This week we continue with the Moses drama. He’s heard from God through a burning bush that he needs to return to Egypt (where there are likely plenty of people still mad at him for killing that Egyptian over-seer a few years earlier).
- But God wants Moses in Egypt to free the Israelites … so they can go take back to Canaan … and enter into a big war with the people who have been occupying the land for the last 400 years. For this and other good reasons, Moses wants none of that. But God proves to Moses that this time he’s going to protect everyone (in comparison to the last time when they all got forced into slavery). God shows Moses several miracles, including turning a staff into a snake and water into blood. So there’s that. In theory, it would have been more efficient for God to appear to the Jews and to Pharaoh in a burning bush. But God is outsourcing.
- And then things get weird. A few years (!!?) after the burning bush experience, Moses sets out with his family to return to Egypt. According to Exodus, things got weird one night in the tent when God tries to kill Moses. Zipporah (Moses’ wife and the answer to the question of the week), believes that God is angry that their son isn’t circumcised. So she grabs a flint knife and performs an emergency circumcision on the spot. Then she flings the bloody foreskin at Moses’ feet (we should point out that the term “feet” is likely a euphemism for genitals, which makes this whole story even more disturbing). Then she says: “Surely, a bridegroom of blood thou art to me.”
- Really, she says that. To this day, no one is quite sure what Zipporah meant, but it did the trick (the second part of the answer to the Q of the W). She saved Moses, and he went on to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. However, despite her bravery and quick thinking, Moses doesn’t act particularly grateful. Moses sends her and the children away before the Exodus from Egypt. Later, they reunite, but by that time Moses has taken a second wife, a “Cushite” or Ethiopian woman.
Several mysteries in this tale leave experts baffled. Why did Zipporah, a woman, perform the circumcision? Which son was involved? Was God himself the attacker, or did he send one of his minions? Why did Zipporah and Moses separate?
Acknowledgement to the people over at TheFriendlyAtheist.com for providing help with this week’s observations on the usually-boring story in Exodus.
Two weeks ago we left Moses fleeing Egypt after killing an Egyptian slave overseer (but looking around first to see if anyone was watching). We also digressed into speculating about whether he was somehow the illegitimate grandson of Pharaoh.
In any case, Moses is in no hurry to return to Egypt. He’s met a nice girl near a well in the desert and has started a family. Meanwhile, back in Egypt, the Jewish people are still slaving away under Pharaoh. Remember, this is 400 years after Joseph and the family came over from Canaan during the famine.
Now the story gets interesting. God realizes something is amiss and speaks to Moses from a burning bush. In the ensuing dialogue, God informs Moses that his name is, “I Am.” The Chief Editor has heard several metaphysical explanations for this confusing phrase, none of which have been satisfying. But we ran across a theory this week in Quora that has some appeal.
- The Jews may have been more like Egyptians. The Jews have been in Egypt for 400+ years. Despite their best efforts at keeping themselves separate, after 400 years they have probably adopted a lot of Egyptian religious beliefs in multiple gods and the accompanying rituals.
- What’s God been doing? Meanwhile, the God who spoke from the burning bush was the same Jewish God that they worshipped 400 years earlier. He/She/It never really had a name other than God. So maybe God was miffed at Moses for even asking about the name thing.
- New world view. But this mono-God idea is going to be a hard sell to the Jewish people back in Egypt. Moses is going to have to first convince them on the idea of a God who calls himself “I Am” before approaching Pharaoh with the combination of miracles that we know is coming.
Fun genealogy fact: In another interesting genealogy twist in the Bible, we find out that Moses’ father (Amram) married his own aunt. That’s pretty creepy, and not brought up often in Sunday School class. But we suppose those things could happen when you live to be 130+.
Question of the week: Who was Moses’ first wife (she actually has a name), and what role did she play in the keeping God from killing Moses on the way back to Egypt?
When we left Joseph at the end of Genesis, the dysfunctional family had all come to Egypt, Jacob finally died but not before cursing two of his sons, and the story ends. In Exodus, we pick up the story several years — around 1400 BCE vs 1600 BCE for Joseph.
- There’s a new Pharaoh in town. This guy has never heard of Joseph, has no need for dream interpretation, and has not been told what a great family Joseph had. What the new Pharaoh knows is that after multiple generations, the Israelites have been … how should we say … fruitful. If you are Pharaoh, and you have a tribe of people who continue to propagate to the point of being a threat to your own livelihood, what do you do? You enslave them, of course. Maybe it was a karma thing — you remember … all that stuff about Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery.
- Moses is born. Since the Israelites continued to proliferate, the next thing Pharaoh did was issue an order to kill all the male Jewish babies. Here’s where the story of Moses begins. And it is strange from the beginning:
- Moses’ mother first hides him from the authorities for three months.
- Then she puts him in a basket in the water. That is when Pharaoh’s daughter ‘finds’ him in the basket. This is where all the rumors originate that maybe Moses was really the illegitimate son of Pharaoh’s daughter.
- Then Pharaoh’s daughter pays Moses’ mother to nurse him until Pharaoh’s daughter ‘kidnaps’ him back to be her son.
- And suddenly Moses is an adult. All in a single chapter.
- Moses kills a man. And just as soon as Moses becomes an adult, Exodus says he kills an Egyptian. The Bible is unclear on why. But it is clear that Moses did this only after he looked around first to see if anyone was watching. The commandment on killing evidently was still in the future. To add to the illegitimate son rumors, Moses (a Jewish slave killing an Egyptian) somehow escapes and eludes the authorities for several years before returning to lead his people out of Egypt.
And we have not even got into the cool stuff we all know is coming.
And a shout out to Hemant Mehta over at The Friendly Atheist YouTube channel for his insightful and amusing observations on the Old Testament.