Saturday, April 4, 2009

EXODUS: Chapters 31 & 32

Chapter 31
Summary:God tells Moses that he has appointed Bezalel (who is the son of Uri, and grandson of Hur, of the tribe of Judah) to be the one to construct the tabernacle and everything it is to contain. He then tells Moses that he has appointed Oholiab (son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan) to be his assistant. Both will be blessed with wisdom, abilities, and special skills to aid them in constructing the tabernacle and all it will contain.

God now tells Moses, yet again, to tell the people of Israel to rest on the sabbath day, reinforcing that any one who works on that day must die and shall be killed. God stresses once again, that this day is holy and compares it to the creation account in Genesis: Chapters 1 & 2.

God then gives Moses two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments, which were written upon them by the "finger of God". The commandments are*:
  • You shall have no other gods before me.
  • You shall not make for yourself a carved image--any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  • Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  • Honor your father and your mother.
  • You shall not kill*.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal*.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his slaves, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.
Notes:1.) The commandments are actually stated in Exodus: Chapter 20, however, there are many disagreements of how exactly these 16 verses are divided into ten commandments. Wikipedia lists the common methods of dividing them by various religions and sects of Christianity.
2.) Most Christian religions use the more specific translation here as "You shall not murder".
3.) Judaism asserts that this commandment refers to kidnapping, as the commandments preceding this one are capital offenses.
Thoughts:God tells Moses that Bezalel and his helper Oholiab have been appointed to build the tabernacle and everything it is to contain, adding that he'll endow them with the proper wisdom and skills to build it all.

In God's habitual tendency of repeating himself ad nauseam, he once again tells Moses to instruct the people to obey the law of not working on the sabbath or they are to be killed. I find it fascinating that many Christians still hold the Ten Commandments in high regard, often insisting that they should be displayed in government buildings, yet virtually none observe the sabbath day despite God being very clear that people are to be killed for not observing it. God has made this law quite clear in Exodus: Chapter 16, Exodus: Chapter 20, and Exodus: Chapter 23, yet many Christians continue to work on Saturdays.

Finally finished engraving the stone tablets with his mighty finger, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments that we had heard earlier in Exodus: Chapter 20.

First off, God doesn't want anyone worshiping any other gods, as by his own admission, he is a jealous and possessive god.

Next off, he doesn't want anyone creating any idols - carved images or otherwise - for the means of worshiping. I'm not sure if this includes those statues of Jesus, the virgin Mary, or various saints that people buy and sell in this modern age, or perhaps even paintings and pictures of religious figures that people tend to pray to.

Next up, God says that no-one is to use his name (meaning the name Yahweh, or the bastardized English form as Jehovah) in vain. This is puzzling as to why God is so protective about how people use his name in language and seems rather petty.

Next we're told to keep the sabbath holy and that no work is to be done at all. This, as stated earlier is a capital offense. Working on Saturday means you have broken this commandment and that you must be taken out to be stoned to death. Again, this is quite puzzling as to why this one commandment has pretty much been abandoned by believers in modern western civilization who stress the importance of the Ten Commandments. Perhaps to the modern world there are only Nine Commandments?

Next up God tells us to honor our mothers and fathers, without exception. Honestly, sometimes we have to concede that parentage is not always a sign of a decent person. Some parents abuse their children verbally, physically, and sexually and are not worthy of honor or respect. The bible however makes no distinction here, and again reviling or cursing either of your parents is another capital offense - according to Exodus: Chapter 21.

Next God commands that we are not to kill - or if you prefer, murder. Unless of course you are Moses, then it's okay to murder an Egyptian in retaliation for striking a Hebrew slave (Exodus: Chapter 2). God of course, is exempt from having to set an example for his people, as he has wantonly killed millions of people so far, which I've described in more detail in my summary for Exodus: Chapter 20.

Next God adds that we are not to commit adultery, where adultery in this context is defined as a man who has sex with a married woman who is not his wife. Presumably, this exempts a man regardless of his own marital status, from having sex with prostitutes (female ones, of course), unmarried female slaves, and unmarried women (who presumably become his wives or concubines). This is another capital offense for both the adulterer and adulteress.

Next up God tells us that stealing is wrong, which as noted above in my footnotes, the Jewish view is that this pertains to kidnapping and not property theft. God's penalties are quite different for thefts of property versus kidnapping, where the latter is again a capital offense.

God now commands that a person shall not bear false witness upon his neighbor, which basically means that you are not allowed to misrepresent the truth, or lie about your neighbors.

Finally God commands that we are not to covet our neighbor's "belongings" which included under this header are his wife, his slaves, his home, and his livestock. This commandment has always seemed a bit silly to me as most people tend to desire what belongs to other people. However, there is definitely a distinction between what we may want versus what we are actively pursuing. In some senses I believe it's actually healthy to want things that our friends and neighbors have; for example, admiring your neighbor's new car and wanting one just like it, often leads us to work harder and try to succeed to achieve that goal.

A point of contention I often have with believers is over the idea of lust being a "bad thing". As a married man, I often lust after other women - it is a natural urge for us to look at an attractive person and desire to have sexual relations with them. I often share these thoughts with my wife, as she shares her own thoughts with me, and this actually has the effect of strengthening our trust in one another and teaches us about our tastes in beauty and sexuality. The difference is that I am committed to my marriage and despite my desires I don't jeopardize my marriage, nor do I put my freedom in jeopardy when I see a piece of property or merchandise that I desire but can't afford. I'm sure we've all "plotted in our heads" from time to time how "easy" it could be for us to score with another person or how we could shoplift a desirable item in a store, but there's a definite difference between thinking and doing.

Fantasy and daydreaming - even about bad things - can be healthy and can help us relieve negative thoughts just by playing it through in our heads or on paper. Often times when we're angry it can be quite therapeutic to write a nasty letter to someone who is angering you without actually sending it to them. It's the mechanism of releasing these thoughts, regardless of their negativity, that allows us to be introspective towards ourselves and to release emotions rather than having to express them.
Chapter 32
Summary:When Moses didn't come down from the mountain in a timely fashion, the people of Israel became worried that he had disappeared. They then turned to Aaron and asked him to create a god that could lead them, assuming that Moses had vanished in the mountains. Aaron had the people give him their golden earrings and he melted them down to make a golden calf out of the molten gold.

The people became happy again as they personified the golden calf as the god who had brought them out of Egypt. Aaron saw their happiness and built an altar before the calf and announced that tomorrow there would be a feast to Yahweh.

The people woke up early the following morning and began offering animal sacrifices to the golden calf. Afterwards they sat down to a feast, drinking, and being merry.

God then told Moses to quickly descend from the mountain as he states that the people have "defiled" themselves and have abandoned all of God's laws. God then decides that he shall let out his anger and destroy them all, adding that he'll make Moses and his descendants into a great nation instead.

Moses however pleads with God not to do it, asking him why is anger is so great towards his own people. He then points out that the Egyptians will say that God had tricked the people of Israel into coming out to the wilderness so that they could be destroyed in seclusion. Moses tells God to turn away from his anger and wrath and away from the terrible evil that God is planning against his own people. Moses finishes by reminding God that he had made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel and would be going against his own word by slaying the Israelis.

God changes his mind and spares the people, sending Moses down from the mountain with the two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments. When Moses' assistant Joshua heard the noise of the people below them, he thought they were preparing for war, to which Moses replied that they were actually singing instead.

When Moses neared the camp and saw the people singing and dancing before the golden calf, he threw the stone tablets to the ground in anger, breaking them both. He took the golden calf and melted in a fire, and when it cooled he ground the metal into a fine powder, spreading it upon the water, and forcing the people to drink it.

Moses then turned to Aaron asking him what must the people have done* to make Aaron bring such a terrible sin amongst them. Aaron told Moses not to be so upset and that he should understand what a wicked bunch of people these are*. He explains to his brother Moses that the people had thought he had vanished and that he had asked for their golden earrings. Aaron tells Moses that when he melted the earrings in the fire that the calf had simply come out of the fire.

When Moses saw that the people were naked* - at Aaron's doing, shaming themselves amongst their enemies - he stood at the camp entrance and shouted to the people, ordering that anyone who was on God's side was to join him over where he stood. All of the Levites came over.

Moses then told the Levites to arm themselves with their swords and to go across the camp slaying everyone, even if it meant killing their sons, brothers, or neighbors. The Levites did as they were told and killed about three thousand men.

Moses then told the Levites that they had ordained themselves for God's service by obeying God's command* even though it meant killing their sons, brothers, and neighbors. He tells the people that God will bestow a great blessing upon them.

Moses tells the people the next day, that although they have committed a great sin, he would now go before God to plead for his forgiveness. When Moses appeared before God he begged of him to forgive the people, and if not, then God can kill him instead.

God replies that the people who sinned against him would be killed. After telling Moses that the people would get their punishment, he instructs Moses to lead the people towards the place he had told him about, assuring Moses that an angel would travel on ahead of them.

God then sent a great plague amongst the people for worshiping Aaron's golden calf.
Notes:1.) It was Aaron's idea to make the golden calf, not the people of Israel.
2.) Aaron is shifting the blame here away from himself and implicating the rest of the people for his own doing.
3.) The bible once again reinforces that nudity is shameful.
4.) It is not specified that God himself gave this command, and as written appears that Moses had given this command alone.
Thoughts:During Moses' forty day and forty night stay on top of the mountain, the people became convinced that Moses had vanished and pleaded with Moses' brother Aaron to make them a new god. Aaron comes up with an idea to melt down the people's earrings and forge a golden calf out of the molten gold. This makes the people happy and they apparently party it up with a feast, some drinking, song, and dance.

God however is not amused and tells Moses that he's going to kill them all (so much for love and compassion). Moses pleads with God to not kill the people and uses an interesting word here - "evil". Moses apparently sees that God's overreaction by wanting to murder everybody for worshiping a silly golden calf is evil, and adds that he'd also be breaking his promise and vows to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel by not letting their descendants become a great nation.

Another interesting thing happens here - God changes his mind, implying that God can be wrong about things, may make rash decisions, may kill people for the wrong reasons, and may make mistakes. This is interesting in the respect that believers often state that God's judgment is perfect and infallible, and while we can question many things about some of his choices elsewhere, clearly here he changes his mind, which shows that God's judgment has the potential and possibility of being wrong. It can be argued that God didn't go through with a "mistake" here, but the point is that it took Moses to convince God that he was wrong and was about to do something very evil.

So God sends Moses on down the mountain, and upon seeing all the people singing and dancing in front of the golden cow he smashes the two tablets containing God's ten commandments. He then asks Aaron what the heck is going on, to which Aaron shifts the blame away from himself and towards the "wicked" people of Israel. Moses then melts the golden cow, grinds up the gold into powder, mixes the powder into their water, and forces the people to drink it. He then tells whoever is with him and wants to obey God's laws to suit up for a slaughter. As the Levites step up, swords in hand, Moses tells them to slaughter everyone else - regardless of family ties. Three thousand people are killed at the hands of the Levites which begs the question of how many of the 600,000+ people were actually descended from Levi? Something doesn't quite add up to assume that there were 597,000 Levites and that everyone else in the remaining three thousand was descended from the other tribes.

Moses pats the Levites on the back for slaughtering all of the 3,000 people - regardless of their family connections - and tells them that God will bestow a great blessing upon them. (The joke however, will be on them when God sends a deadly plague as his "thanks".)

Moses then begs God to forgive the sinners and that he'll sacrifice his own life in turn to save them (sound a little familiar?). God instead tells Moses that the people who turned against him will get what they have coming to them for sinning against him. God sends a nasty plague to deal with all of that golden cow worshiping, which somehow our instigator Aaron manages to survive.

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