Monday, April 6, 2009

EXODUS: Chapters 33 & 34

Chapter 33
Summary:God tells Moses to lead the people of Israel towards the "promised land", and again tells him that an angel will drive out the tribes living there. God then tells Moses that he will not travel amongst the people of Israel, calling them stubborn and unruly*, and that he would be tempted to destroy them.

When the people heard God's threat they went into mourning and stripped themselves of their jewelry and fancy clothes. God apparently tells Moses to command them to remove their jewelry, leaving these two verses in doubt as to whose idea it was. Either way, the Israelis wore no jewelry from this point on.

Moses erected the tabernacle tent far outside of the camp wherever they went. Whenever Moses went to the tabernacle, the people would rise and stand at their tent doors watching until he reached the entrance. As he entered, a pillar of cloud would appear at the door while God spoke to Moses. The people would then bow and worship the cloud from their tent doorways. Inside Moses would speak to God face to face, and afterwards would return to the camp, but leaving his assistant Joshua behind.

Moses asked God to clearly guide him towards the "promised land", and that if God would not accompany them, then the people would not move from this spot. He further explains that if God does not accompany them, how will others know that the Israelis are "different" from any other people of the earth.

God agrees to do as Moses asked, and in turn Moses asks to see God's glory. God tells Moses that he will make his "goodness" pass before him and will announce the meaning of his name, but that Moses cannot see the glory of his face, as man may not see him and live.

However, God tells Moses to stand on a rock beside him, and that when his glory goes by, he will cover Moses' face with his (God's) hand until he has passed, then will remove his hand and will let Moses see his back as he passes.
Notes:1.) The King James version uses the term "stiffnecked" here.
Thoughts:God, apparently still brooding over that whole golden calf business from Chapter 32, tells Moses that he will not travel with the Israelis to the "promised land" because it would be too tempting to kill them all. Apparently God lacks self restraint and seems to have little patience, tolerance, or compassion towards his chosen people.

The odd thing here is that Moses is painted here in a far more compassionate and loving light than God is. Here, Moses knows that his people can be a bunch of imperfect screw-ups and as opposed to God, he knows that outright killing them is not the answer (refer to Exodus: Chapter 32 where Moses talks God out of slaying them all), and nor is abandoning them. Here it appears that Moses is actually a better leader than God himself, or at the very least has far more compassion, patience, and understanding towards his fellow man. Despite Moses murdering an Egyptian in revenge for striking a Hebrew slave and commanding the Levites to slaughter 3,000 of their own people, Moses' death count is still well below God's - despite that God has had a several thousand year headstart, his high kill counts occur in spans of less than a year (the mass Genocide in Genesis: Chapter 7 with the flood, and the mass murder committed in the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis: Chapter 19).

Next up we have an unclear account of why the Israelis stopped wearing jewelry. Verse four makes it seem like the people themselves stopped wearing their jewelry by their own free will, where verse five shows us that God had actually commanded that the people remove their jewelry as a punishment. While we can conclude that it ultimately was God's decision and a small punishment of his, it's curious as to why verse four is written as such to make it appear as if the people removed their jewelry out of remorse for their "bad behavior". Perhaps the people may have realized their "bad behavior" after God's punishment, or at least the extent of how they upset God, but verse four seems to imply that the people imposed this punishment upon themselves.

Moses then tells God that if he's not going to travel with them, then the people aren't going to move from this spot. God relents when Moses explains that if God isn't traveling amongst them, then how will their enemies realize that they're a "different" people, and presumably "better than them", without God's presence.

Finally Moses asks to see the glory of God's face, which God refuses on the grounds that mortals looking upon his face will surely die. Instead, God curiously decides to put his hand over Moses' eyes as he passes by and lets Moses see his backside as he passes him. This may just be one of the silliest verses we've read so far, at least since The Tower of Babel story.
Chapter 34
Summary:God now tells Moses to prepare two stone tablets - just like the ones he sort of broke earlier - to write the ten commandments upon again. He tells Moses to be ready to climb the mountain in the morning to retrieve them, adding that no-one is to accompany him, nor shall they come anywhere near the mountain - including stray animals. In the morning, Moses returned to Mount Sinai with the two stone tablets.

God descended upon the mountain in the form of a cloud, passing in front of Moses, and announced the meaning of his name. He tells Moses that he is Yahweh, the merciful and gracious god, slow to anger, and rich in steadfast love and truth. Yahweh continues by saying that he shows this "steadfast love" to many thousands by forgiving their sins, and that he refuses to clear the guilty, requiring a father's sin to be punished to his sons and grandsons, and further generations.

Moses once again begs God to accompany the Israelis to the "promised land", to which God again agrees. He makes a pact with Moses, stating that he will perform a bunch of mighty miracles so that the people of Israel will see his power, and that Moses' part of the agreement is to obey all of the commandments.

God continues on telling Moses again that he will drive out the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hevites, and Jebusites. He warns Moses not to compromise with the inhabitants living in the "promised land", stating that if he does then soon he will be following their "evil ways". He tells Moses instead that he is to destroy their heathen altars and destroy their idols, for the people of Israel are only to worship Yahweh.

God tells Moses that they are not to make any peace treaties of any kind with the people living in the land, calling them "spiritual whores" for sacrificing to other gods. He also forbids them from taking any of their daughters as wives, as they will make the sons of Israel go "whoring after" other Gods.

God then reminds Moses not to forget about celebrating the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and repeats his mantra about every first born male belonging to him. He tells Moses again that the firstborn colt of a donkey may be redeemed by substituting a lamb, but that if one chooses not to redeem it, then its neck must be broken. He adds that no one shall appear before God without a gift.

God now repeats his commandment about the sabbath, and follows it up with his laws about the three annual pilgrimages. God adds that no one will attack or conquer their land while they appear before God, as God will drive out the nations before them and enlarge their boundaries.

God reminds Moses not to use leavened bread in any ritual sacrifices, nor is any of the Passover lamb to be kept for the following day. God also repeats that the people must bring the best of their first crops, and also that a young goat must not be cooked in its mother's milk. God tells Moses to write down these laws (again?) as they will be the terms of the covenant between God and the people of Israel.

Moses was up on the mountain again for forty days and forty nights, in which time he did not either or drink anything. God rewrote the ten commandments on the new tablets and sent Moses back down the mountain. Unbeknown to Moses, his face glowed from being in the presence of God.

Because of the radiant glow upon Moses face, Aaron and the people of Israel were frightened to go any where near him, yet Moses called for Aaron and the leaders of Israel before him. Afterwards all the people of Israel gathered before Moses and he gave them the Ten Commandments.

When Moses finished speaking with the people he placed a veil over his face, which he removed each time he went into the tabernacle to speak directly with God. He would leave the veil off as he passed on the instructions God so that the people would see his face aglow with the glory of God. Afterwards he would put the veil back on until he returned to speak with God again.
Thoughts:God has Moses get two more stone tablets to write the ten commandments on and to replace the ones Moses had broken earlier. He tells Moses to swing by in the morning to pick them up, while warning him that he is to come alone - adding that no one, man or animal is to even go near the mountain.

When Moses arrives, God takes the form of a pillar of clouds and tells Moses about the meaning of his name, Yahweh. He suspiciously describes himself as "merciful", "gracious", and "slow to anger" - which run contrary to what the bible has described so far about God's temperament. Mercy was not shown to the millions (more probably actually billions) of innocent infants, children, and animals drowned in the flood story in Genesis: Chapter 7, nor towards the millions of firstborn sons he killed in Egypt in Exodus: Chapter 11 - these are not examples of "mercy" by any stretch of the imagination.

God's claims of showing "steadfast love" by forgiving people's sins seems to run contrary to his claim right afterwards that he refuses to clear the guilty. God seems to forget that Moses committed murder in Egypt (killing an Egyptian who knocked down a Hebrew slave) and that God himself, almost killed Moses for simply not having his son circumcised in Exodus: Chapter 4. His claims of guilt being inherited by further generations of the offender are still as ridiculously absurd as they were when he claimed this in the book of Genesis.

God then tells Moses that when they arrive in the "promised land" that they are to smash all the inhabitants "heathen" altars and their religious idols, as he doesn't want the Israelis to be contaminated or tempted by some "false" religion. Religious and cultural intolerance is also not a good indicator of "mercy" or "compassion" either.

In fact God doesn't even want the Israelis to enact any kind of peace treaties with the inhabitants, and especially not to marry their "spiritually whoring" daughters, as they'll only contaminate the people of Israel with their false gods. Once again, misogyny and bigotry rears its ugly head, implying that these people - especially the young women - are subhuman and irredeemable.

God repeats to Moses a few of his favorite mantras including animal sacrifice for the firstborn, that sheep can be substituted for donkeys (but if not, then break the donkey's neck!), and that no one is to appear before God without some sort of gift for him - apparently God is very materialistic. He repeats his sermon about not working on Saturdays and about the annual pilgrimages he expects. He tacks on that no enemy armies will be able to attack or invade the Israelis during these festivals, as God will personally enlarge the boundaries and drive out any attackers.

God continues repeating previous statements to Moses about: not using yeast in any bread products used for sacrifices, that the passover goat meat is not to be eaten the following day, that the first of the crops belong to God, and the ever so charming rule of thumb not to boil a baby goat in its mother's milk.

God makes Moses write all this stuff down again, and Moses stays up on the mountain for forty days and nights without eating or drinking, presumably as God puts Moses into some kind of suspended animation for the elapsed time.

God gives Moses the new tablets containing the ten commandments, and unbeknownst to Moses, his face is shining and glowing from having been in the presence of God. Apparently Moses' new shiny look scares the dickens out of the people of Israel, so Moses decides to start wearing a veil, which he later begins to take off every time he speaks with God, in order to ensure that he soaks up a bit more godly-sheen.

He gives the people the ten commandments and manages not to smash these two tablets to bits.

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