view, but I don’t think it’s, you know, it’s not reward and punishment. That is a later development and it may have to do with persecution, but I’m, it’s not, it’s, you know, you would like Daniel to be much more explicit about that if we’re going to that route.

Jared: So, I want to maybe go back a little bit big picture and can you say again, maybe more about the function of apocalyptic? So, I would assume as a piece of literature, something that’s being passed around and read and passed down, there’s some value here to a community that’s beyond the imagery and, you know, painting a historical picture of the end of the world or end of the age. So, what’s the real function for why this would’ve flourished at this particular time?

Martha: Yeah, well, I think it continues to flourish. So, you know, I, I mean, I’ve done a lot of work on a Jewish, I don’t want to call it an apocalypse because I don’t think it knows there is such a thing as apocalypse, but an apocalyptic text written in Hebrew in the early 7th century of this era, that’s all excited because the Persians have reconquered Jerusalem and it’s no longer in Christian hands, and they think that means, you know, the Messiah is coming or the two Messiahs are coming any day now and they prophesy all this in, you know, in the 620’s and they have no idea that, you know, pretty soon Jerusalem isn’t going to be in Persian or Christian hands, but in Muslim hands. So, it’s an ongoing thing is I think true among Christians as well that this literature doesn’t go away. So, I think, I mean, which all the more says it fills some kind of need.

Jared: Right.


Martha: And I think the need, look, the predicative part, if you’re a good enough interpreter you can make anything work, you know, in an ongoing way. I mean, the predictions, the times can all have passed, you know, there’s a great apocalypse called 4 Ezra from shortly after the destruction of the Second Temple, and he has a vision of the four beasts from the sea that picks up on Daniel’s vision, but the last beast is an eagle. And God says to Ezra, you know, I didn’t tell your brother Daniel about this, but the fourth beast is this eagle is actually the Romans.

39:48

So, I mean, it’s not quite, I didn’t quite give him the full story. So, you can do that, you know, indefinitely. So, I think it does fill some other kind of need as well and I, you know, I don’t think there are any communities that read only apocalypses, they read other things too. What do apocalypses add? I think probably they add some kind of confidence that the end is near or even if it isn’t near, that it’s certainly coming. God has promised the end is going to come, and it’s going to be an end that will be good for us. It will be bad for our persecutors, bad for the, you know, the evil empires out there and good for us, and I think also, those glimpses of, you know, the other world must be, you know, very inspiring, you know, to have some sense, you know, even a glimpse of what that heavenly reality looks like. I think that must be very appealing.

Pete: And, you know, not to get political, and I do mean that, but we can understand maybe the appeal of apocalyptic genre throughout history, really, for political situations. Maybe in part because of the context of political realities of the ancient world that might’ve given rise to it in the first place. But, the us versus them, the powers of light versus the powers of darkness kind of thing which, you know, is in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well. That’s language that, that’s around today in America, that hasn’t gone any place and it’s easy to sort of, people forget the Beatitudes really quickly, but we latch onto this either/or black and white dualistic thinking which seems to be, again, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to be part of the property, almost, of apocalyptic thinking. There are, there’s a divide here. Which side are you going to be on?

Martha: Yes, I think that’s right. I think some of this literature and, you know, again, this is, you know, this is interesting kind of tension between, you know, the way Judaism develops and late Christianity develops, some of this literature at least, doesn’t really give up on the people of Israel.

Pete: Mm hmm.

Martha: So, and, you know, in one way, so that’s particularist, and I think in the modern world we like universalism better than particularism, but it’s also kind of collective and it’s much less, you know, light and dark. So, and you can also, you can decide who the people of Israel are. For early Christians, it was obvious that they were the people of Israel. So, I think you’re right, that in the Dead Sea Scrolls at least, the most sectarian texts, they hold onto that language of Israel because that’s their ancestral language. But it really isn’t so meaningful to them anymore, for them, the meaningful distinction is between the righteous who constitute you know, .001 of the world –

Pete: [Laughter]

Right.

Martha: And everybody else, which means all Gentiles and the 99 point whatever of Jews. So, that’s a really kind of radical dualism. I think that language, you know, the more kind of communal language, I mean, I find it more congenial because I think, you know, it allows for, you don’t have to, it doesn’t imagine as radical a difference between in and out.

Jared: Well, and maybe a more charitable, I don’t, you can correct me here because I’m going to maybe go off on something, but a more charitable reading might actually interpret that as hope, you know, in some ways, it’s the us versus them, but in other ways it’s a hope that God will overcome or intervene on our behalf.

Martha: Yes, it’s certainly that. I mean, I think in the Dead Sea Scrolls, you know, at least some of it is a kind of predestinarian view of the world that God has given everybody his place. You know, you were either born to light or born to darkness. So, in a way, you know, sort of you can relax and just go down the road, but of course, I mean I’m sure this is true in the Christian tradition as well, despite committing to a predestinarian view, these theologies always insist that you have to work very hard to make it clear that you actually belong to the children of light and not the children of darkness –

Jared: Uh huh.

Martha: And they struggle with people who look like they were children of light and then they fall away and people who didn’t start out there and want to join. So, it’s always, the reality is always more complicated than that, but I think probably, you know, for me, maybe, that’s the part that I personally find the most troubling theologically.

44:43

I don’t usually worry about the theology, the personal implications of the theology of texts that I study. That’s generally not my interest in them, but I do find that troubling. That doesn’t, it all seems very unfair to me that you could be predestined to something and then blamed for it.

Pete: [Laughter]

Good point. Well, Martha, listen. I think we’ve done the impossible here today. We have exhausted this topic of apocalyptic. There’s nothing else to say.

Jared: [Laughter]

Pete: Wouldn’t you agree?  We’ve actually hit absolutely, no of course, I’m kidding. We’ve barely scratched the surface, but I think to do this fully this might end up being a ten-hour podcast.

Martha: Right.

Pete: Some of our listeners are gonna say please give us a ten-hour podcast on apocalyptic, but –

Jared: Mm hmm.

Pete: But I think we’ll have to do that another time. But are there, for our listeners, are there any like, projects you’re working on at the moment or if they want to, if they want to find out more about you, is there maybe a website at Princeton or someplace where they can find out more about you?

Martha: You can find me on the religion department website at Princeton. I have very little web presence I must confess, for better or for worse. I like to think of it as being a countercultural act on my part, but –

Pete: Now we’re gonna create a Facebook page for you and people are gonna be putting all sorts of stuff there.

Martha: [Laughter]

Pete: No, we wouldn’t do that to you, that’s cruel. Anyway.

Martha: But I’ve half written a book called The Apocalypse: A Brief History, and it was published by Wiley and I must say, I think it was published in 2009, it’s intended for a general audience. I no longer agree with everything I said there, but I mostly agree with it and if someone were looking for something to read, probably that’s, that would be a –

Pete: A good place to start.

Martha: Yeah.

Pete: Okay, all right. Well listen, Martha, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us. We had a great time and it’s just such an important topic, and thanks for helping to clarify that for us.

Martha: Well, thank you. It was really fun.

Jared: Thanks so much, see ya.

[Music begins]

Jared: Thanks for being with us, everyone, for another episode of the podcast.

Pete: And yeah, if you have a change to check out Martha’s book, The Apocalypse: A Brief History, it’s meant to be an introduction to normal people. So, that may be a great place to start to wrap our heads around this really, really important topic.

Jared: All right, see ya next time.

Pete: See ya.

[Outro]

Jared: Hey everyone, just a few things that you may not know about The Bible for Normal People.

One, did you know we have a YouTube channel where we post regular videos, sometimes we answer questions, sometimes we ask questions, sometimes we just look pretty in front of the camera. But we have videos up on all things Bible-y, scholarship-y, so check it out. You can go to https://www.youtube.com/thebiblefornormalpeople.

Also, another way to engage our community and the things that we do, if you’re a normal person who reads the Bible, chances are you have questions, and we often will reply to them. So, you can submit a question that we may answer in a podcast, blog post, video, on our site. We’ll do this whenever we feel like it or when God tells us to, so just head to the thebiblefornormalpeople.com and click the ask button in the top right-hand corner. You can also vote up questions that other people have asked.

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

[Music ends]

[End of recorded material]

Get smarter about the Bible and stuff.

Get insider updates + articles + podcast + more.

More Episodes...
Pete Ruins Exodus Part 4

Pete Ruins Exodus: Part 4

September 2, 2019

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

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

Mentioned in this episode:

Powered by RedCircle

Read the transcript

00:00

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

Jared:  And I’m Jared Byas.

MUSIC

00:11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

09:30

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17:05

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20:57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26:45

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

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

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

27:42 BREAK

29:10

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

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

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

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


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

Just a few highlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

34:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for food and water.

39:45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

45:45

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving toward the end here.

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

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

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

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

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

53:50

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

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

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

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

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

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

55:57  MUSIC

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

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