Saturday, July 31, 2004

Exodus 28

Aaron was equipped with:

  • An ephod (apron), with shoulder suspenders of gold, twisted linen and colored yarn
  • Two stones in gold filigree, each engraved with the names of six sons of Jacob, to be worn on the shoulder, attached by braided gold rope
  • A 9" x 9" breastpiece, folded double and mounted with twelve precious stones, each engraved with the name of a tribe of Israel. This is to be hung from the shoulderpiece and the waistband of the ephod by gold rope. The breastpiece is to be used in making decisions
  • Urim and Thummin, evidently for divination, to be carried in the breastpiece
  • A collared blue robe, adorned with gold bells and colored yarn pomegranates. The bells protect Aaron on entering or leaving the presence of the Lord
  • A linen turban, to which is attached over the forehead a gold plate labeled HOLY TO THE LORD

    Aaron and his sons also receive linen tunics, sashes and headbands, as well as undergarments to protect them from guilt

    To quote the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Urim is derived from the Hebrew for 'light', or 'to give light", and Thummim from 'completeness', 'perfection', or 'innocence'. In view of these derivations it is surmised by some scholars that the sacred lot may have had a twofold purpose in trial ordeals, viz. Urim served to bring to light the guilt of the accused person, and Thummim to establish his innocence." ( The Urim and Thummim vanished with the destruction of the First Temple

Friday, July 30, 2004

Exodus 27

A 7'6" x 7'6" acacia wood table, overlaid with bronze and with horns at each corner,  is used at the altar.  It is equipped with bronze ashpots, shovels, sprinkling bowls, meat forks and firepans.  A grating, halfway up the altar, is placed underneath the altar's ledge. 

A courtyard 150' x 75' is formed from twisted linen curtains suspended on posts with bronze bases and held up by silver hooks.  There are 20 posts each on the north and south side, and 10 on the west side.  Six posts are used on the east side to support curtains totaling 45' wide, leaving an aperture of 5' for entry. 

Clear olive oil is to be used in the lampstand for illumination at night. 

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Exodus 26

This chapter describes the tent, or tabernacle, in which worship is to take place.  The construction is:

  • Ten twisted linen and colored yarn curtains, each 42' x 6', each with cherubim designs.  Two pairs of five curtains are joined to form the tabernacle, then clamped with 50 gold clasps.  The tabernacle forms The Holy Place.

  • Eleven goathair curtains, 45' x 6' form the tent over the tabernacle, with the eleveth curtain at the front of the tent.  These are fastened with bronze clasps.  Another curtain of twisted linen and colored yarn, hung on five posts of gold-overlaid acacia with bronze bases, forms the door of the tent.

  • The tent is covered with red-dyed ram skins and the hides of sea cows (or, perhaps, badger skins). 

  • Twenty frames of acacia wood, each with 2 silver bases, are made for the north and south sides.  The frames are overlaid with gold.

  • Eight frames of acacia wood, of which two are for the corners and for each of which two silver bases are prepared, are made for the west side.  The frames are overlaid with gold.

  • Fifteen gold-overlaid crossbars are made for the frames.

  • An inner sanctum, called The Most Holy Place, is curtained off with twisted linen and colored yarn. The curtain is hung on gold-overlaid acacia wood.  Inside The Most Holy Place goes the Arc.
Just outside The Most Holy Place, the table for the Bread of the Presence and the lampstand are placed at opposite ends.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Exodus 25

Exodus 24 has already been covered as an extension of Exodus 19.  In the version of Exodus 24, Moses stays on the mountain for 40 days and receives detailed instructions on preparing the holy artifacts.  God stresses that goods must be given only according to how men are moved in their heart.  Nothing is to be extorted.  The holy artifacts, for which 75 pounds of gold are required, are:

The ark, to contain the Testimony
  • A wooden chest, overlaid inside and out with gold, about 3'8" x 2'3" x 2'3"
  • A solid gold cover for the chest
  • Poles, overlaid with gold, with which to carry the chest
  • Cherubim of hammered gold

A table, overlaid with gold, about 3' x 1'6", for the bread of the Presence
  • Solid gold dishes, plates, pitchers, and bowls
  • Poles, overlaid with gold, to carry the table
A gold lampstand (menorah), including
  • Six branches, decorated with cups shaped like almond buds and blossoms
  • Seven lamps to cap each branch and the central shaft
Pictures of these artifacts are available online

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Exodus 23

This chapter accomplishes four goals.  It foreshadows the entry into Canaan.  It specifies ritual behavior for the feasts of Unleavened Bread, Harvest, and Ingathering.  It creates a "sabbath of years," a tradition that will later be further extended to Jubilee, in which the land is also to be allowed to rest, and the poor to profit from its gleaning.  And most interestingly, it extends the directives of the Ninth Commandment and intensifies the obligation to justice. 
As discussed previously, Joseph Teluskin (Biblical Literacy) characterizes the Ninth Commandment as focused narrowly on court testimony.  But notice how the implications of the Ninth Commandment are worked out this chapter.  We are commanded to avoid spreading false reports, which can easily lead to court cases, and are told to have nothing to do with false charges.  We are commanded to avoid malice in reporting what we have witnessed which, again, could help to avoid court cases.  Indeed, to keep malice from our hearts, we are instructed to assist our enemy should we find him in distress with an exhausted donkey or if his donkey wanders.

Once in court, we are advised not to side with the rich, the poor, or he crowd, but merely report the truth. To that end, we are enjoined against accepting bribes, since they distort our words. Worst of all, should we sentence an innocent man to death, we become guilty of murder. So, if we are earnest in obeying the Ninth Commandment against bearing false witness, we must avoid those things which could bring us to that point. Therefore, Telushkin's interpretation of the Ninth Commandment as a purely judicial issue is questionable. Any deviation from the truth that can lead to harm is a violation.

The description of the angel that will lead the Israelites into Canaan is interesting.  The angel carries the Lord's name within.  It will not forgive rebellion.  It will guard and guide the Israelites and terrorize God's enemies.  Ultimately, God acting through it and through the Israelites, will commit genocide against the Canaanites.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Exodus 22

This chapter contains two sections.  The first, on protection of property, requires that punishment be proportional to the crime and that justice be restorative, i.e., that the victim be made whole.  It also provides for multiple damages in the case of the theft of animals critical to the farm economy, oxen and sheep. It is difficult to be enthusiastic of the provision that impoverished thieves must be sold into slavery, while wealthy ones may buy their way out. 

The second part of the chapter, while more fragmented, contains some important and new material. It states that God hears the cries of the helpless and oppressed, and will respond by stripping the offender's family of power.  The alien must be treated with kindness.  Widows and orphans must not be taken advantage of.  The poor must not be forced to sleep without their cloak to keep them warm.  Indeed, if money is loaned to them, it must be at no interest.  The bride price must be paid for a virgin who has been seduced, even if the father refuses to  marry her to her seducer. 

Three capital offenses are defined: sexual relations with animals, sacrificing to foreign gods, and witchcraft (or, perhaps, poisoning; see  Also forbidden are blashemy, cursing the ruler, eating meat torn by wild animals, and holding back offerings.  Finally, firstborn sons are to be given to the Lord on the eighth day after birth. 

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Exodus 21

Even though the Hebrews have just escaped slavery with the Egyptians, Exodus 21 allows ... the enslavement of Jews by Jews! Intergenerational slavery of non-Hebrews is not forbidden, and can be applied to Hebrews by the simple expedient of providing a wife to a male slave and appropriating the woman's children.  Women are treated as property.   Even as concubines, they only have rights to food, clothing, and sex. All in all, the laws on slavery represent an extremely modest gain from the situation in Egypt. 

Exodus 21 differentiates homicide from manslaughter, and assigns responsibility in certain cases of negligence, such as leaving a pit unprotected or letting a bull known to gore people walk free. It prescribes death for homicide, parricide/matricide, kidnapping, or the cursing of mother or father.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (Biblical Literacy) makes the interesting point that American slavery was clearly not based on biblical law, since the kidnapping that was intrinsic to slavery was a capital crime.  And, of course, American slavemasters were free to kill and mutilate slaves without fear of retribution.

Exodus 21 also prescribes "a life for a life, an eye for an eye" justice, which has become a byword for penal harshness.  However, as is pointed out by Telushkin, these represented maximum punishments, and therefore a milder justice than was commonly dispensed at the time.   

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Exodus 20. The Ten Commandments.

No mere blog entry could do credit to the Ten Commandments. However the reader should consult Rabbi Joseph Telushkin's "Biblical Literacy," which brings out the meaning of the Commandments more clearly than other source of my ken. (Note: Catholics parse the Commandments differently than Protestants, dividing the coveting of the neighbor's wife from the coveting of his goods and combining the two first commandments. Telushkin follows the Protestant formula).

1.  I am the Lord your God... who brought you out of Egypt.  Telushkin points out that this is not a commandment in the sense of being a directive.  Maimonides sees it as the first Commandment, with the implicit directive to the Israelites to believe in Jehovah.  The philosophers Hasdai ibn Crescas and Don Isaac Abravanel, however, point out that in Hebrew, these are the Aseret ha-Dibrot, meaning the Ten Statements: one statement and 9 commandments. 
2.  You shall have no other gods before me.  Telushkin points to nationalism as a particularly dangerous idol.  Money is the idol Jesus pointed to as the most dangerous one.

3.  You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God....  Telushkin emphasizes that this is not simply using the Lord's name as a curse.  Rather, when the name of God is used to promote injustice or wrongdoing, this alienates others from God.  This commandment therefore carries the threat of punishment. 

4.  Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy....  For people who had been slaves, this represented a clear break from their past and-- because it also protected foreigners and slaves they held-- a promise not to become oppressors like Pharaoh. 

5.  Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long....  This commandment carries with it a reward, rather than a punishment.

6.  You shall not murder.  Telushkin points out that this is not a universal proscription against killing.  It is a prohibition against the unlawful taking of life. However, Telushkin misses a vital point in failing to recognize that in most situations of the lawful taking of life, there is some uncertainty.  While this has emerged as a powerful issue in challenging the death penalty, similar uncertainties apply to other cases in which we take life, particularly war.

7.  You shall not commit adultery.  In the original context, Telushkin says, this applied only to married women and their lovers.  A married man was free to play the field.

8.  You shall not steal. 

9.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.  Telushkin focuses narrowly on the issue of testimony in court, saying that other verses of the Torah advise against dishonesty and pointing to the fact that God ordered Samuel to lie (1 Sam. 16:1-3).  But for the Christian, this cannot be acceptable.  Not only is the example (1 Sam. 16:1-3) pathetically weak as a defense of lying, the gospels instruct us that Satan is the father of lies.  From a Christian standpoint, uttering any falsehood, or even an accusation which one is not certain is true-- even if done for what one believes to be God's purposes-- amounts to treason. 

10.  You shall not covet....  "The greed of the eye," as it has been termed, is one of the most widespread of sins.  For example, as we age, we covet youth. The happy man or woman covets nothing and accepts what s/he has as everything that is desirable. 

Friday, July 23, 2004

Exodus 19 and Exodus 24

This chapter sets the stage for the establishment of a covenant between Israel and Jehovah, a covenant grounded in Israel's obedience to the commandments.  The tale is retold in Exodus 24, but with significant variations. 

A few points.  The image of the Lord helping the children of Israel escape by mounting up on eagles wings appears here.  Also, the sounding of the trumpet blast as the sign of the nearness of the Lord appears.  Also, the image of transfiguration of Matthew 17 appears. Finally, the expression for "break forth" of Ex. 19:22 has a wide variety of meanings.  It is, for example, the same word as "growing numerous," as in Ex. 1. The same image appears again, as in 2 Sam 5.  

The Israelites have been free from Egypt for just three months. God tells Moses to offer the covenant to the people, a covenant which will make of them a priestly people.  Moses assembles only the elders.  Also missing from the swearing of the covenant are the children yet to be born.  How are they bound? Not only that, God has not told them yet what the laws are to be, yet they agree to obey. At this point, the story becomes confused.  God admonishes the Israelites not to touch the mountain on pain of death until the ram's horn blows. Then he has Moses come up and tells him that the people, even "priests who approach the Lord" must not force their way through, suggesting that if they came meekly, that might be acceptable.  Since the ram's horn has not sounded, Moses points out that no one is going to come up and, indeed, in Exodus 20, the people refuse to approach.  It is only then that God gives the commandments and the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 20:22- 23:19).

In Exodus 24, Moses tells the people (not merely the elders) the Lord's words and laws, and they agree.  Then, following a ritual of animal sacrifice, he reads to them the Book of the Covenant and they agree to that.  Then, 70 elders, Moses, Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu ascend the mountain and see God, who offers to write the commandments in stone. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Exodus 18

Jethro recognizes Jehovah as supreme at this point, after the defeat of the Egyptians.  Some commentary suggests that the phrase "Jethro was delighted" in Ex. 18:9 means that he was circumcised.  While this would seem to be a logical development for a convert, this is far from evident from the text.  (

In this chapter, some fairly delicate family material is discussed indirectly.  Jethro had received Zipporah and her sons "after Moses had sent [them] away."  Since Jethro knows nothing of what transpired in Egypt, evidently Moses sent away his wife and recently-circumcised son at sometime after the lodging place of Exodus 4:24 and before Moses was established in Egypt. 
Presumably, Zipporah had to transport her sons back through the desert alone.  One hopes Moses let them use the donkey! 

At any rate, it appears that Zipporah and the sons stay with Moses, since the text says that Jethro returned to his own country.  Then Jethro provides advice which, while simple, is radical.  Moses has centralized all power in himself, making him a new Pharaoh (Jethro delicately suggests this in Ex. 18:10 by saying that God freed Moses from the Egyptians and Pharaoh, while the Israelites were freed only from the Egyptians).  Jethro suggests a system that is, at least by contrast, radically democratic, with judges appointed at four levels, ranging from what might be a typical extended family to judges of a full tribe. His suggestion further helps to create a system of "laws and not men."  By having Moses formalize God's statutes and teach the principles, the people become less dependent on Moses the man. The theme of decentralization of power (and its centralization by the later kings) is an important one in Israel's history. 

Exodus 17

This chapter reprises the faithlessness of the Israelites, they repeating at Rephidim the grumbling of Marah (Ex. 15).  They cannot even agree on the name of the place, calling it Massah (testing of God) and Meribah (contention). This time, the Lord quenches their thirst with a notable miracle, in which Moses strikes the rock with his staff.  In the New Testament, Jesus becomes the living rock, from which believers drink (John 7:37).

Yet before criticizing the Israelites too severely for their faithlessness, consider that they did not accuse God.  They accused Moses. He was the one who turned that criticism into an attack on God. 

The Israelites are immediately thereafter attacked by the Amalekites.  Matthew Henry says the Amalekites are the descendants of Esau, and that, like predators, they attacked the rear of the Israelite column.  The latter is not evident from the text.  The Israelites are saved only because Moses raises his hands to heaven.  Joshua may be a great general, but only because Aaron and Hur are able to support the arms of the elderly Moses until sunset do the Israelites win.  Moses erects an altar, calling it Jehovanissi (The Lord is my Banner). God promises to annihilate the Amalekites and tells Moses to write this down and make sure that Joshua hears it.  So, evidently, Joshua is not literate. 

Commentary apparently states that the winning of the battle is not miraculous(  The Israelites won when Moses' hands were raised because it set their minds on God.   This is not entirely persuasive, since one would imagine that the warriors would have their eyes elsewhere than on Moses.  What is certain is that the Israelites fight as free men fighting for their own families, not as the slaves of others. 

So, is there a connection between the faithlessness of the Israelites and the attack of the Amalekites? It's not clear.  What is clear is that God is systematically testing the Israelites with danger and discomfort, just as they are systematically testing Him with their doubt. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Exodus 16

This chapter is primarily devoted to the bounty of God and the sanctity of the Sabbath. 

In this version, when the Israelites  grumble, God provides quail. In Numbers 11, by contrast, God becomes angry and brings a plague against the Israelites. 
God also brings the Israelites their daily bread, the manna from Heaven.  He uses this to teach them two simple lessons: (1) whatever one gathers, whether little or great, will be enough and (2) one day of the week, one must cease from any labor, even cooking or traveling (to search for manna). 

The manna can be preserved, but only by bringing it before the "Testimony."  Matthew Henry's commentary equates the Testimony with the ark, but this contradicts other usage in Exodus. Others say that the Testimony is comprised of Aaron's staff, the two tablets of Commandments, and the omer of manna.  This is a puzzling construction, particularly since the tablets have not been introduced. 

One other peculiar point is that the Israelites complain of having no meat.  Yet we are told they emerged from Egypt with flocks. What happened to those flocks? 

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Exodus 15

This chapter describes the song of Miriam and of Moses.  The text is written in a stylistically different graphic pattern, one that may suggest the bricks of slavery or the stepping stones for passing through the Red Sea (

The song of Miriam (the name is derived from the word for bitter) may have been a complete song in itself, sung in counterpoint.  What is clear is that it was sung accompanied by tambourines and dancing.

The section continues with the Israelites thirsting after three days in the desert without water and only a bitter spring, Marah, to quench that thirst.  One might wonder whether the bitterness of the spring is related to Miriam.  Commentary connects the bitterness of Marah to the mountain on which the Torah was delivered, Moriah (

In any event, the bitterness is sweetened by a piece of wood. Then there is an odd discontinuity, as God "tests" the Israelites-- how, exactly, we are not told here-- and promises to spare them the diseases of the Egyptians if they will obey His decrees.  He asserts Himself as the One who heals  Apparently, he also provides law to them here, but what law is not specified. Perhaps it was the Sabbath law (  If so, it could connect to Jesus' healing on the Sabbath. 

Finally, after this long drought, the Israelites arrive at Elim, meaning strength, where there is a spring for each tribe of Israel and a palm tree, symbolically, for every nation on earth (

Exodus 14

Several interesting points occur in this chapter. 

According to H.H. Ben Sasson (A History of the Jewish People), Migdol and Pi-hahiroth are probably located "on the ancient Pelusian arm of the Nile, and Baal-zephon is Mount Casius, located at Ras Kasrun on the narrow tongue of land enclosing Lake Sirbonis."  These would be on the Mediterranean coast.  He says that "elsewhere in the biblical text there is a definite suggestion that Yam Suph [the Reed/Red Sea] is the Gulf of Eilat."  This is well to the south. Many interesting scholarly debates revolve around exactly where the crossing took place, but the simple fact is that no one really knows.  

Another point is that Moses tells the Israelites that they need only stand still for the Lord to save them.  Jehovah then immediately tells Moses that the Israelites must move on to be saved.

Another interesting point is God's objective: to convince the Egyptians that Jehovah is God.  Of course, in the process, the Egyptians with the hardest hearts, including Pharaoh, are wiped out.  As a bonus to converting the surviving Egyptians, we are told, this display of power caused the Israelites to fear God and place their trust in Him. 

Finally, there is the blindness of human beings to God.  Here, the Israelites have a pillar of fire and of cloud leading them, sheltering them from the sun and dispelling the dark.  Both they and the Egyptians have witnessed the enormous destructive power of which God is capable.  And yet neither one really believes in His power.  For the Egyptians, lack of belief leads to hubris and destruction.  For the Hebrews, it leads to depression and paralysis. Genuine belief leads away from both. 

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Exodus 13

This chapter is, in part, a recapitulation and intensification of what has gone before. In particular, the injunction against leavening during Passover is repeated.

As the Israelites travel from the store city, Rameses (Ex. 1:11) to Succoth, they are accompanied by a crowd of "other people," according to Exodus 12: 38.  Succoth is also the name of the Festival of Booths, so called because the Israelites stayed in huts as they traveled ( They are armed for battle, and yet God leads them away from the Philistines and by the desert road to the Red Sea.  The trip has an important secondary mission, to return Joseph's bones to Canaan. And God appears in new forms, as a pillar of fire and as a pillar of cloud. 

In this chapter, God claims every firstborn male, whether Hebrew or animal. Where the Egyptian firstborn men simply died, the Lord allows Hebrews to redeem their sons, with the redemption price set at 100 grams of silver (  Similarly, donkeys may be redeemed with a lamb. 

Consider the story of Abraham and Isaac/Ishmael in this light. Abraham did not trust the Lord quite enough to believe that a post-menopausal woman, Sarai, could bear a child. Therefore, his firstborn child was a "wild donkey of a man."  When Isaac came along, the child Abraham genuinely treasured, God made him take Isaac for sacrifice. The redemption thus echoes the story of Isaac, reminds people that God owns us all, and foreshadows the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God. 

We are, after all, God's donkeys.  

Friday, July 16, 2004

Exodus 12B. Theological aspects

Next to be considered is the theological content of this chapter.

In 12:13, God promises that no destructive plague will strike those houses on which the lintels are smeared with blood.  The implication is that the first born Egyptians (presumably males, and their first born male animals) are struck with plague.  This act substantially diminishes the status of the surviving men. In addition, Jehovah will judge the gods of Egypt.  We are not told the results of this judgment.  Blood, the symbol of the life force that Jewish law forbids Jews consume, wards off the plague. 

In Exodus 12:40, we learn that the Lord protected the Hebrews by keeping vigil that night and so the Israelites keep vigil to honor the Lord.  This theme is seen in the New Testament, as Jesus keeps watch in the Garden of Gethsemene (Matt. 26:38).  In that context, Jesus keeps watch to protect humankind.  His disciples failed to keep watch, thereby dishonoring Him. 

A few minor points.  We are told that God made the Egyptians "favorably disposed" to the Hebrews' request for gold and silver. The sense seems to be that God cast a glamour upon the Hebrews. Matthew Henry suggests that the gold and silver came from melted down idols, although there is no evidence of this in the text. 

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Exodus 12A. Social aspects

At last, events in Egypt reach their climax. God has differentiated Hebrew from Egyptian; now the rift must become physical.

The chapter is so rich that one can must take it by aspects. At the surface are the social aspects. A calendar is laid down. A principal feast day of the year is designated. The prescription to slaughter and consume fresh lamb, ensuring that Jews would stay near their pastoral roots, is applied. Bread stocks must be destroyed and made anew. The uncircumcised are forbidden to eat the Passover meal; indeed, any alien must have every male in his household circumcised. A format for instructing children in the basic legend of their identity is laid out, and a rationale for why Jews must be willing to sacrifice everything to maintain an independent identity is given to them.

Also, the relationship of the Hebrews with the Egyptians is established. God not only strikes down the firstborn of the Egyptians, but the Egyptians are left fearful, giving away their gold and silver to the Hebrews just to get rid of them. Oddly, Pharaoh demands that they bless him. It is not recorded that this demand was fulfilled. So, in sum, in Exodus 12, a relationship of lasting and supercilious hostility, is created between Jews and Egyptians.

The next section will continue this analysis.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Exodus 11

This chapter is a transitional chapter. It begins on an oddly jarring note, that the Hebrews are to ask their neighbors for items of silver and gold, and their neighbors will comply. Then the scene returns to Moses before Pharaoh, and Moses tells Pharaoh of the massive death that is to transpire. The goal of this plague, we are told, is to show the Egyptians that God distinguishes between Hebrews and Egyptians.

The one interesting point is that Moses leaves, "hot with anger." It seems so incongruous, not only because Moses is such a self-effacing person, but also because he knows that the Lord is responsible for Pharaoh's intransigence. The Hebrew for anger, 'aph, is the word used for the nostrils through which God breathed life into Adam.

Another interesting point is that Egypt receives 10 plagues as its instructions, while Israel later receives 10 commandments. In Deuteronomy 27, the parallel between plagues and unkept commandments is made clearer, as Israel calls down curses on those who do not keep the commandments. While the parallel between plagues and commandments is clearly inexact, an interesting study would examine this point more closely.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Exodus 10

This chapter begins with God stating that he is performing the miraculous plagues to create a legend for the Hebrew generations and so that the Hebrews (and presumably the Egyptians) might believe in God.

The threat of a locust invasion brings Pharaoh's officials to the brink of rebellion and Pharaoh to the brink of giving in. Apparently, thinking Moses will take just the men, Pharaoh says "The Lord be with you," then abruptly reverses himself on considering that if the Hebrews take their children and wives, as well as their herds, they might well not return. This plague apparently does not spare the Hebrews.

Locusts are a prominent feature of the prophets, notably the book of Joel. They also appear in Revelation.

Perhaps there should be an asterisk attached to the Lord's command to Pharaoh, "Let my people go." When the plague of darkness descends, Pharaoh is willing to let the human beings, but not their livestock, leave This offer is refused as inadequate, since without livestock, the Hebrews would be unable to offer sacrifices to the Lord. The final plague, that of darkness, affects only the Egyptians.

Torah commentary on the darkness "that one can feel," which the Lord commanded, is as follows:

The rabbi said, "This darkness from which the Egyptians suffered was a very special kind of darkness. It was not a darkness that stopped the eyes from seeing. Rather, it was a darkness that affected the heart. If they were not able to see physically, these Egyptians were not able to feel for each other, nor to care for the well-being of each other. This is exactly what the Torah means when it says: 'They could not see one another.' They were blind to the needs of the other. Each person saw only himself or herself, and that, my young friend," said the rabbi, "is a terrible plague." (

Other Torah commentary suggests that most of the Hebrews died during the plague of darkness (, This does not seem to correspond with the text, which says that the lights remained on for the Israelites.

Moses' response to Pharaoh's subsequent command to leave and never return is one with many meanings. The Hebrew word ken is elsewhere translated variously, "It was so," "therefore," "loyal," "according to your words," "the more," "according to your words," and so on. At any rate, by Pharaoh's command, he takes personal responsibility for the departure of Moses and, with him, the Hebrews.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Exodus 9

Three more plagues arrive, with some slight variations from Exodus 8 on how they arrive. For the plague of livestock, the Lord sets the time, just as He allowed Pharaoh to set the time for the removal of the frogs. The Israelites are not touched. assigns Andjety and Apis as the Egyptian livestock gods.

The plague of boils probably hit just the Egyptians, but the text is not unambiguous. The text emphasizes that even the magicians were unable to stand before this plague, though presumably they stood before the preceding ones.

The plague of hail is given 21 lines, making it the longest description of a plague in Exodus. Based on which crops were ripe, Jamieson places the plague in February. God threatens that he has been taking it easy on the Egyptians, and they should take a hint. At this point, some Egyptians have learned enough to fear the Lord, so when Moses warns them that their slaves and animals will die from the hail about to come, they get them indoors. Amazingly, some still don't even fear God and so their slaves and animals die. The flax and barley were destroyed. And, of course, the Israelites in Goshen were spared. In this chapter, Pharaoh makes an insincere confession of sin to get Moses to lift the plague. In so doing, he makes himself fully responsible for the devastation that follows.

Exodus 8

In this chapter, we see God escalate the conflict in a controlled, stepwise manner, demonstrating mastery of two Egyptian gods and showing power not possessed by Egyptians.

The plague of frogs is the first instance in which Pharaoh makes a deal with Moses, which Pharaoh later breaks. Interestingly, Moses asks Pharaoh to set the time for the removal of the plague, emphasizing Moses' control of the situation. Pharaoh does not ask for the plague to lift immediately, but on the next day, hoping perhaps that the frogs will leave on their own and discredit Moses. Some commentators connect the frogs to the goddess Heqet, the goddess of childbirth. (see

The plague of gnats (or lice), which follows the plague of frogs, is the first instance in which God strikes without warning Pharaoh. It is also the first instance in which the Egyptian magicians are unable to match what Moses commands. The magicians now recognize that they are mastered by a greater power, saying "This is the finger of Elohim," but they do not know God more intimately than this. Pharaoh decides to wait out this plague.

The plague of flies is the first plague which strikes the Egyptians selectively. Pharaoh tries to bargain with Moses on how far the Israelites may go, but Moses demands full freedom of worship. Pharaoh again falsely gives his word.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Exodus 7

Moses is eighty at the time of this chapter, making him a venerable figure in his own right. That his elder brother serves him as his prophet, as Esau served Jacob, also elevates Moses.

The chapter says, "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'See, I have made you like a God to Pharaoh..." The word god is "Elohim," meaning master. This is remarkable; no other biblical figure except Jesus is exalted as high as Moses. Only Moses' humility, the shame of stammering so extreme that it leads him into disobedience to God, made this possible.

The staff that becomes a snake has been transferred from Moses to Aaron and the staff serves as the instrumentality of the two miracles that Aaron performs. The Pharaoh manages to fool himself that he is safe because his magicians can turn their staffs into snakes. He is not impressed by the dominance Aaron's staff exhibits over the magicians' staffs.

Pharaoh is not even frightened by the water of the Nile turning to blood, killing the fish. This is extraordinary, since the Nile was so central to life in Egypt that it assumed godlike proportions. Apparently the Nile cleanses itself, since Moses does not reverse the turning of the river into blood.

Also note that this plague, like that of the frogs and that of the gnats, appears to afflict the Hebrews as well as the Egyptians. Unlike the plague of flies, we are not instructed that things are different in Goshen. This suggests that commentators who associate the blood with that of the slain Hebrew children are probably wrong.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Exodus 6

One major function of this chapter is to provide Moses' genealogy, Jacob-Levi-Kohath-Amram/Jochebed-Moses. Interestingly, the genealogy lists Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, the eldest children of Leah, which it designates as Levite families. Leah's three other children, as well as the children of Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah are not mentioned at all. However, Aaron's genealogy is also mentioned.

The chapter begins, however, with God's reaffirmation of His intent. He also explains that previously He appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as Power but not as Jehovah, the more personal and priestly manifestation. Jehovah adopts the Israelites as His people and promises to be their God. The Covenant which God made with Abraham has therefore been renewed and narrowed. Where God only promised to bless Abraham and make his descendants numerous, He has now selected one branch of the family to redeem, plant, and tend.

The chapter is assembled in an interesting fashion. God's introduction of Himself to Moses and His affirmation of His plans for Israel comes first. At this point, Moses again questions his qualifications to confront Pharaoh. Then Moses' genealogy follows. Chapter 7 then opens with a repetition of Moses' doubts. The insertion of the genealogy almost seems to say, "Can you believe that Moses, with this exalted ancestry, actually questioned God-- again?"

One final note: the chapter says that the Israelites left Egypt "by their divisions," where "divisions" is rendered also as "hosts" or "armies." This conveys two points. The Israelites left with military discipline, in good order. It also foreshadows their role as conquerors.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Exodus 5

This is a transitional chapter. Moses has been given godlike powers. The people have come to believe God has sent him. And yet he's unable to do anything at all to help them cope with Pharaoh's oppression.

There are a couple of interesting points. One is that Moses and Aaron do an astonishingly poor job of persuading Pharaoh to let them go to worship God. They say that if the Hebrews don't worship God, He may turn against them. One can imagine Pharoah saying to himself, "And this is my problem?" Since Pharaoh is fixated on diminishing the power of the Hebrews, this would seem to be the answer to his prayer.

Another interesting point is that Moses and Aaron are permitted to speak the ineffable name of God, Jehovah, to Pharaoh.

Finally, this chapter exposes the futility of oppression. Pile an additional burden onto the heavy load of the slave and he ceases to be able to do any work. Beat him and no more bricks are made. When the goal of leaders ceases to be producing something useful and decays into controlling the subordinates, they have sown the seeds of destruction their own power. Such an obvious lesson, but one that every generation of leaders learns anew.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Exodus 4

There are three stories in this chapter. The first has to do with Moses' unwillingness to obey God. The second has to do with the circumcision of Moses' son. The third has to do with how the Israelites come to believe that God is coming to their aid through Moses.

Unlike the other patriarchs, Moses receives from God certain personal powers, to use at his discretion. He receives the power to transform what is dead, a staff, into something living, a snake. He receives the power to generate and heal a disease. And he receives the power to transform water into what was regarded as life essence, blood. These are the powers of a god, yet Moses finds it impossible to believe that anyone will believe him. This reveals his lack of faith in God and God punishes Moses by transferring the power of the priesthood to Aaron (see Jamieson's commentary).

The second story is quite involved. Moses starts out on his journey by lying to his father-in-law about the purpose of his trip. According to Jamieson, the donkey is not suited for long trips, yet Moses puts his wife and son on the back of this animal. Moses had also been disobedient to the covenant of God by failing to circumcise his son. His wife, who is not even of the faith, is forced to do the job of circumcision or someone (either Moses or the son) who has been sick will die. She calls Moses her "bridegroom of blood," which Jamieson takes as an expression that she has risked the life of her son. Is it possible that, because Moses was reluctant to participate in freeing Israel, God was treating Moses as a kind of Pharaoh? Was God urging him to soften his heart? Is there a parallel between the circumcision ritual and the Passover ritual of smearing blood on the doorposts so that the angel of death will pass over?

(As a side note, note the donkey and the overnight stay have a slight resemblance to the story of Jesus.)

The final story has to do with how the Israelites came to believe. From miracles, they believed that Moses was the representative of God. However, it was from the news that God cared about them that they bowed their heads and worshipped. Miracles are not enough to make us worship God. We must come to understand He Loves us.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Exodus 3

There's plenty of interest in the chapter. First, there is an interesting description of how God interacts with humankind. God's messenger appears as flames within a bush, but Moses does not immediately recognize the angel as a manifestation of God. Only when God speaks from within the bush does Moses understand this as a divine manifestation. It's of interest to compare this episode with Genesis 18, in which the Lord appears as three men to Abraham. In Genesis 18:33, the Lord leaves. In Genesis 19:1, two angels arrive at Sodom. So, it would seem that the three men were two angels and the Lord.

The name of the Lord in Exodus 3 is also of interest. The Hebrew for "I am" sounds a bit like Jehovah. One author, Laura Olshansky, believes this is a bit of wordplay. Since Moses could not say the ineffable name of the Lord, he could signal that he knew the real name by saying a word that sounded like it. But "I am" is a perfect way to describe God. For God, there is no past or future; He exists through all time. There is no far or near for God; He is with us. It is we who seek for a magical name by which we may control or summon God. But God is raw existence. If we want to find Him, we need only silence ourselves.

Monday, July 05, 2004

Exodus 2

In this we learn that Moses is the son of a Levite. In Genesis 49, we learn that Levi was a violent man and that his descendants would receive no land in Canaan. Instead, the Levites would become priests. This foreshadows Moses' life, in which he kills an Egyptian and later is allowed only to glimpse the Promised Land.

Moses flees to Midian, where he marries Reuel's (Jethro's) daughter Zipporah, who bears him a son, Gershom. Midian is a name rich in contextual meaning. The Bible Encyclopedia says that the word means "strife." It is also the name of one of Abraham's sons through Keturah, the kingdom that summoned Balaam to work magic against Moses and his diaspora and in Numbers 25 a deadly enemy of that band. After being defeated, Midian makes a comeback in Judges, then is destroyed by Gideon. The name "Midian" therefore carries undertones of magic, conflict, and otherness.

A great deal of debate occurs around the question of whether Zipporah was black. Moses is said later to have taken a Cushite wife. He could have had two wives and there's probably no absolute requirement that a Cushite be black. However, if Zipporah were black, it would be in a long biblical tradition of "the other" being included into the people of God. In any event, it's interesting to see what sorts of passions and strife that this early case of possible miscegenation evokes.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Exodus 1

Some interesting points. Genesis 50 indicates that Joseph and his brothers are in Egypt involuntarily; otherwise, why would it be necessary for God to come to their aid to leave?

Exodus says there were 70 descendants of Jacob, while Acts (perhaps relying on the Septuagint) says 75.

A new king arose who did not know Joseph, suggesting that this was a king from a different group than the king who ruled while Joseph lived. H. H. Ben-Sasson (A History of the Jewish People) believes that Rameses II or perhaps his successor, Merneptah, are the best candidates for the oppressive monarch. This king believed in control through oppression, but oppression caused the Hebrews to multiply even faster.

This, ironically, is a lesson to which modern Israel seems to be blind. Poverty and high birth rates are connected. Birth rates drop in wealthier nations. If Israel wanted to keep Palestinian birth rates in check, it would be wise to help Palestinian living standards rise. The United States would be wise to do likewise with Latin America.

H. H. Ben-Sasson argues that the word "Hebrew" comes from "Apiru", and means conscript laborers of all ethnicities. One might consider, then, whether the Israelites are God's chosen because they are oppressed, that oppression leads people to seek and covenant with God.


The full megillah on the practice of lectio divina is to be found at Briefly, it's a form of Christian prayer, in which the starting point is scripture. This blog is a diary of scripture that I am reading and a starting point for performing lectio.