Exodus begins the story of the travels in the desert for the Israelites. We all know the story and the “let my people go” so we know this starts in Egypt. The Israelites had it pretty good in the beginning thanks to the legacy of Joseph, but when his generation died and a new pharaoh took over this changed.
It went from them multiplying and doing well to becoming too numerous for this pharaoh’s tastes. Then then there was a point where he ordered they be enslaved and ordered baby boys to be killed. One such child that would have met this fate though was hid then sent down the river in a basket. Pharaoh’s daughter found this basket and baby Moses was spared. Later on Moses had to flee from Egypt because he killed an Egyptian that was being one of the Hebrews. This set in motion a series of events.
The burning bush and plagues
A while later God appears to Moses as a burning bush and informs him he needs to go back into Egypt and free the people. He was understandably fearful so Aaron was enlisted to be his emissary. God gave Moses and Aaron abilities to convince pharaoh that he should let the Israelits leave including turning a staff into a snake, causing and curing leprosy, and turning water into blood. The problem was that pharaoh’s magicians could do the same so this was not terribly convincing to them.
So this is where things start to get odd. At this point the plagues start. The confusing part though is I was always under the impression that pharaoh was completely at fault here. I wont excuse him making the Hebrews slaves in Egypt, but we have to look at the role of God in all of this as well. God tells Moses to go into Egypt and bring the plagues down and if pharaoh let the people go then basically job done. If not though then the plagues would increase. Now take that into perspective with this verse.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”Exodus Chapter 7 verses 1-5
Looking at verse 3 you can see the deck was stacked against pharaoh and Egypt. God did not have the intention of letting Egypt off easy and verse 5 seems to imply that he wanted to make an example out of Egypt. This paints the story of the Jewish exodus in a VERY different light than previously understood at least by me.
Again I am not excusing the previous actions of pharaoh or the Egyptians, but not only is this a different story to that we normally understand, but it seems to also be a suspension of free will on the part of God. Either way through the various plagues and eventually the Passover event where all the firstborn of Egypt died the Hebrews are told to leave and they head out into the desert.
It would seem they were away from Egypt at this point and free of the pharaoh, but then God hardened the pharaoh’s heart again so he would pursue them. This is where Moses parted the red see and they were able to cross, but the Egyptian army was swallowed by the sea.
After heading into the wilderness for a while they run into hardship. When they were hungry manna from heaven was provided and when they were thirst Moses cracked a rock and provided water. They were also attacked by an army known as the Amaleks. God gave them the ability to overcome this as long as Moses’ arms were raised. Fairly strange condition in my mind, but, hey, whatever works I guess.
After this they end up camping at Mount Sinai. Moses went up the mountain and spoke to God and received the original ten commandments. These are not the only laws that are received though. Through the next couple of chapters he receives a large set of rules and regulations including:
- How to keep and treat Hebrews as slaves (servants in some new translations)
- How to deal with personal injury and murder
- How to deal with the injury or loss of an animal by another
- A lot of notes on social responsibility in a very odd fashion
- The establishment of the sabbath
- The establishment of festivals
All of that and more are listed out in detail in the chapters. A couple of things that people tend to key in on when they are being critical is the endorsement of slavery or at least servitude and the idea that if a man seduces a virgin he is not meant to be punished, but in fact he is to marry her and pay the “bride-price” to her father. Her father is able to override this and just accept the money, but she does not seem to have any agency in this.
Yes, I realize this is me putting my morality on the situation, but when the Bible says outright that seduced (raped in some translations) women are essentially the property of the man and that you are able to beat your slaves and as long as they dont die straight away its all good I think I’m justified in doing so.
This section finds an end with an extremely detailed description of the tabernacle, alter, robes and everything else the Hebrews are meant to create for God including what to make it out of, how big they should be and how they should be used.
The golden calf
While Moses was up on the mountain the people started to stray and build golden idols to worship. This enraged God and Moses. Moses went down and admonished the people saying they had lost their way and in his rage broke the tablets on which he had inscribed the law. He also had to turn and plead with the lord to spare the people and even though he was successful a full 3000 people were killed because of the idol worship.
Because he broke the tablets he had to go back up the mountain and reenscribe them. The rules in this chapter are slightly different, but the intent seems to be the same so i dont think the intent was to ret con the rule so much as rewrite them.
The rest of the book is basically the building of the tabernacle, alter, lampstand, etc. Upon completion God filled the room and seemed pleased with it construction.
- Hebrews enslaved in Egypt
- Plagues of Egypt and Passover
- Crossing the Red Sea
- Establishment of law and construction plans
- Golden calf and the wrath of God
- Building of the Tabernacle
This one has eye opening for me. I had heard all of these stories before but filtered through the veil of nicety and positivity.
I expected to read about the plagues and come away with the standard “pharaoh was a dick” thought process I always did. While he was I cant help but feel a little bad for them since God seems to have suspended their free will to prove a point. I’m not sure that was necessary. It shows God as petty if anything and vengeful at worse which I know modern Christians would rather shy away from.
Other than that we have the lawgiving. Traditional Hebrew law is now archaic and outdated in most people’s mind so a lot of the issues can be forgiven as a relic of a bygone era. There are some that stand out though.
The first of those being the endorsement of slavery. While Hebrews are meant to be treated nicely and released anyone else is not subject to these can be beaten without consequence unless they die. The thought process here is why allow it at all? If God is just then should he have not just said no to slavery? Should that not have been in his power as he is establishing laws for his people? Its an odd question to ponder when he spends an entire chapter on the punishments for accidentally killing a donkey or bull.
The second is the treatment of women. Again the same thought process of could he have not said that men and women are equal? Could he have given women agency in their own life and marrage that he seemly chose not to?
These make you wonder at the Jewish and Christian conception of the divine. I know a lot of Christians would say these laws were superseded by Jesus and thus are not relevant anymore and time will tell on the reading of those passages, but the fact remains why did they have to be superseded at all? If God is all knowing, just and benevolent why didnt he get this right out of the gate?
I dont say this to poke hole and prove that the divine is not real. I believe it is, but I do wonder at this interpretation and why there would be such a focus on the menial and no focus on what would truly be just and right… at least by modern conception.