Saturday, August 28, 2004

Joshua 9

At this point, the wheels come off the plan to drive all non-Israelite tribes from Canaan, and all because Joshua fails to consult with the Lord. The Gibeonites (Hivites; given as descendants of the sixth son of Canaan in Gen 10:15), dressed in worn out clothes and carrying moldy bread pretend to have traveled from afar. The Israelite leaders swear an oath of peace, so when they later discover the Hivite cities of Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath Jearim, they are prevented from killing the Gibeonites. So, they turn them into forced labor, making the Gibeonites' introduction of themselves as "your servants" prophetic.

The split of the Gibeonites from the rest of Canaan is, however, fortunate for the Israelites, since the the rest of the Canaanites are united in the desire to eradicate the invaders. Commentator Matthew Henry points out that no king of Gibeon is mentioned (, suggesting perhaps that the Gibeonites were not subject to one.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Joshua 8B: Renewal of the Covenant

This section of Joshua 8 fulfills Deuteronomy 27:2-8, in which the Israelites are commanded to coat stones with plaster and record the law. No plaster is mentioned here. At any rate, Joshua built an altar of uncut stones on Mount Ebal, offered burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed fellowship offerings. This clearly follows the text of Deuteronomy, since it emphasizes the blessings and cursings. If the chronology of the event is as given in the text, this is deep in enemy territory. The Israelites have barely conquered two towns near Jerusalem, and this would have them marching many miles to the north ( Strikingly, the text says that people stood there, both Israelite and alien. Since Israel has just returned to Israel, where have these aliens come from? These are suggestions that the events at Gerizim/Ebal occurred somewhat later.

The text says that half of the assembled company stood in front of Mt. Gerizim and half in front of Mt. Ebal. This is certainly not specified in Deuteronomy. One source says,

"Mount Ebal is the taller of the twins. Its barren slopes are strewn with gray rocks. This desolate mountain represents the curses that, G-d forbid, could befall the Bnai Yisroel if they do not keep the mitzvos of the Torah. Mount Gerizim, on the other side, has beautiful tree covered slopes and represents the blessings that would come to the Jewish People for following in the ways of the Torah....Mount Gerizim is closely associated with a sect called the Cussim (Cutheans), also called Shomronim (Samaritans)." (

A review of "The Lost Temple of Israel" presents some archaeological observations and suggests that the name Ebal came from the name Baal, and that this altar replaced an altar for Baal worship ( ). It has been suggested that the two mountains represent two different cultic traditions.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Joshua 8A: The conquest of Ai

This time, Joshua returns with overwhelming force, at least 35,000 men against at most 6,000 men from Ai. He sends 5,000 of them to attack the unguarded city after the soldiers of Ai and-- note Bethel also--have been drawn off in pursuit of the Israelites. This would also ensure the men of Bethel, the larger city, could not reinforce Ai before it was burned. Joshua camps with to the north of the city. In the night he goes into the valley in which his soldiers were trapped the previous time, one presumes with a number of troops. When the men of both Bethel and Ai pursue Joshua, they will encounter this larger force and be trapped, with 5,000 raiders above them burning their homes and killing their families.

In a scene reminiscent of Moses fighting against the Amalekites in Exodus 17, Joshua extends his javelin against Ai. The Israelites are allowed to keep the plunder this time. In a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Jesus, Joshua hangs the king of Ai on a tree, but has the corpse taken down before evening in accord with Deuteronomy 21:22-3 "If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse. You must not desecrate the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance." So in the end, Bethel's defensive army is destroyed, and Ai massacred and extinguished.

Maps of Ei-Tell, generally associated with Ai are found at:

Bethel is often associated with Beit-el, but the identification is not certain ( Although Genesis 12:8 speaks of a mountain between Bethel and Ai, the traditional identification of Beitin with Bethelis inconsistent. An alternate site for Ai is el Bireh, with Khirbet Nisya the alternate location for Bethel. (
The argument for the alternate location of Ai is given here:
and here:

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Joshua 7

The story is simple. Achan of the tribe of Judah has, against express orders, reserved plunder for himself. God is angry at all Israel. Spies report that the city of Ai is weak, and that only a fraction of the men will be required to take it. Doing so, the invading force is routed, with 36 dead. As Joshua inquires into the matter, God lays out a lengthy catalogue of complaints: Israel has broken the covenant, lied, sinned, and stolen. Early the next morning, indicating zeal, Joshua has the people consecrate themselves. Through some kind of divination, Joshua determines that a Judean, Achan, is guilty. Matthew Henry also notes that Joshua deals with Achan respectfully, tenderly, calling him "my son" ( Achan confesses to stealing 5 pounds of silver, 1 1/4 pounds of gold, and a beautiful Babylonian robe. Israel stones him (and his children and livestock) to death in what becomes known as the Valley of Trouble (Achan). His property, including the precious metals, are burned.

There are many ways to view this story. Louis Ginzberg's "The Legends of the Jews" proposes that Achan was a hardened sinner, who had frequently misappropriated holy things ( Yair Zakobitz, writing for The Jewish Agency for Israel says that it makes clear that faith in God is supreme ( Battlefield prowess and especially espionage are no substitute for faith. Some commentators frame this as God bringing down collective punishment on the nation for the sin of one man, although it is difficult to think of any other instance in the Bible when this occurs. God is always seeking to preserve the righteous, not to destroy them.

These analyses miss some important points. First of all, God is angry at more than one man. He is angry at a transgression of the whole people, yet is satisfied when a scapegoat is killed. He is angry at lying, which it is not evident that Achan has done. It's not clear that God has much to do directly with the defeat at Ai. Even when the city is taken, it requires the full army and a clever plot. Rather, Joshua seems to have reneged on performing his role as general, accepting without consulting God a battle plan drawn up by spies. Finally, God seems genuinely contemptuous of Joshua's prayer. In the mouth of Moses, such an abject prayer brought divine reconciliation, but God tells Joshua, "Stand up! What are you doing down on your face?"

A coherent interpretation of the story would be that hubris has afflicted the whole people as a result of the easy victory at Jericho. Many have broken the covenant by imagining that they and not God are responsible. Some have lied, perhaps by boasting. Others have sinned in other ways. Perhaps they failed to cut down the Asherah poles. One has committed the act that God finds unforgivable, largely holding back precious metals from the collective treasury, and this one is sacrificed.

But the sin is spread more widely than Achan and it manifests itself in several militarily disastrous ways: Joshua fails to consult the Lord in planning a battle; he allows a small force to be sent up when there is no good reason not to send the full forces; he apparently decides to take his rest rather than leading the troops; and when things go badly, the Israelites-- lacking confidence in God-- break ranks and run. This is how pride is manifested, and we can see it operating even today, if we will open our eyes.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Joshua 6

Joshua performs a ritual to bring down the walls of Jericho. For six days, the armed men walk once around the city with seven priests blowing shofar in front of the Ark. On the seventh, they walk around seven times with seven priests blowing shofar. At the conclusion of the circuit, the priests blow a long blast and the people shout. The walls collapse, and everything in the city except Rahab and her kin and the gold, silver, and bronze are to be destroyed. If anything at all is spared, Joshua warns, the camp of Israel will be liable to destruction and trouble.

After all this is accomplished, Joshua curses the city of Jericho, stating that a man will lose his firstborn son if he rebuilds the foundation and his youngest son will die when he sets up the gate.

The symbolism of seven is of interest, as is the question of how Joshua accomplished the conquest of Jericho without breaking the Sabbath.

A great deal about the shofar can be learned at

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Joshua 5

Standing on unfamiliar ground and in hostile territory directly before the enemy, Joshua orders his men, on the command of the Lord... to be circumcised. A full discussion of circumcision is to be found at the Jewish encyclopedia (

Militarily, Joshua's action is seeming madness. The men of Schechem (Gen 34.) were slaughtered three days after circumcision because they could not defend themselves. Yet the residents of Canaan are so paralyzed with fear after seeing the Israelites pass through the Jordan at flood stage that they do not attack.

What is particularly striking is that the Israelite men have, according to most interpreters, not been previously circumcised; in any event, their circumcisions are inadequate ( Clearly Moses was remiss as a religious leader, having allowed the practice to lapse or having done it in an ineffectual manner.

The hypothesis that Moses allowed the practice of circumcision to lapse could help to illuminate several passages. First, it may explain why God refused to let Moses enter into the Promised Land. While Moses had been personally faithful to God, he had not done what a religious leader should do in preserving the Covenant. Second, consider what light it casts on the story of Zipporah and the circumcision of their son. Zipporah says, "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me." Moses had been unfaithful to the Covenant by failing to circumcise their son. So, perhaps Zipporah was saying something like, "Until now we haven't been properly married, but now you are a husband whose son is of the Covenant." In any event, Moses' failure to circumcise his own son does seem to be repeated in the need to circumcise the Israelites.

At this point, the Israelites leave the unreal existence of wandering the desert. They have Passover and manna ceases to fall from heaven. Life, in its fullness, begins again.

And an extraordinary miracle occurs. The commander of the army of the Lord appears to Joshua and gives him a message: the place Joshua is standing near Jericho is holy. This message, identical to God's message to Moses at the burning bush implies that the commander of the army of the Lord is God Himself. However, traditionally, the commander is associated with the archangel Michael ( According to Jewish legend, this angel reproached Joshua for neglect of the study of the Torah (

The commander of the army of the Lord has another interesting message. He tells Joshua that he is neither for the Israelites nor for their enemies. God, of course, is not for one group of people or another, but for His purposes: truth, love, peace, mercy, and so on. It's a message the warring factions of today would be wise to heed.

Joshua 4

The crossing of the Jordan takes place on the tenth day of the first month, Nissan. Since the Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, this does not correspond to a specific day of the Western calendar, but would be in the range of March-April ( Passover begins on the fifteenth day of Nissan (, so this will be the first Passover celebrated in the Promised Land.

The miracle occurs in a perfectly unmistakable manner. Once the priest's feet enter the Jordan, the water stops flowing. As soon as they cross to the other side, the full flood of the Jordan recommences. Thus God's power, concentrated in the Ark, controls nature. Joshua gets the credit for the miracle, and the people revere him, as God has promised. Joshua again points to the benefits of the miracle to the Israelites, notably the salutary effect it has on their enemies and on the Israelites themselves.

The tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh lead the way across the Jordan, with a total of 40,000 armed men.

Twelve stones, each carried by one man from each tribe, are set up at their camp, which was in Gilgal, at the eastern border of Jericho. The name Gilgal sounds like the Hebrew for to roll, according to the NIV. The stones, which we can presume were heavy since they had to be carried on the shoulder, are erected in a permanent shrine at Gilgal.

Commentator Matthew Henry (and others) believes that the twelve additional stones were set up in the middle of the Jordan as a monument (Joshua 4:9, However, the preceding sentence says that that the tribal representatives carried the twelve stones to the camp, so verse 9 would seem to be a textual imperfection, signaling Joshua's role in a slightly later event.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Joshua 3

Joshua arises early to the task and leadsthe Israelites from Shittim to an encampment on the west side of the Jordan, directly opposite Jericho. There he waits three days. So, his early rising did not indicate haste.

The Israelites are commanded to stay 1000 yards from the Ark and are commanded to consecrate themselves. The Lord promises to perform a miracle, parting the Jordan, specifically to exalt Joshua. Commentator Matthew Henry ( points to Rahab's statement that the Jerichoites are in fear because of the parting of the Red Sea as evidence that the parting of the Jordan, especially in its flood stage, made them more fearful. Joshua 5:1 does indicate a cumulative panic on the part of the Canaanites. Joshua, however, tells the Israelites that the function of the miracle is to serve as a sign of God's presence and power rather than simply as a device for terrorizing Canaan.

The enemies of the Israelites are named: the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia (, the Canaanites lived between the Mediterranean coast and the Jordan. In some contexts, it applies specifically to the coastal dwellers and in that case is identical with Phoenicians. The Hittite territory was vague. Hebron was a Hittite city in Abraham's day, and Hittites are mentioned in south central Palestine. However, the territory is also stated to extend from Lebanon to the Euphrates. The Perizzites lived in southern Palestine. Hivites occupied central Palestine. The Amorites were dispersed throughout the area, and were accused of engaging in witchcraft. Little is known about the Girgashites. The Jebusites were headquartered in Jerusalem.

The "priests, who are Levites" carry the Ark to the Jordan. Twelve men are chosen, one from each tribe. These may be the same twelve that we are told in the following chapter are chosen to select stones from the dry river bottom to build a memorial but, if so, the text is contradictory.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Joshua 2

This chapter centers on Rahab (Hebrew Rachav, meaning wide), variously called a prostitute or an innkeeper (Hebrew zonah). Two spies are sent about eight miles across the Jordan into the walled city of Jericho. They go to Rahab's home. Louis Ginzberg's Legends of the Jews says that the two spies were Caleb and Phinehas. ( but there is no biblical support for this.

The king of Jericho, made aware of the spies' presence, demands Rahab render them to him, but she instead hides them. Her house was on the city wall, so she let them down from a rope through her window and advised them to hide for three days until the pursuit died down. In return, they agree to spare the lives of anyone in her household if she displays a scarlet cord through the same window. One anomaly in the story is that the walls of Jericho are later brought down, including presumably the wall from which the cord hangs.
Rahab is central to the story. A strong and independent woman whose heart apparently is not "melting with fear" as she describes her countrymen, she makes a shrewd, highly self-interested calculation and a sound bargain in throwing in with the Lord. Notice that she, not a male relative, makes the bargain, meaning that she was the ruler of her family. Unlike her countrymen, she recognizes God as supreme. A good question is why other residents of Jericho, who evidently also understand that God is supreme, do not surrender to the Israelites and convert to Judaism. Evidently they prefer fear to action.

There are a number of other questions one might ask. The spies presumably had to enter the city through the gate. Why were they not challenged there? How did Rahab (and the king) know they were spies? Why did the spies need to spy out the land-- and especially to enter Jericho-- if the battle plan was to raze the city walls? Wouldn't the intelligence from Joshua's early foray sufficed? If Rahab had betrayed the spies, would it have in any way affected Joshua's mission?

Rahab appears as the husband of Salmon and the mother of Boaz in the genealogy of Jesus presented in Matt. 1: 5

Leithart points out the parallel between the scarlet cord that Rahab hangs from her window to signal to the Israelites to spare her house and the blood daubed on the lintel at Passover to signal to the Angel of Death to spare the household. (

Jamieson ( says that the reason the king's messengers did not enter Rahab's house was that Oriental men had "an almost superstitious regard for a woman's apartment." More likely, Rahab was a force to be reckoned with.

Matthew Henry ( points out that Rahab is celebrated in the New Testament for proving her faith with deeds (James 2:25) and for being a strong believer (Heb. 11:31).

A number of commentators discuss the issue of Rahab's lie to the king's messenger. Some attempt to justify it (Matthew Henry is especially ingenious in this regard). Others dismiss it as not sinful since Rahab had not converted. Others say the law of the Old Testament does not absolutely forbid lying, particularly when it comes to saving life. But a simpler answer would be that the lie led as it must to another wrong, the destruction of Jericho and the murder of many innocents. It is a wrong that God in His complex works will eventually turn to good, but for the people of Jericho, it was bloody betrayal.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Joshua 1

With Moses dead, Joshua becomes the military leader of the Israelites. The men of those tribes that have been given land east of the Jordan (Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh of the tribe of Joseph) are to be required to leave their wives and children and lead the communal expedition to seize Canaan. Then "they," presumably the officers of the Israelites swear absolute fealty and impose the death penalty on any who defy Joshua. Their only requirement of him is to be strong and resolute.

God's commands and promises are somewhat different.

He promises:

  • to give Joshua every place on which he sets foot
  • a territory extending north-south over the general area of Israel, but to the east as far as the Euphrates over much of modern-day Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia
  • that no one can stand against Joshua
  • that God will never leave Joshua
  • provisional on obeying the law, that Israel will be prosperous and successful.

These appear to be personal promises, more specific to Joshua than to Israel.

He commands Joshua to:

  • be strong and (very) courageous, the same demand as the people make on Joshua
  • meditate night and day on the Law and do not deviate from it
  • not be discouraged or terrified

In understanding the conquest of Canaan, it is worth remembering that in Genesis 9: 25, Noah curses his grandsom Canaan, the son of Ham, for having seen his father's nakedness (possibly a euphemism for some sexual mischief), saying "The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers."

Jamieson says that Joshua's original name was Osher (Num 13:8) and changes into Jehoshua, meaning "God's salvation", in this book (

Matthew Henry notes that Joshua is the prototype of Jesus, and that the Septuagint actually translates "Yehoshuah" as "Jesus" (

The conquest of Canaan as recorded in the book of Joshua is through bloody conquest. Yet in Exodus 23, God promises an essentially bloodless conquest, with confusion, terror, and the hornet doing battle for the Israelites. One might ask whether the original Israelite rebellion against the invasion, recorded in Numbers 13-14, was punished by imposing on their descendants who engaged in the invasion the penalty of blood.

Monday, August 16, 2004


There are many ways to proceed in Bible study from Exodus. One could go back into Genesis, to discover the roots of the Israelites relationship to God and the nature of the conflicts between them and their neighbors. One could go sideways into the priestly law of Leviticus. One could enter the parallel track of Deuteronomy, the recapitulation of the giving of the law and the story of Moses' death. I choose to plunge into Canaan through Joshua (see or

Before proceeding, it must be said that the simple narrative of the book of Joshua, which presents the conquest of Israel as a simple military campaign, is neither consistent with the archaeological evidence nor with other passages of the Bible. H.H. Ben Sasson (A History of the Jewish People) says that two time frames are consistent with two separate biblical traditions. Between the 19th and 13th centuries BCE, the area later occupied by Edom, Moab and Ammon was depopulated. By the time of the Iron Age (somewhat before 1000 BCE), a system of fortifications had been constructed around Ammon, consistent with Numbers 21:24.

Ben Sasson notes that a great deal of archaeology does support the notion of a violent conquest (See Many Canaanite cities were destroyed in the later half of the 13th century BCE, However, it is unlikely that the conquest of Ai (modern day Et-Tell, near Bethel) was as recorded, since it was unoccupied for 1,000 years prior to the Israelite invasion. Also, the walls of Jericho existed prior to 1500 BCE, not at the time of the Israelite invasion.

Ben Sasson proposes that there were waves of penetration into Canaan, originating from Kadesh-barnea, an oasis. First was the intrusion of Joshua of the tribe of Ephraim into Edom and Moab, across the Jordan to capture Jericho and the region near Gibeon, defeating the Amorites. The Rachel tribes then occupied Mount Ephraim and north into Galilee. The Leah tribes defeated the Amorite kingdom of Sihon at Jahaz and proceeded north to confront Og, the king of Bashan, with the tribes of Reuben and Gad seizing south-central Transjordan.

While noting these extrabiblical interpretations, for the purpose of this study, let us proceed as if the book of Joshua is literally true, and seek to understand what it says and how that compares with other biblical material. From the standpoint of faith, after all, the historical accuracy is irrelevant. What matters is the scriptural message. The scriptural message of Joshua is very difficult for Christians to accept, since it is a message of brutal conquest, torture, and genocide. This is part of our tradition, but what does it mean?

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Exodus 40

This chapter completes the construction of the Tabernacle and the story of Exodus, sealing God's Covenant with the Chosen people.

The construction of the Tabernacle is presented as two recapitulations, one reminding us of God's instructions on the construction and the second confirming that Moses fulfilled the instructions precisely as presented. Notice that the construction and then the sacramental anointing proceed from the inside out. And notice the seven repetitions of "just as the Lord commanded him." (

Interestingly, once Moses had finished the work, he could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud covered it and the glory of God (kavod) filled the Tabernacle. This scene recurs in 1 Kings 8:10-12, as Solomon completes his temple ( So, what exactly prevented Moses from entering? If we recall that the kavod is connected with weight, one possible supposition is that God was present as a physical being, with the cloud (which we might regard, perhaps, as the angel of the Lord)stood guard outside.

The chapter closes with the clear reminder that God's Covenant was evident to everyone, even from a distance, with His fire dispelling the darkness and desert cold by night, and His cloud providing shade and guidance by day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Exodus 39

This chapter confirms the Israelites obedience to God's commands. The sole novel point is that Moses sees that the Israelites have been obedient, and so he blesses them. This blessing, like many elements of the construction of the Tabernacle, has parallels to the creation of earth (

Hebrews 9 uses the image of the Tabernacle to show how the New Covenant has changed mankind's relationship to God. In the Tabernacle, only the high priest could enter the inner sanctum, and then only through blood sacrifice. When Jesus laid down His life, His blood served as the sacrifice to open the Most Holy Place to all, Heaven.

Revelation also reveals parallels between the Tabernacle and Heaven. For example, the New Jerusalem is described as having twelve jeweled foundations (Rev. 21: 19) representing the apostles. While the stones are somewhat different, the parallel to the stones of the breastplate is perhaps noteworthy.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Exodus 38

In addition to confirming that God's instructions had been carried out in the construction of the altar for burnt offerings, an accounting of the materials is provided by Ithamar, son of Aaron.
  • One ton of gold
  • 3 3/4 tons of silver in half ounce donations from 603,550 men
  • 2 1/2 tons of bronze

So, the gold was brought by both men and women, but the silver by the men alone.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Exodus 37

Again, this chapter contains little new material but confirms that the Israelites obeyed the command of God in the design of the Tabernacle. However, we discover some of the craftsmanship of the implements of the Tabernacle.
Bezalel made the Ark and the atonement cover with its two cherubim. Following this point, the Hebrew is unclear as to whether Bezalel made the other implements or whether it was done by more than one person. Since the incense was the work of a perfumer, it seems likely that Bezalel was assisted.

Some interesting midrash ( suggests the reason Bezalel was selected for the task. He was the grandson of one of the men who held up Moses' arms when the Israelites were battling the Amalekites. So, he would seem to be an important figure. But he vanishes entirely. So, midrash suggests that at the time of the making of the Golden Calf, he stood in opposition and was killed for it.

Another interesting point is the question of why the cherubim are face to face. One commentator, citing rabbinic sources, suggests that there is an erotic overtone, representing the love between God and humankind ( In this view, the Law (in the Ark below) is the foundation of that love.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Exodus 36

This chapter contains very little new material and represents a confirmation of the fulfillment of God's commands to Moses.

The only genuinely new item is that we learn that the free will gift offerings are so abundant that Moses must command that they stop... a situation many pastors would be grateful to find themselves in.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Exodus 35

This chapter reprises earlier chapters, with few additions.

The lighting of fire on the Sabbath is forbidden.

The section on materials for the Tabernacle is copied verbatim from Exodus 25:1-7.

Men and women are treated equally as donors. This diverges from the usual view that women were treated as property.

The gold is presented as a wave offering.

Bezalel and Oholiab return to the narrative. Bezalel is filled with the Spirit of God which is associated with skill, ability, and knowledge. This is an important point in understanding the Spirit and its work. In the New Testament, the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, the revealer. But the term Spirit of God, used so vaguely in most congregations, is used consistently in New Testament and Old in contexts relating to knowledge. Oholiab, by contrast, is not mentioned as being filled with the Spirit, although he is said to have skill. So, perhaps Bezalel is an inventor or architect, while Oholiab is a workman. However, God has made both of them teachers.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Exodus 34

This chapter compares to Chapter 24 in that Moses go up to the mountain, this time clearly alone, and stays for 40 days and nights. It also contains a reprise of the Book of the Covenant (Ex. 20:22- 23:19).

As mentioned before, the second set of tablets was not made entirely by the Lord, as the first set seems to have been. Moses chisels the tablets and the Lord writes the Commandments.

God reveals Himself as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin, yet also punishing sin to the third and fourth generation. This is a milder Jehovah than earlier passages would suggest. Jehovah, however, also gives His name as Jealous.

Yet there is a price to the covernant that God offers. The Israelites are to commit genocide against the polytheists residing in Canaan. They are forbidden to intermarry.

Finally, Moses' face becomes radiant, such that for the calm of the people, he must wear a veil.

A comparison of the injunctions of Exodus 34 with other injunctions

From the Ten Commandments
  • Do not worship other gods
  • Do not make cast idols
  • Rest on the Sabbath, even in harvest

From the Book of the Covenant

  • The firstborn belongs to the Lord (cf. Ex. 22:29)
  • Appear before the Lord three times per year (cf. Ex. 23:14)
  • Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Ingathering (cf. Ex. 23:15)
  • Do not appear before the Lord empty-handed (cf. Ex. 23:15)
  • Separate sacrifices containing blood from those containing yeast (cf. Ex. 23:18)
  • Do not cook a goat in its mother's milk. (cf. Ex. 23:19)

Other injunctions

  • Redeem a donkey with a lamb
  • Redeem the firstborn son
    Do not let the Passover feast remain until morning

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Exodus 33

This chapter begins with a puzzling duplication. In the first statement, God tells Moses to go to Canaan, that an angel will lead them, but that God will not go because He might destroy them because they are stiff-necked (Hebrew qasheh, also meaning hard, severe, fierce, or vehement). The people begin to mourn and don't put on ornaments. In the reprise, God adds that He might destroy them if He were with them for even a moment and commands them to remove their ornaments.

And the Tent of Meeting appears in a new form. In preceding chapters, the specifications for the Tent of Meeting are described to Moses as part of the construction of the Tabernacle. In Ex. 33, it becomes a tent that Moses habitually erects outside the encampment for meeting with God. Moses and the Lord would confer face to face (Hebrew paniym, meaning face or countenance) in the presence of Joshua, while the pillar of cloud stood guard outside the Tent.

Finally, we learn the precise relationship between Moses and the Lord. God knows Moses by name, with the implication that the rest of humanity is merely an amorphous herd. The Lord promises that His Presence (paniym) will go with the Israelites. And, although God has just said that He would not accompany the Israelites, He agrees that the Presence will do precisely that. Finally, since Moses begs to see God's glory (Hebrew kabowd in the Strong concordance or kavod, as described below), God tells Moses to enter a crack in the rocks, which God will cover with His hand as he passes by. Then, when His face is no longer visible, he will let Moses see His back. For none may see the Lord's face and live, God explains.

David J. A. Clines sees this latter dialogue as a daring act of demanding from the Lord ( But of course God does not grant much of Moses' requests, beyond accompanying the Israelites. He agrees only to show His goodness and proclaim His name. So, we see Moses' childlike sincerity in wanting to know God, but also his incapacity.

Rabbi Josh Zeibach ( connects the glory (Kavod) to Kaved (the liver as an organ), and to the adjective heavy.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Exodus 32

While the Lord has been busy over 40 days instructing Moses in how the Israelites are to worship, the Israelites have been busy shaping, with the help of Aaron, an idol in the form of a golden calf. The Lord plans to destroy the Israelites and take His people from Moses. The Lord is turned away from this plan only by Moses' entreaty that the Egyptians would take this as a sign that the Lord led the Israelites out of Egypt with malign intent. As an added point, Moses asks the Lord to remember the promises made to the patriarchs.

Joshua and Moses descend from the mountain. Moses is so furious at the Israelites's inconstancy that he flings the tablets of the Law to the ground, breaking them. He burns the golden calf, grinds it to powder, and makes the Israelites drink water into which he has cast the powder. Aaron minimizes his role in the fiasco, saying that he merely threw the gold in the fire and out came the Calf. Moses rallies the clan of Levi, and they kill three thousand. Moses declares these Levites to be blessed. Then Moses offers himself up to the Lord in place of Israel. God promises punishment for the Israelites and, indeed, strikes them with a plague.

This chapter is jam-packed with interesting material.
First, the tablets described here are created entirely by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18). The replacement tablets are chiseled from stone by Moses, though written on by God (Ex. 34:1). Moses did not drop the tablets in surprise. God told him what to expect when he returned to camp. Perhaps he smashed them so that the people would be ignorant of their sin and therefore, technically not guilty.
( In any event, Moses' anger destroys the one tangible connection between God and the Israelites.

The calf, of course, would represent Egyptian gods. Telushkin (Biblical Literacy) suggests that the reference to the people dancing was an implication that they engaged in an orgy. A number of Egyptian gods were associated with cattle. The most famous is Isis, shown with horns. However, a more likely candidate for this golden calf would be Hathor, " associated with love, fertility, naughtiness, moon, music and cavorting" ( Other candidates are Bat, Hesa, Mehturt, and Shenty.

There is an interesting transformation of the Levites in this chapter. Jacob cursed Levi, and by extension all of his descendants, for his violence (Gen. 49:5-7). Now the violence has found a socially-acceptable outlet in religious cleansing.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Exodus 31

In this chapter, after additional comments about who is to do the work on the holy artifacts, we emerge from the long description of the accouterments of the Tabernacle, additional prescriptions are applied to the Sabbath, and Moses is given the two Tablets of Testimony containing the Ten Commandments, preparatory to returning from the mountaintop.

Individuals of two tribes are given the tasks of creating the holy artifacts. Bezalel of the tribe of Judah, the largest tribe, is made master jeweler and craftsman, while Oholiab of the tribe of Dan, the smallest tribe, is chosen as his assistant. The name Bezalel can be read to mean "In the shadow of God" (

As to the observance of the Sabbaths, anyone who works on the Sabbath is to be cut off from his people and put to death (it not being entirely clear how the latter could be accomplished without also accomplishing the former.) The rationale given is that the Israelites are to emulate God in His creation of the earth. In Deuteronomy 5:15, the reason given is that the Israelites are to observe the Sabbath because they are indebted to God for their release from captivity (

This is a very hard teaching. It is difficult to see how a loving God could want the farmer to abandon his crops to rot to honor the Sabbath, or how He could want the doctor to withhold life-saving treatment. It is especially difficult to understand why people would be put to death or expelled from the community for failing to uphold the Sabbath.

The New Testament reinterprets the meaning of the Sabbath. Jesus challenges the Jews as to why He should not heal on the Sabbath, and says that the Sabbath was made to serve Man, not Man to serve the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). And Paul gives what should be the ultimate refutation. In essence, he asks, why should six days should be made less holy than the seventh? (Rom. 14:5) For a believer, trying to make every day a Sabbath, a day of holiness and rest from worldliness, is a goal worth striving toward.

Exodus 30

This chapter completes the provisioning of the tabernacle:
  • An 1'6" x 1'6" acacia wood altar, overlaid with gold, for the burning of incenseA bronze basin in which Aaron and his sons will wash hands and feet before entering the Tent of Meeting and the sacrificial altar
  • Anointing oil composed of 4 liters of olive oil, 12 1/2 pounds of liquid myrrh and cassia, and 6 1/4 pounds of fragrant cane and of cinammon. This is used for anointing the Tent of Meeting, the Ark, both altars, the table, the lampstand, and the assorted accessories, as well as Aaron and his sons.
  • Incense made of equal parts gum resin, onycha, galbanum (a bitter gum resin) and frankincense.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Exodus 29

This lengthy chapter describes the consecration of the priests, a process that requires seven days.

  • Aaron is washed, dressed, and anointed with oil. Aaron's sons are dressed.
  • A bull is slaughtered and the horns of the altar wet with its blood. This is repeated each day of the seven day ceremony.
  • The fat around the organs, the covering of the liver and the kidneys of the bull are burned on the altar.
  • The flesh, the hide, and the offal are burned outside the camp as a sin offering
  • One ram is slaughtered, the blood sprinkled on the altar, and the legs and organs are washed. The entire ram is then burned on the altar.
  • A second ram, used for ordination, is slaughtered, and its blood sprinkled along with oil on Aaron and his sons, and smeared on their thumbs and big toes. The fat, the kidneys, the covering of the liver, and the right thigh,as well as three kinds of bread, are waved before the Lord as a "wave offering." These are then burned on the altar.
  • The breast of the ram, used for ordination, is waved before the Lord as a wave offering. Aaron and his sons receive both the breast and the right thigh, as well as unleavened bread, as atonement for ordination, and consecration.
  • The rest of the meat of the ram is burned up.
  • A lamb is sacrificed at the Tent of Meeting in the morning and at twilight over seven days. The morning lamb is sacrificed with 2 quarts of flour and a liter of wine.