As I have been reading through the book of Exodus, I have a few random thoughts that I would like to share.
1) Moses, leader and prophet of Israel, was saved from divine punishment by the intervention of his wife. Zipporah saved the day. She acted like a priest for him. A priest is an intermediary between God and humans often through a blood sacrifice. God was angry with Moses for not circumcising his son, and somehow God made it clear that death was immanent. Zipporah immediately recognized their error, and she took action, circumcising their son. And then she covered Moses with the blood of their son’s foreskin:
At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of death to me,” she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision).
There are many issues in this little scenario. Why was God so harsh and suddenly about to kill Moses? And why was circumcision so important? Yes, there was a covenant with Abraham that included circumcision, but that in itself is weird, actually. For now, I will leave the ferocity of God and ancient Near Eastern practices aside. What grabs my attention is that the LORD accepted Zipporah’s role as priest for her husband. It flies in the face of modern notions from some conservative Christians that husbands (not wives) should be a priest for their wives. God does not get angry with Zipporah for not letting her husband be the spiritual leader. Au contraire. God’s anger relents when Zipporah takes some spiritual leadership and intercedes for her husband.
True, the LORD was holding Moses accountable for not circumcising their son rather than Zipporah, but that ceremony seemed to have been the husband’s responsibility. Some people might object and say many stories from the Old Testament are descriptive, not prescriptive. Fine. This story describes God setting out to punish Moses and highlights how God was appeased. The LORD accepted his wife’s intervention. One of the greatest spiritual leaders of Israel received spiritual “covering” from his wife.
2) Moses and Aaron come to Pharaoh to ask permission for the people of Israel to leave Egypt. Is that not weird? Rather than rebellion and violence, they are led by God to ask permission to leave a despot with overweening pride, who had the nerve to consider himself a god, and who wrongly enslaved people he should have instead honored because of the way Joseph, their forefather, saved the entire nation of Egypt. God used the opportunity to display signs and wonders over and against gods in Egypt; however, it does make me wonder if peaceful communication is God’s preferred way because he does not lead the Israelites into battle. (See Ex. 5-12). Combined with teaching from the New Testament about respecting powers that exist, it makes me wonder if God has a real distaste for civil war. It also makes me wonder if civil war and violent revolution are ever condoned by God.
3) “If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. If her father absolutely refuses her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins. Do not allow a sorceress to live. Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death (Ex. 22:16-19).” I found it amusing that amidst these commands to kill people for various sins, including a sexual sin, that there was this command for the amorous couple to just get married. I suppose you could call God a killjoy for requiring death for bestiality and sorcery. Which makes the lack of harshness all the more stark when you see the requirement for this couple. Why buy the cow if the milk is free? Because God said to buy the cow. But he does not say kill the cow! Nor the milk-drinker!
I am not advocating free milk. The portion about seducing a virgin is actually in the context of taking things, animals, and people who aren’t yours. But it is interesting to see. For stealing things and animals, the property was supposed to be returned and restitution made. But that was not the case with seduction. Instead, the woman was to be honored by marriage. (Bride-price is a custom that makes women sound like property…again, I need to come back to patriarchy in the Old Testament soon.) Anyway, I like that this law protects women and encourages marriage. It’s a graceful law. Some things belong in a marriage. But in this case, when things are not as they should be, instead of punishment, there is simply the command to make it right. Buy the cow and have a happy life.
4) This is perhaps my favorite gem, and it has to do with the Hebrew word used translated as leaders in verse eleven:
9 Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. 10 Under his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as bright blue as the sky. 11 But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.
Wow, seeing God. That is really, really cool. But, what I want to highlight is the word used to describe these people who saw God. We know these people were leaders of Israel, such as the elders and Moses and Aaron and the other two. But, according to my NIV Study Bible, the word used for leaders, atsiyl, literally means “corners” or “corner supports.”
Hebrew is so descriptive. This word “atsiyl” is only used one other time in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 41:9. Other words are usually used for leaders. But the precedent to think of leaders as corners is set.
What would you think if you found a Hebrew psalm using cornerstone imagery within a public building such as a temple to describe blessed offspring? Does that not connote leadership, especially spiritual leadership?
5) If this were a sermon, I would be in trouble because this is five points instead of three. But I want to conclude quickly with a little note about the priesthood in Exodus. I was struck by the central role of a priest as an intermediary between God and the rest of Israel, as one who was “holy to the LORD” and could enter the presence of God, and of the great honor it was to be a priest. If we are to understand that God has made us a kingdom of priests, we need to know what a priest is and does.