Exodus 11: Stealing for God

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This is a pretty short chapter in which God just tells Moses about his plan to kill a bunch of children. Nothing actually happens, but there are a few things worth mentioning.

God tells Moses that this final plague will convince Pharaoh to let the Hebrews leave. But before they leave, the Hebrews should ask their neighbours if they can have jewellery of silver and gold. This sounds innocent enough until you recall Exodus 3:22 in which God gives the same instructions, but to make the Egyptians think that it’s a temporary loan. In other words, the Egyptians may agree to lend the Hebrews some nice jewellery so that they can look nice for their quaint little “ethnic” festival. But the Hebrews have no intention of returning. This is just their underhanded way to “plunder the Egyptians” (Exod. 3:22). These are bad neighbours.

Death of the Pharaoh's Firstborn Son by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1872

Death of the Pharaoh’s Firstborn Son by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1872

If you believe that Moses wrote Exodus, I find it funny to imagine the kind of man who would write, of himself, that he “was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people” (Exod. 11:3).

As God lists all the kids and babies he’ll get to kill soon (salivating as he does so, I suppose), he says that he will even kill “all the first-born of the cattle” (Exod. 11:5). Would this be the same cattle that already died multiple times in Exodus 9?

God explains that he is doing all this “that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel” (Exod. 11:7). What is the importance of this? Unlike the “God of all men” we heard about in The Ten Commandments, this is a God who is clearly for one ethnic group only, and his concern is for making sure that everyone knows that his people are separate from all others. This is a God who promotes racism (in addition to child-murder).

Of this, David Plotz over at Blogging the Bible has this to say: “Not until this moment did I realize that the seder never pauses to consider the suffering of the Egyptians, or notices that God causes that suffering simply to glorify Himself. Who has an explanation for God’s behavior? Am I misunderstanding something?”

Exodus 10: Lying for God

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God tells Moses once again that he’s purposefully hardening Pharaoh’s heart “that I may show these signs of mine among them” (Exod. 10:1). Like a child who’s just learned a new trick, he’s going to force everyone to watch him perform it whether they want to or not, whether it hurts them or not. This whole narrative really isn’t flattering for the big J. Definitely not something I’d have kept in my Testament…

The Eighth Plague

So Aaron and Moses go in to see Pharaoh again and give him another 24hours or they’ll unleash locusts. Pharaoh’s servants are getting fairly anxious, and they ask him to let the Hebrew men go to worship, for: “do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” (Exod. 10:7).

So Pharaoh sends for Moses and Aaron and asks them who intends to go on the pilgrimage. Moses says that all the Hebrews will be going, as well as all their cattle. Pharaoh isn’t an idiot, and he knows that “you have some evil purpose in mind” (Exod. 10:10) – which is completely true. Moses is asking for a couple days to go worship while fully intending to run away. I can’t help but sympathize with Pharaoh on this one. There’s no question that Moses and God aren’t approaching their request in good faith.

So since it’s typically the men who do the worshipping, Pharaoh gives the Hebrew men permission to go and worship. This is called a compromise, and this would be entirely sufficient if Moses and God weren’t lying about their motives. So at this point, Pharaoh has conceded to the Hebrews all of their reasonable requests.

So Moses calls down the locusts.

There are so many locusts that they eat every plant left over after the hail. They “covered the face of the whole land, so that the land was darkened” (Exod. 10:15). As if the last plagues weren’t bad enough, this one pretty much ensures the starvation of most Egyptians. This is absolutely horrendous! Children will be dying left and right from malnutrition, whole generations will have their lives shortened. This is God doing to Egypt what most of us cringe to see happening in Somalia today.

Pharaoh recants and begs God to “remove this death from me” (Exod. 10:17). So the wind changes, driving the locusts into the Red Sea. But, once again, Pharaoh changes his mind as soon as the plague is gone.

The Ninth Plague

The Plague of Darkness by Gustave Doré, 1865

The Plague of Darkness by Gustave Doré, 1865

The penultimate plague is darkness, which Moses spreads over the land of Egypt by waving his hands in the air. The darkness lasts three days and covers all of Egypt so that even lamps do not emit light. Only in Goshen do people have light in their homes. My study bible says that this may be a reference to “the hot wind, the ‘khamsin,’ which blows in from the desert during the spring (March-May), bringing with it so much dust and sand that the air is darkened and breathing becomes difficult.”

Pharaoh agrees to let all the Hebrews leave, children included, but they must leave their cattle behind as a kind of security deposit. Moses, ever ready with the lying, says that they can’t leave any of their cattle behind because they don’t know what God wants for supper until they get there. Pharaoh, having conceded much, is pretty sure that the Hebrews won’t come back if they leave with all their people and all their stuff, so he refuses to let them go. He ends by telling Moses to get out of his sight and “never see my face again; for in the day you see my face you shall die” (Exod. 10:28).

This is the perfect set up for Moses’ exit, so he struts away, saying: “As you say! I will not see your face again” (Exod. 10:29). I have a feeling that’s foreshadowing…

A final note on the plagues

As we come to the end of the story of the plagues, Kenneth C. Davis gives us something to think about on page 103 of Don’t Know Much About the Bible:

In commenting on the plagues in The Bible and the Ancient Near East, Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary Rendsburg note that each of the plagues is aimed at specific gods in the Egyptian pantheon, ending with the sun god Ra, who is overpowered by darkness. Yahweh was not only demonstrating his power over men and nature but proved that this God is greater than any other gods.

So I did a quick Google search and here’s a page that explains which plague corresponds to which god.

Exodus 9: In which the cattle is much beleaguered

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God/Moses give Pharaoh 24 hours to shape up or they will send a “very severe plague upon your cattle which are in the field, the horses, the asses, the camels, the herds, and the flocks” (Exod. 9:3). Predictably, Pharaoh fails to let the people go, so God sends a plague (or murrain, for you KJV enthusiasts) and “all the cattle of the Egyptians died” (Exod. 9:6). Only cattle belonging to the Hebrews were spared.

The Sixth Plague

The Fifth Plague of Egypt by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1800

The Fifth Plague of Egypt by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1800

In the next sequence, God speaks to both Moses and Aaron, but only instructs Moses to perform the magic trick (Exodus 9:8). It’s an interesting deviation from the normal pattern of Moses acting as God’s mouthpiece, being “as God” with Aaron as “prophet”  (Exod. 7:1), so that God speaks exclusively to Moses and Aaron is the one performing on stage.

In any case, Moses takes up handfuls of ash and throws them into the air. These become a “fine dust over all the land of Egypt” (Exod. 9:9) and become boils on all men and beasts. So not only to the Egyptians have nasty skin infections, God also causes them to fail the white glove test.

Now, unlike the last plague where we’re specifically told that the Hebrews are spared, there’s no such note this time. It wouldn’t ordinarily be a big deal and I’d assume that the Hebs are, in fact, spared the boils, but the mention of beasts complicates things. What beasts are we talking about here? All of the Egyptians’ domesticated beasts died in Exodus 9:6. So the only beasts left to be affected by this plague are either wild beasts who happen to have had the misfortune of living in the land the humans call Egypt, or the boils have infected the Hebrews’ cattle. And if the Hebrews’ cattle are infected, it becomes reasonable to conclude that the Hebrews themselves are infected as well.

This is what those in the business call “collateral damage.”

The Seventh Plague

God, who firmly believes that the early bird leads his people to freedom, tells Moses to “rise up early in the morning” (Exod. 9:13) so that he can go see Pharaoh. Apparently, the eleventh and least known plague is the plague of “frequent solicitation” – one that we are still burdened with today.

So Moses is to go to Pharaoh and tell him that God so totally could have killed him and every other Egyptian if he wanted to, but “for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Exod. 9:16). I think that if God were one of us, he wouldn’t be a particularly pleasant guy to hang out with. Is there no middle ground between “I will make you suffer to show you how powerful I am” and “I will kill every last one of your people”? If he really wants to impress the Egyptians, wouldn’t making all the Hebrews poof into thin air and reappear in Israel do the trick? And hey, no dead frogs all over!

He finishes by telling Pharaoh that he would make a huge hailstorm the next day, so Pharaoh had better “get your cattle and all that you have in the field into safe shelter; for the hail shall come down upon every man and beast that is in the field and is not brought home, and they shall die” (Exod. 9:19).

Wait a sec, did God just forget that he already killed all the Egyptians’ cattle? ‘Cause if he’s talking about the carcasses, I don’t think the Egyptians are overly worried about them dying…

Well, Pharaoh is clearly not impressed by this incredibly forgetful god, so he leaves his cattle carcases out in the fields.

Moses gets to be the magician again and he calls forth the hail and thunderstorm. Like in the fifth plague, this one spares the land of Goshen where God’s peeps live. As per the pattern, Pharaoh relents and agrees to let the Hebrews leave if the plague is stopped, so God stops the plague and then Pharaoh changes his mind.

So in this chapter, we saw all of the cattle killed, infected with skin lesions, and then killed again. From this, I can only assume that there was some kind of zombie cow thing going on, but it’s okay because God sent the hail to end the z-moo-bie apocalypse. Yay!

Exodus 8: The Second Through Fourth Plagues

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Ribbet

Ribbet

Seven days after the bloody river fiasco, Moses and Aaron go back to Pharaoh and ask him again to let the Hebrews go. We don’t get Pharaoh’s response (or even a narration of the meeting, but instead just get God commanding all this), but I think we can safely assume a negative response because Aaron unleashes the second plague, frogs.

What’s so bad about frogs, I hear you ask? Well, nothing really. They’re adorable and most of them aren’t poisonous. The problem is that Aaron brings out so many of them that they “come up into your house, and into your bedchamber and on your bed, and into the houses of your servants and your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls” (Exod. 8:3). So it’s not that frogs are bad per se, but rather that having tons of frogs in your bed sucks.

But not to worry because the magicians have Pharaoh’s back and are ready for a counter strike! Using their “secret arts,” they too “brought frogs upon the land of Egypt” (Exod. 8:7)!

I suppose it’s technically the thought that counts, but in this case how could anyone tell? How much froggy room was left in Pharaoh’s bed? Wouldn’t a more impressive show of magical power be to make all the frogs disappear?

Well, if Aaron’s trick didn’t sway Pharaoh, the addition of all the magicians’ frogs did. For the first time, Pharaoh acknowledges God as a real entity and asks Moses and Aaron to tell him to get rid of the frogs. In exchange, he’ll totally let the Hebrews go into the wilderness to pray to him.

Moses agrees, promising that “the frogs shall depart from you and your houses” (Exod. 8:11), which turns out to not be exactly the truth. Instead, God just kills all the frogs so that they are gathered “in heaps” and “the land stank” (Exod. 8:14). No matter, stinky lands are good enough for Pharaoh and he hardens his heart back up again.

The Third Plague: Gnats

Many years ago, I went camping in Scotland. We picked out a spot near a lake, but when we got there we found that the entire area was absolutely filled with gnats. At first, we tried to set up the tent and get it all zipped up tight before the gnattish army could infiltrate, but that proved impossible. After a little while, we gave up and got a room in a nearby hotel instead. We then spent most of the night picking little gnat bodies out of our eyes, noses, and ears. It was absolutely awful, so I can see how this second plague could be more than just a slight inconvenience for the Egyptians.

So Aaron causes gnats to cover the whole land of Egypt (my study Bible says that this could actually refer to mosquitoes). The magicians tried to do the same thing, but frankly, with that many gnats already about, who could tell? So Exodus 8:18 says that they could not, but I think that we need to allow for the possibility that they succeeded but that no one really noticed.

In any case, the magicians go to Pharaoh and say: “this is the finger of God” (Exod. 8:19). Remember that, kids. When there’s a lot of gnats around, it’s God giving you the finger!

The Fourth Plague: Flies!

Plague of Frogs by G. Freman

Plague of Frogs by G. Freman

As if the gnats weren’t enough, Moses (it appears to be actually Moses this time, not his brother) conjures up a whole lot of flies. But the land of Goshen, where the Hebrews are living, is untouched. “Thus I will put a division between my people and your people” (Exod. 8:23).

Pharaoh relents and agrees to let the Hebrews sacrifice to their god, but only if they stay within Egypt’s borders. But Moses reminds Pharaoh that the religious practices of the Hebrews are “abominable to the Egyptians” and “if we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” (Exod. 8:26). We saw this before in Genesis 43:32 where the Hebrews and the Egyptians ate separately because the dietary habits of the Hebrews were abomination to the Egyptians. I find it a very interesting perspective on the more modern view of kosher/non-kosher or halal/haram.

So since they can’t stay within sight of the Egyptians while they perform their abominable rituals, Moses asks that the Hebrews be allowed to go three days’ journey into the wilderness. Pharaoh agrees to let them go into the wilderness, but they “shall not go very far away” (Exod. 8:28).

Moses agrees to intercede on Egypt’s behalf with Pharaoh, but offers a little foreshadowing when he warns Pharaoh not to “deal falsely again by not letting the people go” (Exod. 8:29). God makes the flies go away and Pharaoh promptly (and predictably) hardens his heart.

Stick around, we still have  six more plagues to get through!

Exodus 7: Pharaoh’s heart is hardened

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In the last chapter, God was telling Moses to go for a second audience with Pharaoh. This section, as well as Exodus 6, was clearly written by a different author than Exodus 4-5, the two sections having been poorly harmonized. The repeats make it rather easy to tell:

  • Moses’ refusal, claiming not to be a good speaker (Exodus 4:10 vs Exodus 6:12).
  • The recruitment of Aaron (Exodus 4:14 vs Exodus 6:13).
  • The appeal to the Hebrews (Exodus 4:31 vs Exodus 6:9).
  • The meeting with Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1-5 vs Exodus 7:10).

So God spends quite a bit of time building Moses and Aaron up for their (second) meeting with Pharaoh. He repeats the whole “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” so that he gets to show off and “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 7:3-5). This didn’t really work out so well for God, unless he accidentally forgot to take off his ibis head mask that day…

Meeting the king

Pharaoh, clearly still rather suspicious about the Hebrews’ god claims, asks Moses and Aaron to provide some evidence by performing a miracle. Aaron throws his rod to the ground and it turns into a snake.

Unperturbed, Pharaoh calls in his own magicians and they also turn their staves into snakes. But “Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (Exod. 7:12), which sounds really dirty to my immature mind. But even cannibalistic snakes fail to intimidate Pharaoh and he still refuses to let the Hebrews leave.

And, as Javerbaum points out, “neither Aaron, nor Moses, nor Pharaoh, nor any of the sorcerers there, had any idea how gay it was” (The Last Testament, p.73).

The First Plague: Water turns to blood

The River of Blood by Ted Larson

The River of Blood by Ted Larson

For his next trick, God tells Moses and Aaron to ambush Pharaoh in the morning while he’s doing his business (nature unspecified) by the Nile’s bank. Once there, Aaron holds his rod and stretches his hand out “over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water” (Exod. 7:19). This guy has really long reach!

All the water in Egypt (even the water in vessels) is turned to blood. This is a much exaggerated feat from the little parlour trick God taught Moses in Exodus 4:8-9. Not only that, but they seem to have ditched the whole self-inflicted leprosy trick from Exodus 4:6-7.

But the Egyptian magicians keep up with God and do “the same by their secret arts” (Exod. 7:22). This, of course, raises the question of whether the bloody river turned back to water first. If not, the magicians aren’t particularly impressive. (“Behold as I, Blurgharg the Mighty, transform this blood into… blood!”)

Seeing that God isn’t more powerful than a common Egyptian magician, Pharaoh lacks suitable awe and still refuses to let the Hebrews leave.

Exodus 6: Moses gets a pep talk

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At the end of the last chapter, everyone was upset with Moses for being a poop-disturber, and Moses was upset with God for not delivering the Hebrews like he said he would. The chapter break was right in the middle of the exchange, so now we get to pick up with God’s response.

God sends Aaron to meet Moses in the desert by Marc Chagall, 1966

God sends Aaron to meet Moses in the desert by Marc Chagall, 1966

God says to Moses: “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh; for with a strong hand he will send them out, yea, with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land” (Exod. 6:1). Now, I haven’t gotten to that part yet, so I fully accept the possibility that I might be wrong, but doesn’t Pharaoh chase the Israelites to get them back? That’s not exactly the same thing as driving them out.

God, worried that Moses may have forgotten who he was, repeats (again) that he’s  the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then tells Moses that, when he appeared to the patriarchs, it was by the name El Shaddai, and that they didn’t know his new name of YHWH. But is that true?

In Genesis 22:14, when Abraham has just been stopped from murdering his son, he calls the altar Jehovahjireh (rendered as “the Lord will provide” in my RSV). How could this be unless Abraham know the name YHWH?

Back to the story, God tells Moses again that he’s here to free all the Hebrews and that Moses should go to them and tell them, again, that God is totally good for that whole freedom thing he promised. You know, ’cause that worked right well the first time.

So Moses goes again to the Hebrews and tells them all these things and, surprisingly, they aren’t nearly as excited as they were the first time. “Fool me once…” and all that. Or, you know, they just didn’t listen “because of their broken spirit and their cruel bondage” (Exod. 6:9).

Not to be deterred, God tells Moses to go back to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Hebrews out of Egypt. Moses refuses again, protesting that Pharaoh would never listen to him because of his “uncircumcised lips.” No, I’m not joking. It’s right there in Exodus 6:12. Now, to be fair, this is apparently an expression that would translate to our “sealed lips.” Still, though, the imagery is hilarious. I’m going to start using this whenever I’m feeling tongue-tied. “Oops, sorry, I guess my lips are really uncircumcised tonight!”

Moses’ uncircumcised lips aside, God puts him and Aaron in charge of bringing the Hebrews out of Egypt.

And now for something completely different…

Thought that genealogies were a Genesis thing? Sorry to disappoint you!

The sons of Reuben: Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi.

The sons of Simeon: Jemuel, Jamin, Ohad, Jachin, Zohar, and Shaul (the son of a Canaanite woman).

The sons of Levi: Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. (Additional note, Levi died at 137.)

  • The sons of Gershon: Libni and Shimi.
  • The sons of Kohath: Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel. (Additional note, Kohath died at 133.)
  • The sons of Merari: Mahali and Mushi.
  • Kohath’s son Amram married his father’s sister (eeeew), named Jochebed, and they had Aaron and Moses. The incestuous Amram died at 137.
  • The sons of Izhar: Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri.
  • The sons of Uzziel: Mishael, Elzaphan, and Zithri.
  • Aaron married Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon. Their children are Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
  • The sons of Korah: Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph.
  • Aaron’s son Eleazar married one of the daughters of Putiel, and they had Phinehas.

Where applicable, this does all seem to match the genealogy given in Genesis 46. It does bear mentioning, however, that a few of these guys live longer than the 120 years God had supposedly allotted them way back in Genesis 6:3.

Back to the story

Now that we’ve established which Aaron and Moses we’re talking about, we get to hear about Moses’s uncircumcised lips (Exod. 6:30) one last time before the chapter comes to a close.

Exodus 5: A not entirely successful meeting with Pharaoh

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With the elders now on board, Moses and Aaron go to meet Pharaoh. They say to him that God has a message: “Let my people go…

Moses speaks to Pharaoh by James Tissot, 1896-1900

Moses speaks to Pharaoh by James Tissot, 1896-1900

The part that ol’ Louis leaves out, however, is that Moses and Aaron continued: “…that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness” (Exod. 5:1). For those moral purists out there, this is God explicitly commanding someone to lie, fyi.

Well Pharaoh knows about a lot of Gods, but he doesn’t know about this one, and he has no intention of letting every single Hebrew off work for three days to sacrifice to him. Clearly, if the Hebrews have enough time to sit around thinking about gods, they need more work to do! So Pharaoh tells his taskmasters to stop providing straw for the Hebrews to make bricks with, let them instead gather it themselves in addition to keeping up with the number of bricks they make. “Let heavier work be laid upon the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words” (Exodus 5:9).

When the Hebrews fail to keep up with the brick orders, they are beaten. So the foremen of the Hebrews come to Moses and Aaron and say: “The Lord look upon you and judge, because you have made us offensive in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us” (Exod. 5:21).

Moses, forgetting that God had told him that Pharaoh would refuse this offer, turns to God and says: “Why hast thou done evil to this people? Why didst thou ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he has done evil to this people, and thou hast not delivered thy people at all” (Exod. 5:22-23).

Tune in next time for part six of this exciting adventure! Ka-Pow!

Exodus 2: Saving Baby Moses

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Scenes from the life of Moses by Sandro Botticelli, 1481-1482

Scenes from the life of Moses by Sandro Botticelli, 1481-1482

At the end of the last chapter, Pharaoh has ordered his subjects to kill all male Hebrew newborns. So when a woman in the line of Levi gives birth to a boy, she’s justifiably concerned. She hides him for three months, but then can’t hide him any more. The timing is fairly realistic, at least in comparison to my own son. By 3-4 months, babies tend to need a lot more entertainment and you can’t just keep them tucked away in a closet any more.

So this Levite woman comes up with a rather ingenious plan (or has the best luck ever). She takes her baby and puts him in a basket, and then sends the basket floating down the river.

The basket is found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who recognizes that the baby is Hebrew but takes pity on him and adopts him, naming him Moses. The name is, again, somewhat realistic. “Moses” is a common Egyptian name – or rather, part of one. It would usually be combined with the name of a god to mean “X is born.” The most well known figure with the name is probably Tutmosis III, who uses the name Moses in combination with the name of the god Thoth. Alternatively, the Bible indicates that an Egyptian woman named the baby with a Hebrew word meaning “to draw” – as in, she drew him out of the water (Exod. 2:10).

Murder of the Egyptian

When Moses grows up, he sees an Egyptian beating up one of his fellow Hebs. So he “looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian” (Exod. 2:12).

Putting aside the question of morality, this is premeditated murder. This is not something he does in the heat of the moment (like Charlton Heston’s depiction in 10 Commandments). Rather, Moses makes sure that no one is looking before he strikes. Is the Hebrew victim even still around? Or did Moses go so far as to stick around or even follow the Egyptian home?

In any case, Moses goes out the next day and sees two Hebrews fighting each other. So he asks one of them why he is hitting his fellow, and the Hebrew responds by asking Moses: “Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exod. 2:14). This is an excellent question because this situation mirrors the other. In both cases, one man is beating up another. The only difference is that one of the aggressors is of the same ethnic group as Moses while the other is not. It’s telling that Moses reacts by killing the “other,” but only asks a question of the Hebrew.

But the response tips off Moses that his crime is known. At this point, Moses either sticks around anyway for a while, or he and Pharaoh find out at the same time, because: “When Pharaoh heard of [the murder], he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh” (Exod: 2:15).

Moses meets his shiksa

To escape from the law, Moses flees to Midian. Midian, by the way, is just south of Canaan, on the other side of the Sinai peninsula from Egypt. That means that Moses does essentially the same journey here in one sentence that will later take him forty years.

Once in Midian, Moses loiters near a well.

I think you can guess what comes next…

Reuel, the priest of Midian, has seven daughters, and these girls are coming to the well to water their flock. For some unknown reason, the local shepherds are giving them a hard time, so of course Moses steps in and helps them. As a reward, he gets to move in with Reuel and marry Zipporah, one of the seven daughters.

So what advice does the Bible have for would-be suitors? This story and that of Rebekah and Rachel suggest that if you are having trouble finding yourself a little lady, you ought to hang out around wells.

Zipporah and Moses have a son named Gershom.

Meanwhile, back in Egypt…

The king of Egypt dies, but conditions don’t improve for the Hebs under the new ruler. God hears his people “groaning” and gets ready for fix things.

… to fix things that are his fault. Let’s not forget that God sent the Hebrews to Egypt (by starving them out of Canaan) so that they would become oppressed. But nice of him to decide to fix things afterwards, though.

Exodus 1: Rebellious Midwives

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There’s a new king in Egypt and he’s concerned about the Hebrew population growth. This isn’t entirely unwarranted since the Hebrew women are having, on average, 51.6 children each. One might assume that the Egyptians were circulating videos like this one on EgyptTube.

Pharaoh decrees the drowning of every new male offspring among the Israelites by Michiel van der Borch, 1332

Pharaoh decrees the drowning of every new male offspring among the Israelites by Michiel van der Borch, 1332

So this pharaoh is concerned that if the Hebrew population keeps expanding, they might fight on the non-Egyptian side in a war against Egypt, or they might “escape from the land” (Exod. 1:10). So the rhetoric is slightly different from what one hears at the modern TeaParty rally…

His solution to the ‘Hebrew problem’ is to set “taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens” (Exod. 1:11). He has them build the cities of Pithom and Ramses. But this doesn’t seem to work. “The more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad” (Exod. 1:12).

Since making them “serve with rigor” (Exod. 1:14) didn’t curb the Hebrew population, he goes to the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, and tells them to kill all the male babies they deliver. I just want to take a moment to point out that there is a Hebrew population large enough to get Pharaoh’s knickers in a twist and there’s only two, two, midwives to service them all. This is a serious midwife shortage!

Well, Shiphrah and Puah are decent human beings – or, you know, they “feared God” (Exod. 1:17), cause being afraid is really the only reason not to kill babies – and they spare the boys. The Pharaoh catches on pretty quickly and asks the midwives what’s going on, to which they reply: “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and are delivered before the midwife comes to them” (Exod. 1:19), which is just absolutely brilliant! Perhaps if Pharaoh didn’t work them with such rigour, they wouldn’t be so vigorous!

God’s so happy that Shiphrah and Puah fear him that he gives them families. This isn’t a reward for saving all the babies, this is just because they fear him sufficiently. Blwerk!

Pharaoh decides to step things up a notch and he commands all his people to throw any baby boys born to the Hebrews into the Nile, allowing only the girls to live.

David Plotz has an interesting article over at Blogging the Bible about this chapter. He finds it interesting that the Hebrew people are enslaved after Joseph’s brothers enslave him, and how the Egyptian sons will be killed after they kill the Hebrew sons… He also brings up an interesting observation that totally flew by me – that the word “slave” isn’t mentioned anywhere in this chapter. The Hebrews are worked hard, but they aren’t called slaves. He finds this strange considering how liberally the word is used elsewhere in the text.

Genesis 50: Jacob/Israel is buried

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Jacob/Israel is embalmed, and “forty days were required for it, for so many are required for embalming” (Gen. 50:3). This is consistent with my own impression, and a quick Google search bears it out.

Procession

From the 'Golden Haggadah,' early 14th century

From the ‘Golden Haggadah,’ early 14th century

Joseph asks permission from Pharaoh to bury his father in Machpelah, and this is granted. So Joseph heads out to Canaan along with “all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his fathers’ household; only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen” (Gen. 50:8-7).

This, by the way, would be a huge procession. If the medieval British monarchy is any indication, the ecological impact of this procession would be huge – not to mention the effects on the people who live in the communities the procession passes through. I also can’t help but to wonder what Pharaoh did while all his servants were off at this long distance funeral. Did he cook his own meals? Did he cart away his own gong?

At this point, my study bible mentions that there is an alternative tradition that has Jacob/Israel hew out a “tomb for himself east of the Jordan,” and that he was buried here instead of Machpelah. “This explains why the funeral cortege detoured to Trans-jordan, though a main road led from Egypt along the coast to Beer-sheba.”

Joseph buries his father and then the procession returns to Egypt.

Forgiveness

Now that Jacob/Israel is dead, the brothers start to get a bit nervous. I suppose they think that Joseph was being nice to avoid upsetting dad, but that now he has no reason not to “pay us back for all the evil which we did to him” (Gen. 50:15).

So they send a message to Joseph saying, “your father gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Forgive, I pray you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.’ And now, we pray you, forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” (Gen. 50:16-17).

Even if true, it’s a pretty nasty thing to do. The guy’s just lost his dad and the brothers are getting straight to business. If false (which it may well be, since there’s no indication that Jacob/Israel even knew what his sons did, let alone said anything about it), it’s even worse. On the other hand, Joseph could potentially press all of their children into slavery as revenge, so this is a far cry from the sort of family spat we’re accustomed to today.

Joseph reasserts that the brothers didn’t do anything but slavishly follow God’s plan – which is a horrible way to look at it, by the way. Should we open our jailhouse doors, because they didn’t do anything that wasn’t part of God’s plan? But in this case, the belief allows Joseph to forgive his brothers and he vows to protect them and their children.

Wrap up

Joseph lived to be 110, and to see his son Ephraim’s children of the third generation. We’re also told that Manasseh had a son, Machir.

When he lies dying, Joseph reminds his brothers that God will visit them and bring them out of Egypt, giving them the land that was originally promised to Abraham, then to Isaac, and then to Jacob/Israel.

With his final breath, Joseph “took an oath of the sons of Israel,” which I interpret to mean the people Israel, not Jacob specifically. The oath goes: “God will visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here” (Gen. 50:25). And with that, Joseph dies, is embalmed, and is put into a coffin in Egypt.

And with that we reach the end of Genesis!

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