Friday, March 20, 2009

EXODUS: Chapters 13 & 14

Chapter 13
Summary:God instructs Moses to dedicate to him all of the first born sons of Israel, as well as every first born male animal claiming to him that "they are mine".

Moses then addresses the people of Israel (all 600,000+ of them?) telling them that this is a day for them to remember forever. He then reminds them, by recounting, the rules laid down for the annual celebration of the holiday. He tells them that during the celebration days each year that they must explain to their children why they celebrate. He tells them that this memorial week brands them as unique people, as if God had branded his ownership upon them like cattle.

He explains to the people that all the first born sons and first born male animals now belong to God, and that when they reach the "promised land" that they must be given (meaning by ritual sacrifice) to God. He further explains that they can "buy back" (or substitute), for example, a donkey with a lamb, but that something has to be killed. Moses adds that for human sons, they must "buy back" (or exchange them) with another animal to be sacrificed.

God did not lead the people of Israel through the land of the Philistines, although that was the most direct route from Egypt to the "promised land". God's reasoning being that he felt the people could become discouraged if they had to fight their way through, and perhaps some might return to Egypt out of frustration. Instead God leads them along a route through the Red Sea wilderness.

Moses had taken the bones of Joseph with him, as Joseph had made the sons of Israel promise that they would take his bones with them as they were led by God out of Egypt.

Leaving Succoth, they camped at Etham at the edge of the wilderness. God guided them by a pillar of cloud during the daytime, and by a pillar of fire at night. Neither pillar was ever out of sight from them.
Thoughts:Perhaps it's just me, but I've never been able to understand animal (or human) sacrifices, especially in the name of all-powerful "gods". God has the power to kill, and to kill the first born as he had apparently done in Egypt - yet now, he wants the people of Israel to gruesomely slaughter a bunch of animals for him - once every year.

I fail to see how the ghastly and gruesome slaughtering of animals is supposed to please God, and how or why he enjoys the suffering and terror that human beings are putting upon innocent living beings.

While a controversial subject to some, like myself, who have adopted a life of vegetarianism (I'm a pescitarian, more precisely - meaning I still consume fish and seafood) we can at least justify the needs for killing animals for food, pelts, skins, or for other uses when we show respect and compassion for the life we have to take. Modern hunters are (usually) a fine example of how mankind strives to minimize the amount of pain and suffering involved towards their prey. They attempt to make death as quick and painless as possible, and with a wounded animal they finish the job off as quickly as possible.

In ritualistic sacrifice, minimizing pain and suffering is not a concern, and it seems bizarre and contradictory to me that a God who is described as "merciful", "loving", and "compassionate" not only condones, allows, commands, and encourages this kind of suffering and trauma - he likes it as well, the bible describes it "pleasing" to him.

Anyways, God allows the people to make substitutions - so if you really don't want to kill your first born male donkey, you might be able to slip God a lamb in its place. Human first born males however, require a substitute proxy animal, establishing that God doesn't care for human sacrifices unless he himself is doing the killing. However, whatever the case may be, God wants you to kill something for him.

I'm also having trouble imagining Moses without the aid of a public address system being able to address over half a million people with his decrees unless he's either got some sort of newsletter to pass around, or if he's just holding a bunch of seminars for a couple hundred people at a time. Perhaps he's given these messages to some of the elders and had them address groups of people, but the way in which the bible is written makes it appear that Moses somehow manages to make himself heard to all 600,000+ people at once - which would be a pretty amazing feat, even with a modern public address system.

Meanwhile, we are told that God had decided to lead his people to their "promised land" by taking the long route, as he didn't want to discourage the Israelis by making them fight their way through a more direct route through Philistine country. He notes that possibly some of the Israelis might have given up and simply headed back to Egypt, so he opts for the longer journey for them.

Moses upholds the Israeli promise to Joseph - of not being left behind or buried in Egypt - and carries along Joseph's bones on the journey to the promised land, 400 years or so after his death.

God now leads the people by taking the forms of giant clouds during the day, and blazing fireballs at night, allowing the people to travel both night and day.
Chapter 14
Summary:God now instructs Moses to tell the people to turn towards Piha-hiroth and to camp there along the shore, explaining that the Pharaoh (who is apparently about to pursue them) will think that he has trapped the Israelis between the desert and the sea. He tells Moses that he will harden the Pharaoh again, and in turn that he will chase after the people of Israel.

When word reached the Pharaoh that the Israelis were not planning on returning to Egypt after their supposed three day excursion, the Pharaoh became angered at the fact that he was losing his slaves. The Pharaoh led a chase in his chariot, along with his army totaling 600 chariots in all. The Pharaoh's entire cavalry of horses, chariots, and charioteers overtook the people of Israel at the shore of Piha-hiroth.

As the Egyptian army approached the people of Israel became frightened and begged for God's help. They complained to Moses for getting them into this whole mess, feeling that they would have been better off not having listened to him in the first place. They told him that they wished that they had remained slaves in Egypt as opposed to dying out here in the desert.

Moses, however, tells the people to not be afraid, and to prepare to marvel in the miraculous way that God will rescue them.

God then tells Moses to cut out the chit-chat and to get the people moving. He tells Moses to hold his rod out over the water and that the sea will open up a path for the people of Israel to cross on dry land. God then moved a cloud around behind them to stand between the Israelis and the Egyptians, and at night became a pillar of fire, giving darkness to the Egyptians but light to the Israelis. The Egyptians were now having a tough time finding the Israelis.

Meanwhile Moses stretched his rod over the sea, and God opened up a path with walls of water on each side. He caused a strong east wind to blow that night, drying the bottom of the sea. The people of Israel then crossed the sea on dry ground.

As the Egyptians went in after them, God started making their chariot wheels come off. The soldiers then shouted to each other to retreat, as God was clearly fighting for the Israelis and against themselves.

When all the people of Israel made it across the sea, God tells Moses to again stretch his hand across the sea to close the waters. Moses did as he was commanded, and the sea returned to normal under the morning light. The Egyptians tried to flee, but it was too late and God drowned them all at sea. Not a single member of the Egyptian army that had pursued them across the sea survived.

The people of Israel saw the dead Egyptians washed up on the shore, and realized that had witnessed a mighty miracle. They became afraid of God, yet now believed in him and his servant Moses.
Thoughts:The Pharaoh somehow gets wind that the people of Israel have no intentions of returning back to Egypt after the "three day pilgrimage" they'd been requesting for all along. Incensed by the thought of losing all those Hebrew slaves for good, he decides to gather his army of 600 chariots in hot pursuit.

Meanwhile, God has his own plan to once again strike another blow to the Egyptians. He has Moses lead the people towards the Red Sea, explaining to him that the Egyptians will think they have cornered them. However, God tells Moses that when he lifts his magic staff over the water, that will cause the Red Sea to part, granting them a pathway to cross the river on dry land.

When the Egyptians approach, the people of Israel start getting all huffy with Moses again angry that he had seemed to have led them into another bad situation - this time being a death trap. Moses however, tells them not to fear, but stand back and watch as God rescues them with his spectacular magical powers.

God first creates a cloud cover over the Egyptians, leaving them in darkness, while he lights the way for the Israelis with his magical fireball. As Moses waves his magic staff over the water, the Red Sea parts just as God said it would, and God gets to work blowing an eastern wind across the pathway to dry up the floor of the sea.

The Israelis manage to cross over the sea, but when the Egyptians finally make it in after them in the morning, God tells Moses to once again raise his hands over the sea to close it back up.

The Egyptians trying to flee for their lives all die by drowning in the sea without a single survivor. When dead bodies of the Egyptian soldiers wash up on the shores, the people begin to fear God and profess their belief in him as well as his messenger Moses.

Of particular note is the explicit mention of "fear" and how it relates to theistic belief. This has always bothered me that belief is coerced by the notion of fear, and that intimidation lies at the core of belief. Again, another contradiction of God's "love" and "compassion" is when he is a force to be feared - by his followers!

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