Pete Enns & The Bible for Normal People

Jack Levison- The Spirit, Wind, & Breath of God in the Bible

In this episode of The Bible for Normal People Podcast, Pete and Jared talk with Jack Levison about the spirit of God throughout the Bible as they explore the following questions:

  • Is the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament?
  • What does rûaḥ mean and why is it difficult to translate?
  • What does it mean to be people of the spirit?
  • Can everyone have the spirit of God or just some?
  • What is the connection between the spirit of creation and the spirit of salvation?
  • Do Jews have the same access to the Holy Spirit as Christians do?
  • What is the significance of Pentecost? 
  • What is unique about the Christian faith if everyone has the spirit of God?
  • How do we recognize the spirit of God?
  • What is the paraclete?
  • What has Jack learned about the spirit as he has gotten older?
  • What are some implications of recognizing the spirit of God in every person?


Pithy, shareable, less-than-280-character statements from Jack Levison you can share. 

  • “If there is a message for the American church in a study of the spirit in the Old Testament, it’s to learn to breathe again.” @spiritchatter
  • “When you read your Bible carefully, it shatters the categories you usually come to it with.” @spiritchatter
  • “The language of filling [of the Holy Spirit] doesn’t necessarily mean taking something empty and pouring something into it… it can also mean taking what’s there and sort of frothing it up.” @spiritchatter
  • “I think discerning the spirit is the great task of today.” @spiritchatter
  • “People who know how to breathe and live into the daily miracle of life are people who are inspired.” @spiritchatter
  • “The rûaḥ is never tidy.” @spiritchatter

Mentioned in This Episode

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Read the transcript



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

Jared: And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty Intro Music]]

Pete: Hey folks, welcome to another episode of The Bible for Normal People, before we get started, an announcement. Our second pay what you want course is coming up March 26th, 8:30 – 9:30PM Eastern Time, and it’s on reading the Bible like adults. So, go to https://peteenns.com/ to register and hope to see you there.

Now, today’s topic is spirit, wind, and breath of God in the Bible, and our guest is Jack Levinson. Jack is, besides being a great guy, he is a professor of Old Testament and he has written a lot about the Holy Spirit before Christianity. In fact, his latest book is called The Holy Spirit Before Christianity, sort of makes sense. And here’s a question that I have heard a lot, I’ve asked, and I get this question too. It’s about the Holy Spirit, and do we find the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as we do in the New, and I think the common sort of reflex answer for Christians is to say, “well, hmm, dang if I know. No? I don’t think so. Not really?” You know, things like that. But Jack’s answer is “uh, yeah. Yes, yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.” Cause you see the terms spirit, wind, and breath are important. Spirit, wind, and breath – they’re actually the same Hebrew word, just translated differently. And it’s fine to translate that word differently in different contexts, but we shouldn’t miss the overlap of meanings between those words. That’s really the point. And with that, that’s sort of what Jack’s gonna talk about. So, let’s go to the interview and let Jack speak for himself.

[Music begins]

Jack: There is a message for the American church; it’s to learn to breathe again. When we are feeling our breath deep within us, when we are allowing that breath to roll over our tongues in words of truth and integrity, we are the people of the spirit. It’s not the dangly, shiny, things that make us people of the spirit, it’s the deep ability to breathe and slow down and let our souls catch up and be people of integrity.

[Music ends]

Jared: Well welcome, Jack, to this episode of The Bible for Normal People.

Jack: Thanks, good to be here.

Pete: Yeah, good to have you. Fantastic!

Jared: Well, you know, we think about, most people associate the Holy Spirit with the New Testament, but you spent a long time studying the spirit of God in the Old Testament as well. So just, as we launch in, what got you interested in that? It’s kind of a peculiar topic. What got you interested in that?

Jack: Well, it’s in a sense the New Testament.

Pete: [Laughter]

Jack: I mean, you can’t study the New Testament without the Old Testament and with the Judaism that made Jesus and the apostle Paul who they were. So basically, trying to understand the New Testament is like beginning a book about three quarters of the way through. Can’t do it. So, I had to go to the Old and I had to go into Judaism, and I’ve loved it ever since.

Pete: Yeah. Well, I’m guessing that one reason why people, why Christians really associate the Holy Spirit more with the New Testament probably, I’m just riffing here, maybe you know better. It’s trinitarian language. You know, we think of the trinity, a Holy Spirit as a separate person, and we don’t have this separate person of the trinity in the Old Testament, I guess. And so maybe they just associate it more but, I guess you’ve uncovered a lot more than just that, right?

Jack: Yeah, I actually had a book just come out in September called The Holy Spirit Before Christianity. And I actually argue in that book that five hundred years before Christianity, the Israelites saw the Holy Spirit as a person.

Pete: Oh!

Jack: So, we’ve got a blow out of the water the sense that all of a sudden, the power of the Old Testament became a person in the New Testament. Historically, it’s not true. Didn’t happen that way.

Jared: Well, maybe before we get into the idea of personhood and these concepts with the spirit, maybe we can talk a little bit about language, because, you know, we think of spirit and we use that in English, but in the Hebrew Bible there’s a different word that’s used, or maybe a few different words, and then in the New Testament, can you just give us a little lay of the land so we can feel grounded in what we’re talking about here?


Jack: I would be happy to. So, there’s one word in the Hebrew Bible called ruah, it’s sort of clearing your throat, ruah, and it gets translated into English as wind, or as breath, or as Spirit with a capital “S”, or as spirit with a “s”, but it’s one Hebrew word. That Hebrew word, and this is the killer, that Hebrew word occurs three hundred and seventy-eight times in the Hebrew Bible. That’s more than the word Sabbath, that’s more than the word shalom, that’s more than the word covenant, so a lot more than any of those words you have this Hebrew word ruah, but it gets sort of sliced and diced in English translations and just, they have to decide, does this mean breath, or spirit, or wind, or Spirit with a capital “S”.? And what I’ve tried to suggest in a lot of my writing is that you can’t slice it and dice it that way. That they belong together, so three hundred and seventy-eight times ruah occurs in the Old Testament. And then in the New Testament of course, the word is pneuma as in pneumatic drill or a person has pneumonia. That that occurs about three hundred and seventy-nine times, so the testaments are almost equally split between ruah in the Old and pneuma in the New. And yet, they have to be translated all sorts of different ways in English.

Jared: So, maybe say a little more, because that’s interesting the, what I heard you say was the word ruah is maybe, for us, we would say, well sometimes it means wind and breath, and sometimes it means spirit, but you’re saying maybe those lines aren’t as nice and neat and what do you mean by that? They’re saying that somehow the wind and the breath is a spirit of some sort, or how do you talk about that?  

Jack: Yeah, it’s a great question and I could go on forever with it and I’ll try not to. But basically, very often you’ll see the word ruah, and people will say, oh, that’s the spirit because someone is prophesying, or that’s the spirit because they’re doing a miracle. But when ruah is wind, that’s not the spirit. But then you get a problem. So like, in Numbers 11, you have all these elders who are prophesying when the spirit from Moses is put on them. That’s the ruah, and yet, it’s never clear whether it’s the spirit from Moses or the spirit from God. So, it’s kind of ambiguous. Later in the chapter, the ruah from the Lord comes and deposits a bunch of quail. That ruah is clearly a wind, but it’s described as a ruah from the Lord and it delivers the quail. Which one is divine, and which one is merely natural? It’s actually flipped in the book of Numbers so that the spirit as wind is actually God’s spirit. Same thing at the Exodus, right?  

Pete: Yeah. 

Jack: When the blast of God’s nostrils, and it’s translated in English as “blast”, that’s the word ruahThe blast of God’s nostrils breathes, and the sea opens up. So, there is a case where ruah is spirit, wind, and breath all at once at the Exodus.  

Pete: Yeah, so, alright. Let’s push a little bit further. You really can’t separate these terms. You do have distinctives, I mean, sometimes you just have the spirit of people or something? Is that, I mean, cause that word is used a lot, but it’s not always used in ways that implicate God.  

Jack: Well, yeah. Not all are used in ways that implicate God, but it’s a little difficult to say the spirit in me is not God. 

Pete: Right.  

Jack: You know, that the breath in me, and here’s, I think one of the most important things is the book of Job. In the book of Job, he talks about the ruah, and he talks about the neshama. So, the breath in me, the spirit in me, is what gives me life. And as long as those are in me, I’m gonna have integrity and I’m gonna speak the truth. Is that the spirit of God from heaven, is that the human spirit, is that just breath, or is that something divine? And of course, it’s something divine and something deeply human. What I love about this notion of ruah is that it cuts across all the lovely dichotomies we use to make life tidy. The ruah is never tidy. It’s probably why I spent so much time on it.  

Pete: Yeah. And that’s why it takes time to sort of tease these meanings out, because –  

Jack: Processing. 

Pete: Yeah, I definitely connect with our tendency, maybe our modern western tendency influenced by the enlightenment and blah, blah, blah, etcetera, etcetera.  

Jack: [Laughter] 


Pete: To categorize things and put things where they belong so to speak, but the ambiguity of ruah, the way you just described it in Job is very interesting. It, to put it in other language, I may say something like, the presence of God in all of us.  

Jack: Mm hmm, yeah.  

Pete: Which is a good thing to remember, and to see that in the Old Testament, not just, you know, after Pentecost or something, you know, maybe there’s something about this God that was always acting in ways we’re familiar with in the New, also acting that way in the old.  

Jack: The best theologians talk about making a connection between the spirit of creation and the spirit of salvation and not drawing a dichotomy or putting a wedge between them. And I tell ya, I tell you guys, if there is a message for the American church in a study of the spirit in the Old Testament, it’s to learn to breathe again. It is the ability to breathe. When we are feeling our breath deep within us, when we are allowing that breath to roll over our tongues in words of truth and integrity, we are the people of the spirit. 

Pete: Mmm.  

Jack: It’s not the dangly, shiny things that make us people of the spirit. It’s the deep ability to breathe and slow down and let our souls catch up and be people of integrity.  

Jared: I want to go further with that, because you talk about the sparkly, dangly things. Like, I would have grown up in a tradition where the spirit of God was associated with the exceptional and the particular sort of miraculous things and speaking in tongues, and what I hear you saying, what Pete said is the spirit of God is the presence of God in each of us. That’s a very democratizing universal experience, and so in the same way I would’ve grown up thinking, you know, the spirit of God comes upon you when you become a Christian. And it sounds like with this Old Testament blurring of breath and spirit it’s harder to make the case that way. Is that the implications of what we’re saying?  

Jack: Yeah, you said it really well, in fact. It made me feel like I explained myself okay, yes! You said it exactly as it should be said. 

Jared: Could I just clarify then, so you’re saying that the Holy Spirit then is in everyone in this sense.  

Jack: Yes. And no, I don’t think you need the caveat “in this sense.” So, if you read the book of Genesis, you have Joseph. If you read the book of Exodus, you have Bezalel, Oholiab, and the artisans both male and female who have ruah in them and then you move into Numbers and the ruah brings the quail. I mean, throughout the Old Testament, all the way into the book of Daniel where I think the word occurs twelve times. This is a person with exceptional ruah in him. This is not the spirit of salvation versus the spirit of creation. They are one and the same. Let’s throw away the dichotomies. Let’s throw away should it be a capital “S” or a small “s”. Is it God’s spirit or the human spirit? Let’s stop doing that. I think the way you said it was beautiful, Jared. So, it’s all one and the same. And we need to stop saying, oh, they’re a Christian, they have the spirit; they’re not a Christian, they must not have the spirit when we have an entire testament telling us – not true.  

Pete: But I think, I mean, I completely resonate with what you’re saying. I’m just trying to imagine what people would say in response.  

Jack: Well I know what they say in response.  

Pete: Yeah, I’m sure you do. Well, actually, I’d like, maybe, in a minute you can sort of offer some of those to help people who, you know, maybe we’re not gonna get to all those objections and what Jared and I are thinking, but people do say, you know, I’ve got the Holy Spirit and therefore I can interpret the Bible right or whatever. But there is language like that, isn’t that, in the New Testament, at least it seems like it. People receiving the Holy Spirit in a special kind of way.  

Jack: Absolutely. I think there is receiving, I think there is receiving the Holy Spirit to do particular things in the community in the world. I think there is that, but the language of filling doesn’t necessarily mean taking something empty and pouring something into it. The language of filling can also mean taking what’s there and sort of frothing it up, so I think of Pentecost. Perhaps they receive the spirit. I mean, it sounds like that. Jesus seems to suggest that they receive power from on high, but I don’t think that means what they did as human beings prior to that time is completely excluded. I think there is the movement of spirit or even receiving further spirit that combines in such a way that it combusts into something really powerful.  

Pete: Yeah.  


Jack: So, let me give you the example at Pentecost. They, they’re filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the promise of the father and what do they say? They speak the praiseworthy acts of God, which, you know, as you two know, needs nothing more than the mighty acts of God from creation all the way up to Jesus. They didn’t learn anything new with the gift of the spirit. The gift of the spirit enabled them to communicate what they had studied.  

Pete: Mm hmm.  

Jack: So, it’s not like they, what they said was given to them. What they said they had studied to learn and then the spirit communicated it to a multi-cultural group of people. Does that make sense?  

Pete: Yeah, it does. Maybe it’s a little bit, if I’m tracking you correctly, it’s a little bit analogous to saying it’s not like God’s presence isn’t with anyone until Jesus, even though that’s maybe a different kind of “filling,” a different kind of presentation. Maybe a clearer, or bigger, or more meaty kind of presentation of God’s presence. Does that make sense?  

Jack: Yeah, it does.  

Pete: But not really, does it?  


Jack: Well, no it does. No, I agree with you and I’m not –  

Pete: It isn’t like God’s not around and cares or loves people until Jesus, right? And we say that about the Holy Spirit. Like, the Holy Spirit is really not, maybe a couple of prophets, but that’s about it. You know, and we have to wait for Pentecost, now everybody gets to have the spirit.  

Jack: Yeah, it’s really, it’s amazing watching Christians either not read the Old Testament at all when it comes to the Spirit or read the Old Testament and place some of these categories that can’t possibly fit. So, one of them is, oh, the spirit came intermittently in the Old Testament, but it’s permanent in the New. Of course, then, you read the Old Testament, and most texts don’t suggest it’s intermittent at all. The Messiah of Isaiah 11, the architects of the tabernacle, Daniel – three generations he had ruah in him. So, no. It’s not intermittent in the Old Testament. The other kind of formula they use is it’s a power in the Old Testament, but a person in the New.  

Pete: Mmm.  

Jack: No, it’s a person in the Old Testament as well. So, I think Christians, I think what we often do is we don’t read the Old Testament to begin with. But if we read it, we read it with categories that have determined the story from the start. And I’m not sure that’s super helpful. 

Pete: No.  

Jared: Yeah, I agree. I agree. One other thing, just because this is my only other text that may need some explanation in my mind, is in John where Jesus says sort of, no, no, listen – you want me to go away because when I go, someone else is coming who will guide you into all truth. And is that a similar kind of thing? I’m just trying to figure out how to put that into this narrative here.  

Jack: Well that’s a really good question and John is the hardest one to put into this narrative. Not so much from those passages as in chapter seven where he says, “as of yet, there was no spirit.” The spirit was not yet given. And so, you say, well, the spirit was not yet given, that kind of blows my whole thesis, doesn’t it? Except for the fact that if you go back a few chapters to Nicodemus in chapter three and the Samaritan woman in chapter four, he’s telling them they can have the spirit. So, if chapter seven says the spirit was not yet given, it’s a little hard to understand the conversations Jesus is having that basically says the spirit can be yours, it could bubble up, it could spring up. Here’s what this wonderful Pentecostal theologian called Frank Macchia –  

Pete: Mm hmm.  

Jack: Teaches out at Vanguard University. Frank did, he did a response to one of my books, and in it, he said, we bask in the revivalist glow of the spirit, but that doesn’t mean we have to suggest that everything was dark before we received the spirit, that everything outside of our reception is dark. And I think sometimes as Christians, we feel that we need to make everything else so dark, so that our reception of the spirit is sort of the defining moment.  

Pete: Yeah, special. Yeah, better.  

Jack: By making everything else dark, we make ours lighter. It’s sort of the bully mentality, right? If we could push everybody else down into the dirt, then we’re fine.  

Pete: Yeah, that’s the history of theology.  

Jack: [Laughter]  

I’m not a theologian.  

Pete: Sorry, that’s the cynicism coming through, okay, anyway.  

Jared: But I think that’s, I, maybe speaking to that, because I do think that’s fair. I would almost say it, cause I tend to maybe psychologize this more. I think it’s, there’s a fear of Christianity not being unique, and so, if you create these common threads of, hey, the spirits presence is all over the Old Testament as well, it leaves the question of okay, then what’s unique about the Christian story?  


Jack: That’s exactly the kind of question I receive. Well, it’s usually put in terms of can Jews have the Holy Spirit? And of course, it’s a one answer question for me – yes. And it does separate me from many people. Now, I’ve been on evangelical radio shows where the people have been very gracious and kept asking the question to see, and they really wanted to know. But, I think, and you all know this, when you read your Bible carefully, it shatters the categories you usually come to it with.  

Pete: Mm hmm.  

Jared: Mm hmm.  

Jack: And so, what I’ve done is basically read my Bible about a topic that’s largely neglected – the Holy Spirit – and it shattered my categories. I thought, oh my gosh, the spirit is in everyone. The spirit is in every, the spirit is there in the seventeenth Hebrew word of Genesis 1, you know, hovering over the chaos. And the spirit is very much there doing an awful lot of things and inspiring an awful lot of people before Jesus ever came onto the scene. Which I, as a Methodist, is great for me, cause I believe in prevenient grace, I believe that God goes before us. And there’s a wonderful missiologist, Lesslie Newbigin, who basically said our job in mission is to see where the spirit is already at work and get ourselves there. 

Pete: Hmm.  

Jack: I love that image of living in the spirit, it’s not what I have, it’s the spirit’s working outside of me and it’s my job to discern and look and be alert and get myself there.  

[Music begins] 

[Producers group endorsement] 

[Music ends] 


Jared: So, that kind of does lead me into what I was, my next question, which was, Pete mentioned earlier, you know, some people think, well, I have the spirit of God, so when I read the Bible, I can trust my interpretation because the spirit is there. And you mentioned, you know, Newbigin’s “see where the spirit of God is.” How do we discern that, you know? I think of, you were just mentioning John, where Jesus kind of says the spirit kind of goes where it wishes, it blows where it wants. And so, it’s this weird, there’s this wildness to it, but there’s also, if it’s too wild, how do we discern then? Have you come across as, now we’re kind of moving from the academic study of this to some practical things, but have you found ways to talk about that?  

Jack: I have. I’m not sure they’re adequate. I think discerning the spirit is the great task of today. So, I think, there’s a scholar called Michael Welker, who wrote a book called God the Spirit, and he, believe it or not, was looking at 1 Kings 22 in the story of Micaiah ben Imlah, a prophet – 

Pete: Oh my, yeah.  

Jack: And he gave criteria for discerning the spirit, and one of them is the consensus is not truth. So, that if everybody is agreeing on something, that does not make it true. But often, something is true because it goes against the consensus. And this is from the story in 1 Kings 22 of Micaiah ben Imlah. Something else that I think is a discernment is, does it cost you anything to believe what you believe, or is it something that sort of establishes you in the status quo? I’d be suspicious of anything that makes us comfortable in the status quo. So, consensus is not truth, the status quo is not the spirit. And I, and Jared, you said this earlier, I do not think the spirit should be associated with the spectacular and the exceptional. I think that is really a problem of interpretation. I mean, the only reason we know about speaking in tongues, essentially, is that the Corinthians got it wrong. They made a mock of it.  

Pete: Mmm.  

Jack: Otherwise, Paul would never have touched it. We only know about it because they made it more spectacular than it should’ve been – the experience. So, I also think a principle of discernment should be spectacular is not the spirit. Consensus is not the spirit. The status quo is not the spirit, and the spectacular is not the spirit.  

Pete: Yeah.  

Jack: I think the spirit is found in far quieter corners of our world.  

Pete: Well also, I mean, I agree with what you’re saying and not to play games with words, but in a way the breath of life is rather spectacular when we stop to think about it, but we know what we mean. The non-ordinary, so to speak, and, you know, the spirits presence. I mean, the older I get, the more I see the wisdom in what you’re saying, Jack, with the quiet places and when you’re left alone to think through things in the presence of God in your midst is, that’s good enough. That’s actually pretty good. It’s, you don’t need the firecrackers and things like that.  

Jack: And, you know, frankly, in today’s political world, I worry about people who have the firecrackers and then don’t see the injustice around us.  

Pete: Hmm.  

Jack: You know, I’ve probably become more critical of Pentecostals than I would have been, maybe, four years ago because I think some of the discernment, much of the discernment has to do with, again, our world, not my experience.  

Pete: Yeah.  

Jack: And you know, another thing you said, as you get older, you know, I’m sixty-three now, and I’ve had a couple ablations from my heart, and that sort of, plenty of physical things, and one of the great miracles of life is that my heart sometimes beats steady –  

Pete: Yeah.  

Jack: And that I can feel my breath coming into my body, and sometimes, I say things that actually matter to people. Those are real miracles and to suggest that something has to be exceptional to be miraculous sounds sometimes a little young to me.  

Pete: Yeah, right. Well can I, you mentioned John, and I’m really intrigued by what you said about the spirit being given earlier on in John, at least the promise of that spirit being given earlier on. But Jesus calls the spirit the comforter, so what do you think of that?  

Jack: Aw, I feel terrible breaking down all these notions, but obviously the comforter is –  

Pete: Somebody has to do it.  


Jack: Well, yeah, but it’s not really kind of my nature. I guess maybe it’s more my nature than I want to admit. The Greek word, as you well know even as you ask the question, is parakletosparaclete, which means something called alongside. And it could mean everything from a comforter, to an advocate in a courtroom, to an angelic messenger who like the angel that interprets things for Daniel would be parakletos, the people at Job, when standing with Job are bad parakletores. So, the word can mean comfort, but I tend to think that’s probably not the best translation in the Gospel of John where the spirit comes and stands alongside a beleaguered community that is in desperate need of help as it’s being increasingly pushed onto the margins. So, I don’t think comfort is the word, the spirit of truth leads them into all the truth, which I think means leads them into the truth of what Jesus said and did, so it sort of leads them back to the past. So, it comes alongside them. Pete, you’re a teacher! What’s our best moment? Our best moment is when we come alongside a student and help them to understand what they’re struggling with, and at the end they look at you and they say, oh! That’s what I think the Holy Spirit is in the Gospel of John, standing alongside the community, helping them to understand what they haven’t yet understood about Jesus.  

Pete: Well if you were, if you were translating that for a Bible translation, would you use a different word or a cluster of words rather than comforter?  

Jack: I wouldn’t use advocate. I tend to cheat and take the cowardly way and use paraclete. I just transliterate it because I don’t –  

Pete: [Laughter] 

When in doubt… 

Jack: Yeah, when in doubt, transliterate, right? Baptism, paraclete. But I don’t think, you know, there’s not a lot in the Greek Old Testament to help us with that. So, I think allowing the paraclete’s activities in probably a better way to understand the paraclete than to try and find a translation. Advocate, advocate is okay, but it’s so impersonal.  

Pete: Yeah.  

Jack: Comforter is far too passive for what’s going on in John’s gospel with the conflict between light and dark.  

Pete: Right.  

Jack: So, I’ll cheat. I’ll take the coward’s way out – paraclete – there ya go.  

Pete: Sounds like that’s an article –  

Jack: Do you have a better, you’ve been asking the question. Do you have a better idea?  

Pete: No! I don’t. I mean, I was thinking of bystander, but that doesn’t sound good either. Somebody who stands by you.  

Jack: No, that would be spectator.  

Pete: That would be Pete’s really bad translation of the New Testament.  

Jack: Well, I’ve got no translation at all.  

Pete: Yeah, well. That’s cause you’re smart enough to know you can’t have one.  

Jack: No, I think it’s because I’ve got no translation at all.  

Pete: Okay, because, I mean, that’s a passage people know something about. They’ve heard it, it’s rather common. The other one Jared mentioned before, alluding to the story of Nicodemus where, you know, they’re going back on this little pharisaical back and forth where Jesus says you have to be born from above and Nicodemus says, well how does that happen? Do I climb back in? I mean, I don’t understand. He’s just, you know, egging him onto a conversation or a debate, but then Jesus has that line that really comes out of nowhere in a sense, at least, you know, from a casual reading of it where, you know, the spirit blows where it wills. And like, what, I mean, what sense do you have of what Jesus is trying to communicate in that story to this figure Nicodemus by saying that?  

Jack: Well I think, first of all, it’s a wonderful play on ruah, that the spirit is wind, breath, and spirit all at once, so the ruah blows where it wills like in the Old Testament, back to the Old Testament where the ruah blew from the east and brought quail or where the ruah moved among the people. So, I think it gives freedom to the spirit. I think helpful there is later on in the chapter where it says the spirit, the pneuma in this case, the spirit is given without measure. And I think what’s happening in John 3 and 4, and you gotta take these as pairs, as you know. You got Nicodemus and then the Samaritan woman. He comes, it he says he comes at night, but I think it means he comes at dawn, like someone seeking a rabbi, but that’s another story. So, he comes in the late watches of the night and she comes at mid-day, but both of them, notice, are offered the spirit without measure. Nicodemus is offered the spirit wind that can blow as it will, and she’s offered the spirit springing up from the earth. So, what I love about John 3 and 4 is the immeasurable gift of the spirit blowing where it wills, bubbling up from the ground. And I think that’s a lot of what’s going on there.  

Jared: Well, could we, just cause I want to make sure I’m understanding and just for our listeners too. This interplay, so you’ve been going back to the Old Testament where it seems to be, there’s not a clear line between wind, breath, and spirit. What is the, what would you say is the relationship? Is that a purposeful ambiguity that we, there isn’t a distinction and that the people of the Old Testament wouldn’t have made a distinction between those three things?  


Jack: Yeah, you really, you hit it again right on the nose. I think there’s deliberate ambiguity. I think there’s a play on the ambiguity and so they don’t want to divide between God’s breath and our spirit. It’s sort of the English language that’s weaker than Hebrew, and so we have to divide. We have to say, oh my gosh, is this spirit, breath, wind, or Spirit with a capital “S”? And they use ruah and I think they play, they play on the ambiguity in Genesis 1, the ruah hovering. Is that God’s breath? Is that the wind? Is that the spirit? And so, you’ll have the NIV translating Genesis 1 as Spirit with a capital “S”, and the liberal NRSV translating it as the wind of God. Is it a wind? Is it a spirit? Yes. It is.  

Pete: [Chuckles] 

Jack: And I think, I think, Jared, you hit the nail on the head. Deliberate ambiguity, and it’s why every time I try to leave writing on the spirit, I keep being drawn back in because I love the ambiguity because the older I get, the more ambiguous life seems to become.  

Jared: Hmm.  

Pete: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting the way you just put that, at least the way I’m putting these pieces together. The ambiguity, I mean, it may be more for us an ambiguity than it is for them. This is just where my thinking is right now, because they, the ancients didn’t have these categories that we have. So, they have, you know, I mean, I’m just, again, I may just be totally making this up, tell me I’m crazy. But, you know, wind and breath and spirit, I mean, the wind that comes out of me when I breathe –  

Jack: Uh huh.  

Pete: And the wind that’s around me, well, how is that coming about? This is maybe a divine breath, a divine wind, and it’s the spirit of God which is a spirit in us. And, you know, it’s maybe like one of those Venn diagrams. You know, you’ve got this, a lot of overlap between these terms and the need to distinguish them is our need, it’s not their need. They just didn’t think that way. They thought in a more, like, even evolutionary biologists who were Christians who were thinking about the interrelatedness, interconnectedness of all of life; maybe they were already there. They were thinking along those lines holistically about creation, and not segmenting and diving into parts.  

Jack: I agree. The people I respect, the people I love, the woman I live with now… I mean, my wife of thirty-seven years.  


Pete: Your wife? I was gonna ask.  


Jack: It happens to be woman I live with now. I mean, I pray with her, I live with her. I work. She has an office at SMU just like, right down the hall from me and I wouldn’t begin to say, oh, wow, that was the Holy Spirit. Oh, no, that was your human spirit at work. Oh, you were just breathing then.  

Pete: [Laughter] 

Jack: I would never think to take the people whom I love and respect the most and try to divvy up whether it’s, is it breath in her, is it wind around her, is it her small spirit or the big spirit, that would do her a great disservice. It’s the whole of it. I mean, the older she gets, the more I see a melding between the divine and human in her life.  

Pete: Mmm.  

Jack: The less I can detect any edge between her human inclinations, and we’re Methodists so we talk about sanctification. This is sanctification. I live with a woman who is like that for whom it would be an insult to try to say, oh, you experienced the spirit just then! When she is in the spirit even when she is doing very ordinary quotidian things.  

Jared: Hmm. So yeah, maybe you could speak to this, because I, I mean, you know, my background is more in philosophy and ethics, and I think there’s a lot of ethical implications of what you’re saying. So, maybe, can you just share a few of those for your own life as you’ve studied this in the text, what are some of the practical out-workings? You shared a little bit of how you see your wife in a new way in that, but are there other ethical implications of equality or other things that you’ve noticed?  

Jack: Oh my, yes. But I’m not sure I’m your best example. She’s a much better example. But the first thing I would say is, people who know how to breathe are often people who have virtue. So, I think people living in the ruah moment by moment are people I have learned to respect. Quieter spirits which are inspired spirits. So, number one, I think –  

Pete: Christian or not.  

Jack: Christian or not, yeah.  

Pete: Right, yeah.  


Jack: People who breathe, yeah. Not Christians who breathe. People who know how to breathe and live into the daily miracle of life are people who are inspired, in my opinion. Secondly, people who have a hunger to know Jesus. I know this sounds trite, but all through the New Testament, and I’ve done some pretty serious work on the New Testament. What I see time and again is that the spirit inspires them to go back to Jesus. So, in the book of Acts, they’re moving back to understand Jesus in the light of the Old Testament. The book of John, I think the promise is leading into the truth of Jesus through the Old Testament. So, people who are not hungry to worship necessarily, or hungry to do things, but really still have a hunger to know Jesus, I think is really important. So, people who breathe, people who want to know Jesus, who study Jesus – I think people who are willing to live in community because the spirit transcends another dichotomy; transcends the individual and the communal, so people who are committed to community. And then finally, people who are very committed to justice. To working in the world, to overturn the status quo. We cannot be people of Pentecost unless we take seriously that the slaves will prophesy, that the young women will prophesy, that the old men will dream dreams, that the people on the margins, the people excluded – these are the people of Pentecost. And so, I think maybe those four things, and I can’t even remember what they are because I can’t repeat them. But those are four signs of the spirit, you know, I think: breathing, yearning to learn about Jesus, living in community, and really wanting to upend our world.  

Pete: Well that is a great note to end on, and that’s a very practical set of pointers for us. So, just in closing then, do you have anything in the works at this moment, or are there places where people can reach you? Are you active on social media or are you more, like, in your cave?  

Jack: Oh no, I have a very old website. My dog was on the website and she died two years ago, which tells you how old my website is.  

Pete: Yeah.  

Jack: But I got some projects, I had the book Holy Spirit Before Christianity come out in September, and I have a book coming out with Baker Academic, which I really love, called A Boundless God: The Spirit According to the Old Testament

Pete: Hmm.  

Jack: And then later in the year, I have another Baker Academic book, which I just submitted to them in October, called An Unconventional God: The Holy Spirit According to Jesus, and those are kind of companion books. A Boundless God, and then An Unconventional God. And you can tell from that title that I really, I really think understanding the Holy Spirit through the life of Jesus changes how we understand God.  

Pete: Hmm, yeah.  

Jack: So that’s a whole fresh approach that will be out probably in October, I think. So those projects are on the docket.  

Jared: You’ve done a lot of thinkin’ about this spirit thing.  

Pete: The Holy Spirit must be with you.  

Jack: Uh, I, I, –  

Pete: Or did I just miss the whole point of the lesson?  


Jack: No, I, yeah, the Holy Spirit I think is in conversations like this.  

Jared: Alright, we should probably end this before Pete puts his foot in his mouth again.  

Pete: [Laughter] 

Jack: No!  

Jared: [Laughter] 

Jack: I am so glad to be here with you guys, this is really –  

Pete: Yeah, it’s been great Jack, thanks so much, we appreciate it!  

Jack: Thank you.  

Jared: Thanks so much.  

Jack: Bye bye.  

Pete: See ya.  

[Music begins] 

Pete: Hey, thanks for listening folks, be sure to check out Jack’s latest book, the Holy Spirit Before Christianity, and don’t forget – How To Read The Bible Like Adults, our live, pay what you want course, coming March 26th, 8:30 PM Eastern Time, input https://peteenns.com/. Thanks for listening folks and see ya next time!  

[Music ends] 

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Pete Ruins Exodus Part 2

Pete Ruins Exodus (Part 2)

May 7, 2019

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

Mentioned in this episode

Read the transcript


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

Jared:  And I’m Jared Byas.

[Jaunty Intro Music]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope that sounds okay.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s for the Mountain of God.

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

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

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

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

It’s hard to identify who this character is. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



“So Moses, is that enough for you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?  Exactly.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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