Exodus 36: Bezalel and Oholiab get to work

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If you remember, collecting the materials for God’s little building project is a “freewill offering” (Exod. 36:3) to be collected from “every man whose heart makes him willing” (Exod. 25:2), and Moses has no trouble whatsoever getting all the stuff together.

Exodus36In fact, the Hebrews are so excited about God’s Extreme Makeover: Tabernacle Edition (h/t: David Plotz for that joke) that they just keep bringing stuff, way more stuff than could actually be used on this project. In a move the Vatican might learn from, Moses says to his people: “Let neither man nor woman do anything more for the offering for the sanctuary” (Exod. 36:6). A “thank you” would have been good, but I’m just glad that he didn’t threaten to kill anyone who tries to give him more linen or gold earrings.

After that, we just get a really long description of Bezalel and Oholiab working (though, for some reason, the text completely neglects to make a joke about Bezalel using his BeDazzler, but whatever).

Exodus 35: Gathering resources

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We had a brief respite of interesting chapters, but now we’re back – neck deep – in the priestly tradition. Yaaarrgh.

We start off with yet another reminder to keep the Sabbath and a warning that anyone who fails to do so “shall be put to death” (Exod. 35:2).

Freewill Offering for the Tabernacle Exodus 35:22-29Let’s reflect for a moment on the Walton family, John Schnatter, and other explicitly Christian business owners who have been in the news recently for complaining that the U.S. government isn’t respecting their piousness, and let’s thank them for taking their faith so profoundly to heart that they are willing to reduce their market competitiveness by making sure that all their employees have the Sabbath off from work.

With the warning about honouring the Sabbath over with, we jump right into a really long-winded way of saying that the Hebrews are following the instructions from Exodus 25-31. Buckle up, ’cause it’s gonna be a wild ride!

The Tabernacle

As we covered in our reading about the design for the tabernacle, this thing would be terribly impractical for a nomadic/travelling group of people. So while Collins points out that tent-shrines for deities were A Thing in the Semitic world, this one is just way too big and elaborate and “may reflect a later, settled shrine, possibly at Shiloh, where the tabernacle is set up in Josh 18:1 […] Alternatively, it may be an ideal construction, imagined by later Priestly writers. It does not correspond to what we know of the Jerusalem temple, although it incorporates some of its features, notably the statues of winged cherubim guarding the mercy seat (Exod. 25:21)” (p.75).

Exodus 34: The Ten Commandments, redux

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To renew their covenant after the Hebrews cheated on God with golden calf, God decides to re-write the ten commandments on a new set of tablets. But first, he wants to renew his vows.

Which translates to just talking about himself and how wonderful he is for a while.

During this little speech, God describes himself as “slow to anger” (Exod. 34:6). Seriously. Slow to anger. As David Plotz points out: “God certainly doesn’t have self-esteem issues, but I’m not sure He has perfect insight about Himself.”

On this passage, Collins writes in A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible:

It does not negate the “jealous” character of God, but it qualifies it. The biblical portrayal of God is not unique in the ancient world. A Babylonian prayer to Marduk addresses him as “warrior Marduk, whose anger is the deluge, whose relenting is that of a merciful father” (p.73).

But, says God, that doesn’t mean that he’s just going to be going around overlooking sins or anything! In fact, he’s so anti-sin that he will be “visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Exod. 34:7). So yeah, God thinks it’s a-okay to punish someone for something his great-great-grandfather did. Even if God is slow to anger, he sure as heck isn’t quick to calm down afterwards!

A little of the old ultraviolence

Once again, God promises to drive out the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Generally, I’d say this is a bad thing. However, I, too, try to get rid of Perizzites, particularly of the intestinal variety.

God writing upon the tables of the covenant by William Blake, c. 1805

God writing upon the tables of the covenant by William Blake, c. 1805

The next bit is a bit speech from God about how the Hebrews shouldn’t become friends with non-Hebrews. In particular, he warns against making any agreements – or covenants – with the people God claims that he will be driving out.

But that’s not enough. The Hebrews should also go around and “tear down their altars, and break their pillars, and cut down their Asherim” (Exod. 34:13). I don’t think I need to say how gross these kinds of passages are.

A note on Asherim: These are, according to my Study Bible, sacred poles that symbolized Asherah, “the mother goddess of Canaanite religion” (p.113). There’s also some interesting theories about her and her possible dalliance with God, but that’s a subject for another post.

To finish up, our “jealous god” (Exod. 34:14) forbids taking “of their daughters for your sons” (Exod. 34:16), lest they lead the sons towards the worship of their gods. As David Plotz points out: “This suggests a lack of confidence in our God and faith […] Given God’s greatness, wouldn’t intermarriage do the opposite and attract more people to him?”

Someone really should tell Joseph, since he had no trouble marrying the Egyptian Asenath (Gen. 46:20).

The new Ten Commandments

Despite telling us that he “will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables” (Exod. 34:1), God decides to give us a totally different set of Ten Commandments, one that should surprise most of the Christian Right proponents of courthouse/schoolroom monuments. Check Exodus 20 for a quick refresher on what the first Ten Commandments looked like. Now here’s the new ones:

  1. Worship no other god.
  2. Make no molten gods (but feel free to decorate stuff with cherubim, ’cause those look neat-o).
  3. Keep the Passover, or feast of unleavened bread.
  4. “All that opens the womb is mine” (Exod. 34:19). Okay, so this one needs a little looksy. In Biblespeak, what “opens the womb” is the first born child. So God starts off by saying that the Hebrews should “redeem” all firstlings among the cattle. This rule also applies to human children: “All the first-born of your sons you shall redeem” (Exod. 34:20). This is, quite clearly, a call to human sacrifice. However, this is moderated by offering the possibility of making a substitution. “Underlying this commandment is the conviction that all life is from God, and that God’s right to the firstborn must be acknowledged in order to ensure future fertility” (Collins, Hebrew Bible, p.51).
  5. Keep the Sabbath.
  6. Keep the feast of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end. At each of these times during the year, all males must “appear before the Lord God” (Exod. 34:23).
  7. Do not offer blood sacrifice with leavened bread.
  8. Don’t keep leftovers after Passover.
  9. The first fruits of the ground should be given to God.
  10. Don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

As you can see, there’s very few similarities between these commandments and the ones from Exodus 20. The old commandments touched on cultic stuff, but also had a few rules about behaviour (no killing, no stealing, that sort of thing). These ones – the actual, final ten commandments that will be carried around by the Hebrews for the next few thousand years until they are discovered by Indiana Jones – are entirely devoted to cultic issues.

There’s also some question about who actually does the writing onto the stone. Before getting started, God tells Moses that “I will write upon the tables” (Exod. 34:1). However, once he’s done dictating, he tells Moses to “write these words: (Exod. 34:27). In the end, it’s Moses who “wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments” (Exod. 34:28), which explains a little better why it took 40 days to do so.

Maybe it’s Maybelline

Of course, it wasn’t all about engraving stone. All that time spent in the presence of God also gave Moses some lovely glowing skin. When he descends from the mountain, everyone keeps commenting on how fantastic his skin looks. Of course, it may have something to do with the fact that Moses “neither ate bread nor drank water” (Exod. 34:28) the entire time he was up there.

On a more serious note, Joseph Campbell argues that the hero, Moses, having been “blessed by the father returns to represent the father among men […] Since he is now centered in the source, he makes visible the repose and harmony of the central place” (Hero With A Thousand Faces, p.347). If this is the case, we can interpret Moses’ facial sparkles as a visible manifestation of this transformation.

Finally, not one for all that attention, Moses takes to wearing a veil that he removes only to chat with God.

Exodus 33: Check out the back on that deity!

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In this chapter, God tells Moses to stop lollygagging around and start legging it towards the land of milk and honey so that God can start driving out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Not my idea of fun, but hey, to each their own.

However, from now on, the Hebrews are going to have to be led by an angel rather than God himself because he’s still peeved about the whole calf thing and might just lose control and “consume” the Hebrews if he spends too much time around them (Exod. 33:3).

Everyone was so upset when they heard that God was struggling not to eat them that none of the men put on ornaments (a sign of mourning). God, apparently not seeing this, tells Moses to tell the Hebrews to take their ornaments off.

A Tale of Two Tents

Exodus33_Moses seeing GodSo Moses apparently has his own tent that he also calls the “tent of meeting.” This one is pitched “far from the camp” (Exod. 33:7), as opposed to the centrally-located tent we just finished building. Another difference is that Joshua, son of Nun, is the caretaker of this one, while the other is cared for by the priests.

Once again, I think we’re seeing evidence of two different traditions being cobbled together – one in which Aaron is a Big Man Hero, and another in which Joshua is Big Man Hero. In both traditions, the Big Man Hero is given legitimacy through his closeness to and association with Moses and, then, the tent.

Anyways, this is where Moses and God like to chill.

So Moses is in his tent chatting with God and trying to make sure that they’re still besties despite the whole calf thing, and God reassures him. As a token of his ongoing friendship, God repeats his name to Moses, and I assume that they hug, though the text suspiciously neglects to mention this.

Can you look on the face of God?

While Moses and God are chatting, we are told that they are speaking “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exod. 33:11). But just a few versus later, God tells us that Moses “cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Exod. 33:20). This leads to a hilarious exchange in which God shields Moses with his hands as he passes by him, and then moves his hand away so that Moses “shall see my back” (Exod. 33:23), which sounds an awful lot like God just mooned Moses.

But back to the bit about seeing God, what’s going on there? Well, first of all, we get a very anthropomorphized God in this chapter. He has a face, he has a “back,” he has a hand. From this, we can understand that there is an actual discrete God-object that can be seen. So is seeing it deadly or not?

  • Genesis 12:7 – We’re told twice that God appeared to Abram.
  • Genesis 17:1 – God appears to Abram.
  • Genesis 18:1 – God appears to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre.
  • Genesis 26:2 – God appears to Isaac to tell him not to go to Egypt.
  • Genesis 26:24 – God appears to Isaac at Beersheba.
  • Genesis 35:9 – God appears to Jacob at Paddanaram.
  • Exodus 24:9-11 – Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders climb up Mt. Sinai, where they “saw” and “beheld” God.

But, okay, in all  of these examples, it just says that God “appeared” to someone. It doesn’t say, necessarily, that he let them see his face. That’s why we turn to these verses:

  • Genesis 32:30 – Jacob names Peniel, saying “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”
  • Exodus 33:11 – Moses and God speak “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”

I suspect that we’ll be coming back to this subject a few times in our reading. In the meantime, Jared Calaway of Antiquitopia has a nifty little meditation on the subject.

What is the point of the Golden Calf story?

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I’ve been really troubled by the story of the Golden Calf. More specifically, about what was the point – theological or social – in having the future high priest of the Hebrews, first of all priests to come, be so involved in the betrayal of the covenant.

As Baruch Davidson points out:

This book has to make some sense, and I don’t think that it’s trying to teach a lesson in shirking responsibility and getting away with it through nepotism. If that were the case, then these two brothers serve as the worst example of leadership, and should go down in history as crooked and evil.

Aaron was stalling

Davidson goes on to argue that Aaron only seemed like an enthusiastic participant, that he was actually just trying to sabotage the efforts from the inside. His argument hinges on Aaron telling the people that “tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord” (Exod. 32:5). Why say tomorrow when they could have had a feast right away? Clearly, he was trying to delay the Hebrews long enough for Moses to be able to come down from the mountain and put an end to the shenanigans before they got too out of hand.

Well, maybe. But this relies on speculation. When Moses demands to know what has been going on, Aaron doesn’t say: “Oh, Moses! Thank the Lord you’re here! Listen, these guys have been totally messing up. I’ve stalled them, they haven’t crossed the line yet, but you better stop them quick!” No, instead Aaron just tells Moses about how the people “are set on evil” (Exod. 32:22), and then feeds him a bogus story about the calf just spontaneously shaping itself.

So if we’re speculating, we have just as much cause to believe that Aaron asked the people to wait because time was required to prepare the feast.

Democracy is a bad idea

When David Plotz read this chapter, he was troubled by the political implications: “The story suggests that without an authoritarian leader like Moses, the Israelites will easily abandon God. Without a prophet and a dictator, our faith will fail.”

The EnduringWord commentaries seem to have read the same moral in the story: “The episode of sin described in this chapter happened because they people wanted it. This is an example of where it is not good to rule by democracy and to give the people what they want.” (Except in their case, they saw this as a lesson specifically for ministry, where a minister must stick to “The Word” and not be led by what his flock might think they want to hear.)

The calf was a misguided act of devotion to God

When the people came to Aaron, they asked for him to “make us gods, who shall go before us” (Exod. 32:1), and when Aaron makes plans to venerate the calf, he says to the people: “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord” (Exod. 32:5). Despite the use of the plural in the first instance (which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, since we’ve seen God referring to himself with plurals), it’s plausible that the people were just sick of having to rely on Moses as a go-between, and wanted a physical manifestation of God that they could see for themselves. Or, rather, they were seeking to replace Moses, not God.

In other words, the calf may have been an idol of God. Sure, that means that they’d still be breaking the second commandment, but at least they aren’t also breaking the first.

It may be worth noting that El, the chief Canaanite god, is occasionally described as a bull (at least according to Wikipedia).

A story with a story

Dr. Jeffrey Tigay mentions calves built by King Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:2-33), which were meant to be pedestals for God, much like the cherubim decorating the Ark. But as time passed, the people started to worship these calves and they were turned into idols, as described in Hosea 13:2.

Dr. Tigay argues that the story of the Golden Calf originally began as a positive story about the origin of one of King Jeroboam’s calves. And, certainly, I think that there may be evidence in this as the collection of the freewill offering (and the enthusiasm with which the people participated) mirrors that of the constructions of the Ark (Exod. 32:2-3 vs. Exod. 35:5,22-29).

Once King Jeroboam’s calves came to be idolized, the story of the Golden Calf was revised.

What about Aaron?

I’ve been troubled by why Aaron, specifically, is mentioned as a principle actor in this tale. So far in the story, he’s been held up as Moses’ right hand man, but he is shown in less than favourable light in this story.

In A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Collins argues that “the story implicating [Aaron] in idolatry can only have been composed as a polemic against the Jerusalem priesthood. This points to a northern origin for this part of the story” (p.73). It would make sense for the priestly editors who were handed this story to fudge it a bit and at least have Moses and God overlook Aaron’s actions as a way to mitigate them.

It seems that this story is giving us a glimpse into the troubled relationship between the descendants of Aaron and the other Levites. Collins continues:

The Levites were the country clergy, who served the rural shrines especially in northern Israel. They were later displaced when the country shrines were suppressed and worship was centralized in Jerusalem, and they were made subordinate to the Aaronide priesthood. Exodus 32 can be read in part as the revenge of the Levites on the line of Aaron. (p.73)

Exodus 32: The Golden Calf

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We’re finally back into the story! Hallelujah!

The Calf

So Moses has been chillin’ with God (and maybe Joshua) on the mountain while everyone else is just hanging around waiting. After many days pass, the people start to wonder if maybe Moses has OD’ed on something and won’t be coming back, so they ask Aaron to make them a God that they can see.

Aaron quickly complies. He collects gold earrings from the people, melted them, and shaped them into a big golden calf. The people were happy, so Aaron built an altar in front of the statue, and they all decided to throw a big party.

It’s a rather amusing detail that the Hebrews stole these earrings from the Egyptians in Exodus 3:22, and now these very same earrings are being used to build an idol and betray God. It almost feels like karma…

In typical comedic fashion, Moses just happens to come home as the people are partying (not really, God sees the party and sends Moses down, but that’s not nearly as funny), and Moses is pretty pissed. Things were said, people were called “stiff-necked,” God threatens to kill everyone and is only just barely talked down by Moses, and everyone came out feeling rather hurt. Mostly because…

The Discovery

Cindy Jacobs leads prayer for economic recovery around the Golden Bull of Wall Street, New York, October 29, 2008.

Cindy Jacobs leads prayer for economic recovery around the Golden Bull of Wall Street, New York, October 29, 2008.

First, God decides to go down and kill all the Hebrews except for Moses so that he can start over again with his whole “Chosen People” project, but Moses convinces him to spare the people… sort of. Mostly by reminding him of what the Egyptians might say if God leads all the slaves out of Egypt just to slaughter them. So God “repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people” (Exod. 32:14).

Before we go on, let’s reflect for a moment on the fact that yes, God is capable of doing evil. Right here in the text, we see that good and evil are independent from God. Okay, moving on…

Joshua and Moses can hear noises form the camp and Joshua thinks that there’s a battle going on. Moses corrects him, saying that it is “the sound of singing that I hear” (Exod. 32:18).

The Punishment

Now we get down to business.

Moses walks down the mountain and then throws the “tables of the testimony” (I don’t believe it’s said that these tables have the ten commandments yet) to the ground, breaking them. This is rather obviously symbolically representing the breaking of the covenant the people had made with God. The narrative does get a bit heavy handed sometimes, but whatever.

Next, he takes the golden calf and melts it down, then grinds it into a powder. He mixes the gold powder with water and makes all the Hebrews drink it. This is, according to my Study Bible, a sort of Trial by Gold, in which the innocence or guilt of the individual is determined by their reaction to the ordeal. Readers may be most common with the Medieval Trial by Fire, in which individuals might have to hold a red hot iron or walk a certain distance on hot coals. If they managed to accomplish this without being burned, it meant that God was protecting them and, therefore, they must be innocent.

The results of the Trial by Ordeal finishes out the chapter when “the Lord sent a plague upon the people” (Exod. 32:35), killing the “guilty” who had ingested the powdered calf (though I’ve had Goldschläger and it really wasn’t nearly as bad as this chapter makes it seem). God may have complied with Moses’ request not to kill the Hebrews, but only in the literalest of senses. He’ll only kill some of the Hebrews.

But before we get to this, Moses calls out for any who is “on the Lord’s side” (Exod. 32:26). All the sons of Levi come to him, and Moses tells them that God commands them to “put every man his sword on his side, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor” (Exod. 32:27). Yes, you read that right. If you are “with God,” you need to kill everyone you love. Have fun unpacking that one.

And with that, the punishment is over, three thousand people dead (Exod. 32:28). Moses goes up the mountain and asks if “we good?” and God says “we good” and tells Moses to lead the people on towards their promised land.

The responsibilities of leadership

Aaron, who has been appointed the spiritual leader of the Hebrews, comes out of this story unscathed. This seems rather problematic. For one thing, he is the one who actually built the calf (Exod. 32:4), but also, he lied about it to Moses. Instead of taking ownership for having bowed to pressure to build the calf, he claims that he just tossed the gold earrings into the fire “and there came out this calf” (Exod. 32:24), all on its own! Which, frankly, ought to win an award for being among the worst lies I’ve ever heard.

But not a word is said about Aaron’s guilt in the Golden Calf Incident. Even though, as the divinely appointed religious leader of the Hebrews, he might be expected to have some responsibility for their religious actions. And the fact that he goes along with them and never, according to the text, tries to dissuade them, we might question just how much responsibility we ought to put on the shoulders of the people who were, in the end, encouraged by the very man who was supposed to be giving them spiritual guidance.

While we’re on the subject, the fact that Aaron lies and claims that the calf just mysteriously created itself kinda seems to speak against the idea that he was coerced by the people. If there really was a mob demanding a god and Aaron complied only out of fear for his life, wouldn’t he have just told Moses this? But he lies about it, and that – to me – says that he was complicit.

Or, as Baruch Davidson writes:

If indeed Aaron went through a weak moment, possibly even in his own faith, then: a) Moses also seems to have turned a blind eye, in one of the greatest shows of nepotism attributed to a Biblical hero; b) not only did Aaron lack in strong leadership, but he was actually dishonest, with no sense of responsibility.

Making this story even more problematic (depending on the timline) is the fact that Moses was, at that time, receiving the commandments. In other words, the people haven’t been told yet that what they’re doing is wrong.

Exodus 31: God gives ability to all able men

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So we have all the instructions for God’s little building project, now we need contractors to do the work. God tells Moses that he heard of this one guy who did an amazing job on his friend’s rec room, so they should hire him. Enter Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.

Exodus 31 2-8 Bezalel and Oholiab making the Ark of the CovenantBut since one guy can’t do all that work alone, God decides that they have enough shekels in the budget to bring in an assistant. So they also hire Oholiab, son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.

Of course, these are just going to be leading the construction project. God wants this to be a group effort, a real bonding experience for the Hebrews. So he gets together all the able men and gives them all ability (Exod. 31:6), which seems rather unimpressive.

There seem to be two ways we can read this:

  1. God collects all the able-bodied men and gives them the artistic ability necessary to pull off the job, or
  2. God collects all the men who already have artistic ability and reminds them that they only have it thanks to him.

Either way, it’s a fairly unimpressive feat. This is God’s own book, a book where he feels comfortable being described as personally bringing down plagues and slaughtering innocent children and parting a sea, yet even here he can’t bring himself to heal amputees.

You need a day off

But with all that work ahead of them, Good Guy God takes the time to remind everyone not to work too hard and to take the Sabbath off. Of course, a good boss would probably realize that his contractors will be happy with a day off and just leave it at that, but God just don’t play that way.

No, God needs to threaten to punish anyone who tries to work overtime.

So what’s the punishment for overtime? Well, it’s either being “put to death” or being “cut off from among his people” (Exod. 31:14). This is made even more confusing because the two punishments are listed together in the very same verse.

Exodus 30: The first Hebrew census

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God goes back into a little interior design and gives specifications for an altar. It involves horns and gold and seems like it should look pretty Goat herd-chic.

The census and the head tax

But God takes a quick break from all this planning to ask Moses to take a census of the people. It seems that God’s new redecoration project has cost him a bit more than he was expecting, so he tells Moses to collect from each person he counts half a shekel. He gets a bit weird when he calls this a “ransom” and says that everyone over the age of 20 has to pay “that there be no plague among them” (Exod. 30:12). Just God being God. Why ask nicely when you can just threaten with plagues, y’know?

Exodus30We can see this in two ways: Firstly, there’s the spreading of social costs across the population, same as our modern taxes. We value roads and schools, so that’s where our communal money goes, whereas these guys value incense and the slaughter of lambs. But the second issue is the use of the word “ransom” and the threat of plague for failure to pay. This strikes me as yet another remnant of human sacrifice, where individuals can replace their bodies with money and thereby defer sacrificing themselves. If they don’t pay, the human sacrifice is back in play and God will come collect his due personally.

An interesting addition to this story is the instruction that “the rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less” (Exod. 30:15) than the half shekel. To me, this says that the authors of the Bible would have been familiar with the concept of a progressive tax, which I find rather interesting from a historical perspective.

This passage is used by the Christian Right in the U.S. to justify a flat tax, but I think that may be an incorrect interpretation. This is not a general tax, but a specific “soul-atonement” tax for religious purposes, like tithing. To me, the implication here is that each male adult’s life is worth the same (or, from the negative perspective, they are equally guilty of sin). Far from arguing in favour of a flat tax in a modern setting, I’d say this passage may actually be arguing for the equal worth (or sinfulness) of all (male) people.

The last thing I want to point out about the census and tax is that the value of a shekel is specified (Exod. 30:13). According to my Study Bible, this is because the value of the older Hebrew or Phoenician shekel was different than the post-exile Babylonian shekel. The fact that the author of the text felt the need to specify which should be used makes it pretty clear that the text was written – or at least amended – long after Moses’s death.

The laver and the perfume

Now that we’re done with the census, God gives instructions for Moses to make a bronze laver to hold water. Aaron and his sons must wash their hands and feet whenever they do priest-y things, “lest they die” (Exod. 30:20), which is pretty germophobic if you ask me.

Lastly, God gives instructions for the making of incense and oil that are to be used only by the priests. If anyone else makes either, he “shall be cut off from his people” (Exod. 30:33,38).

I get the whole “I paid a ton of money for this unique designer scent, so I don’t want anyone wearing a cheap knock-off” thing, but really, this kinda makes God look like a catty 15-year-old.

Exodus 29: How to ordain a priest in 12 easy steps


Now that we have our port-a-temple, what do we do with it? Well, first we have to make sure that Aaron and his sons are ordained, and we do this by:

  1. Gather together one young bull and two rams without blemish, as well as some unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil, all made of fine wheat flour. Make sure that you put the bread, cakes, and wafers in a basket.
  2. Stand Aaron and his sons at the door of the tent and make them take a bath. (This may or may not be part of the ordination process, or with the fact that Old Spice hasn’t been invented yet.) After they’ve had their baths, tell them to put their clothes on.
  3. Poor anointing oil on Aaron’s head (it’s traditional to anoint kings in this way, so anointing the high priest kinda makes him like a spiritual king – separating out the domains of political power).
  4. Next, bring the bull to the tent and have all the priests lay their hands on the head of the bull. Though not explained in the text, I would assume that this is meant to form a sort of bond between the priests (and, therefore, the Hebrew people) and the bull. That way, when the bull is slain, it’s sort of like performing a human sacrifice, symbolically.
  5. Kill the bull in front of the tent door. Take some of the blood and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger. Pour the rest of the blood at the base of the altar.
  6. Take the fat that covers the entrails, the liver, and the kidneys, and burn them on the altar. Take whatever is left of the bull (including its dung), and burn it outside the camp.
  7. Take the first ram and, once again, Aaron and his sons should lay their hands on its head. Then kill the ram and splash its blood all around the altar.
  8. Cut the ram into pieces and wash its entrails and legs, and then burn the whole ram on the altar. This is a burnt offering, and it gives  off a “pleasing odor” (Exod. 29:18) to God.
  9. Take the remaining ram and have Aaron and his sons once again lay their hands on its head, then kill it. Take part of the blood and have each priest put some of it on the tips of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet (symbolically consecrating the whole body without having to get too messy). Take the remaining blood and splash it all around the altar.
  10. Take some of the blood that’s on the altar and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on the priests and their clothes. This will make their garments holy (though not holey, which is an undesirable thing for garments, generally).
  11. Collect the fat from the ram, one loaf of bread, one cake of bread with oil, and one wafer. The priests should wave these around and then set them on fire on the altar because God loves the smell of bread.
  12. Take the ram’s breast and thigh and wave them around. After they have been thoroughly waved, the priests get to keep them.

Exodus 29This should be repeated every day for seven days.

Okay, so now we’ve started the priestly tradition and we had lots of fun waving our breasts and thighs in the air. Now we need to know what to do if one of the priests has to be replaced. Well, when ordaining a new priest:

  1. First, have him wear his priestly robes for seven days, at which point he is considered “ripe.”
  2. At the door of the tent, take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh, which the all the current priests should eat. They can also eat anything from the bread basket because that’s free.
  3. Whatever you do, make sure that you don’t let any outsiders eat your ram flesh or nibble from your bread basket. And if the priests can’t finish everything, you should just burn the remains up. Never, ever, let them have a doggy bag.

Okay, so now we have our priests, so what’s next for Aaron? Well, he’s got to sacrifice two lambs (each one year old) every day – one every morning and one every night. There’s more stuff to do with flour and wine, but I advise anyone thinking of joining the Temple priesthood to just read the passage for themselves. It’s usually better to go straight to the source material, you know?

Creative Accounting

So to recap, the Hebrew people have been wandering around in the desert for a little while now, and they’ve had nothing other than manna to eat since Exodus 16. Despite this, they happen to have a bull and two rams lying around, and enough lambs to be able to spare 2 one year old lambs every single day.

It’s kinda like back in Exodus 9 when he killed all the cattle twice. You’d think shepherds would be able to notice whether there are any animals about. This whole book stinks of really bad accounting, which is surprising because [insert vaguely racist joke here].

For the scent is pleasing

The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible seems to take offence at the blood and guts being splashed around and, in particular, keeps highlighting the passages about the smell of burning flesh being pleasing to God. As if this is evidence of brutality or bloodthirstiness.

But having attended my fair share of barbecues in my all-too-short time on this earth, and I have to say that, yes, sometimes blood does get splashed about (especially if a certain someone – me – forgot to properly wrap the meat before setting it out on the counter), and the smell truly is pleasing. So yeah, I’m on God’s side on this one.

Exodus 28: From interiors to fashion

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I said that we’re done with the interior design, but we are unfortunately not done with the yawning. In this chapter, God lays out the priestly dress code with an exactitude that borders on the obsessed.

Part of the outfit includes alternating bells and pomegranates around the skirts of the robe that are very important because otherwise the priest might accidentally sneak up on God and then God might flip out and kill him before realizing who he was (Exod. 28:24-5).

Exodus 28

It’s also important that all the priests wear special linen breeches whenever they enter the tent or come near the altar, “lest they bring guilt upon themselves and die” (Exod. 28:42-3). I’m not really sure what the implication here is, but it seems that the priests have, up until this point, been in the happen of “going commando,” and that this causes them to “bring guilt upon themselves.” I guess that the cherub motifs are a bit racier than the account had led me to believe.

You can see what the total outfit would have looked like in this posts’s image, helpfully supplied by Tree Of Life.

In Exodus 28, we also get a mention of Urim and Thummim, names that sounded very familiar. Sure enough, these are the stones that Joseph Smith supposedly used to translate the Book of Mormon. Here, however, they are stones used on the high priest’s breastplate and, apparently, are used to turn Aaron into a sort of representative before God of the entire Jewish people, so that he “shall bear the judgement of the people of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually” (Exod. 28:30). According to Wikipedia, these stones were also associated with divination.

One thing I’ve been curious about in all of this is where the Hebrews are getting all the materials for this stuff. They’ve run out of food and have been eating nothing but manna since Exodus 16, yet they’re still carrying around enough gold and bronze and goat hair and linen of many colours to put all this stuff together? Am I the only one wondering if they should have packed a bit more strategically?

Good news! I’ve peeked ahead and it looks like we just have one more of these chapters before we get to plunge back into the ordinances! (Uuuuuuugh…)

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