When I first started this project, I was sitting at home waiting to go into labour and I had nothing but time on my hands. Then I had a super easy newborn who slept all the time, so I was able to write a lot. Then the kid started crawling and being able to sit in one spot long enough just to read (let alone think and write about) a chapter of the Bible became next to impossible. But I’d like to get back in the swing of things. I’ll be taking it easy and trying not to push myself too hard, since I don’t want to burn out, but I do want to “git er done.” So I will try to publish one chapter per week and we’ll see how that goes. 

We’re finally done (for now) going through the contract, and it’s time for both parties to sign on the dotted line.

But first, we need a little recap about the whole “Moses alone shall come near to the Lord” (Exod. 24:2) thing, and Moses telling the people about the ordinances. When he’s done, we’re told that the people agree to follow all the rules, and Moses wrote them all down.

“I have to do this, man. We splashed blood over it!”

Moses and the elders see God by Jacopo Amiconi

Moses and the elders see God by Jacopo Amiconi

The first step is for Moses to build an altar and twelve pillars, which obviously represent the twelve tribes. Next, the young men of the people sacrificed oxen. Moses took half the oxen blood and splashed it on the altar, and took the other half and threw it all over the Hebrews.

This mutual blood bathing seals the deal. The idea of blood having special significance in the making of contracts can still be seen today in the popular image of signing a contract with the Devil in one’s own blood (as we see, for example, in Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus). I tried to get an article talking about this, but the five seconds I allotted to Google search for something just gave me several pages of “Why is there blood in my stool?” and “The significance of blood in stool,” so I gave up.

Heading back up

If splashing blood around is one way to sign a contract, breaking bread is another. So Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s best fogeys head up the mountain and “saw the God of Israel” (Exod. 24:10), though my Study Bible notes: “The leaders did not see God directly; they saw only the lower part of his heavenly throne-room – the sapphire pavement (the firmament) above which the Lord was enthroned” (p.98). In other words, it was a nice day and they saw the sky. OooooOOOOoooo….

We’re told that God “did not lay his hands” (Exod. 24:11) on the people, which is nice of him, I guess… We get a repeat of “they beheld God” (Exod. 24:11), and then everyone eats and drinks.

Now it gets a little complicated. We’re told that Moses and Joshua go up the mountain together, leaving Aaron and Hur in charge. Then we’re told that six days pass before God calls Moses up the mountain to hang out for forty days and forty nights, and there’s no mention of Joshua.

As I see it, there are two possibly interpretations:

  1. The first mention of Moses going up the mountain is the same act as the second mention, but there’s some poetic repetition happening.
  2. Or, there are two separate traditions being cobbled together, one in which Moses and Joshua go up together and one in which Moses goes up alone.

I haven’t read ahead, but Joshua is kinda famous so I know we’ll be getting his story later on. I wonder if the oral tradition about the folk hero Joshua included a bit about him getting to meet God on Mt. Sinai – with or without Moses – and this was grafted onto the oral tradition about Moses getting the tables of stone.

That would be my guess, anyway.

Regardless, now I have an image of God sitting around on the top off the mountain for 47 days smoking so much weed that he’s creating this magical cloud cover.

Final note on the ordinances

In A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Collins comments on the tone of the ordinances we’ve just been sloshing through:

These laws were formulated in a settled agrarian community; they are not the laws of nomads wandering in the wildness. (p.70)