Thoughts on Exodus, Day 3 Lent 2013

Part of my Lenten discipline this year is to read the entire Bible between Ash Wednesday and Easter, which works out to something like 27 chapters a day. I got the inspiration and reading plan from Margaret Feinberg. This morning I read most of Exodus. I'm reading it in the Message paraphrase to facilitate smoother reading. I really enjoy reading in big gulps. My concentration in college was ecology, which seeks the big picture and how everything fits together. I like that approach in my Bible reading as well. This is a post involving Biblical criticism, which could upset the faith of others. Please don't read this if your faith does not like too many questions. It's the faith I have, and this is my story of gratefulness and irritation, see yesterday's post.

When read in such a large serving, Exodus does not read at all like one book, but a collection of stories, that sometimes contradict each other.

Even without reading the Hebrew, it's easy to say Moses did not write every word. For example, he didn't write about his own death at the end of the Pentateuch. But there's another little spot, at the end of chapter 16, which explains a measurement for the readers. If the readers were Moses' people, they wouldn't need the explanation. A later editor must have added this information for the later readers. By the way, I think that effort is very kind of the editor.

In the same chapter, 33, we learn Moses sits down face to face with God, v.11, but in v. 20 God tells Moses he can't show his face to Moses. To me, it seems two different stories are added to the same chapter. At the end of ch. 33, God walks by Moses and lets his back be seen. It's kind of weird. One idea in my head, is that Moses was dealing with God's three persons. When he was face to face with God, he was dealing with a Christophany, Jesus before he was born. When he was seeking God's glory, and unable to see God's face, he was dealing with the Father, who is spirit, John 4:24. The cloud by day and fire by night may have been the manifestation of the Holy Spirit. It's interesting to think on that one.

I like how the altar and it's tools cannot be corrupted. Instead, anyone who touches them are made holy. Exodus 29:37 and Ex 30:29. It reminds me of Jesus' ministry in the gospels. When Jesus touches a dead body or a leprous man or a bleeding woman, they do not corrupt him, but he cleanses them instead and makes them clean, whole, alive.

I don't get the plagues scenario very much. In Ex. 9:6, "all" the Egyptian livestock are killed overnight. However, the Israeli livestock are fine. In the very next plague, boils, we learn that not only are the Egyptians afflicted with painful boils, but the beasts are as well, v.10. Where did they come from? Are there years between plagues for the Egyptians to rebuild their herds? Did they buy the Israeli animals? In the very next plague, hail, Moses warns the Egyptians to get their livestock into shelters, v.19. I have the same questions. Have years elapsed? Was "all" a hyperbolic statement? Apparently, the hail was so bad it killed man and beast, v. 19. So now more Egyptian livestock are dead. In 11:14, the Passover is threatened, when God will kill all the firstborn who aren't protected, including the firstborn of beasts. Is this years later when flocks are restored? Did Egypt go out and buy entire herds from elsewhere? Were they not all killed back in the plague of ch. 9? In 12:29, the firstborn of livestock are mentioned as being killed. In 14:9 Pharaoh rides out with his army on their chariots pulled by their horses. War horses are not easy to come by. They are bred and trained for war. The Egyptians couldn't run out to "rent-a-steed" for weekend invasions. All of this leaves me scratching my head. Maybe the plagues were hyper-local, only in Pharaoh's neighborhood.

In Ex 12:38, I liked learning that it wasn't just Israelis that fled Egyput but also a "mixed multitude" or, as Eugene Peterson calls them, a crowd of riff raff. It reminds me of King David's motley crew as he was running from King Saul. It also reminds me of Jesus' disciples, terrorist zealots, fishermen, a traitorous thief, a swindling tax collector. In fact, I'm a riff raff follower of Jesus as well.

The laws are such a hodge podge, without much rhyme or reason. The slavery stuff is abhorrent. In Exodus 21, there seems to be an internal debate on slavery. First, this bit of nastiness, "20 If a male or female slave is beaten and dies, the owner must be punished. 21 If the slave recovers after a couple of days, however, then the owner should not be punished, since the slave is the owner's property." !!!!!!!
Yet five verses later, there's this, "26 If an owner hits a male or female slave in the eye and the eye is blinded, then the slave may go free because of the eye. 27 And if an owner knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave, the slave should be released in payment for the tooth."

Are they property like an animal or not? If I were a slave, I'd keep a loose tooth on hand, so when I got beat, I could throw it on the ground and get my freedom. It's real interesting that the eye and tooth examples come right after the (in)famous "23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe." The example of 27 is freedom for eye and freedom for tooth instead. That's not parity, that's restitution with pain and suffering added on top. This totally seems like a mash up of early and later laws. I like the latter better, but the earlier stuff, I'm sure, gave american slave owners comfort in being within God's "biblical" will. Seeking the minimum instead of the most generous verses, like 26 and 27, like the Golden Rule Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy.

Exodus is a weird trip. There are really cool things, and really ugly things, and both are put in God's mouth. Whenever those things disagree with Jesus, my doubts are raised. Jesus tells his disciples, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?" John 14:9 The ugly things don't line up with Jesus, who is the word of God in the flesh, John 1:1, uncorrupted and unveiled. Also, I can't imagine God contradicting himself in a couple sentences. God also is presented as a little senile in Ex. 19.
21 God said to Moses, "Go down. Warn the people not to break through the barricades to get a look at God lest many of them die. 22 And the priests also, warn them to prepare themselves for the holy meeting, lest God break out against them." 23 Moses said to God, "But the people can't climb Mount Sinai. You've already warned us well telling us: 'Post boundaries around the mountain. Respect the holy mountain.'"
Did God forget all those instructions in the previous verses he had Moses put into place? I'm not mocking God or the Bible here. It seems to me that God is a little too anthropomorphized here. Certainly, he had to repeat himself numerous times, the people were learning a new culture, but this seems like a conversation with your senior citizen neighbor about your kids and his yard.

One approach to the Bible that intrigues me is this book is God's but written with human hands, in human voices, with human fallibility. This is no different, in my mind, from saying the church is God's bride made with human hands, human voices and human fallibility. There's good, and bad, and ugly, all in God's name. As the apostle Paul said,
12 We don't yet see things clearly. We're squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won't be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We'll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! 13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love. 1 Cor. 13
I can live with that, and I can practice, faith, hope and love. Exodus is about that too. Trust in God's promise of deliverance. Hope that God will make a way. Love of God and the neighbors. I can get that.

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