The other night I was hanging out in a friend’s basement, listening to Lacey Sturm’s “State of Me” on Radio U. And when she repeatedly sang, “Just get behind me,” I thought of Jesus’ brutal reprimand to Peter in Matthew 16:23: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.” Is Jesus calling Peter the actual Devil?
Jesus had a complicated relationship to the God of the Israelites.
Jacob’s descendants were called the Israelites, because God had given Jacob the name “Israel.” In Egypt, the Israelites had babies. And after Joseph and the former Pharaoh were long dead, there were so many Israelites that the new Pharaoh enslaved them and tried to kill all their male babies. One of the male babies was named Moses, and his family saved him from death by sending him down the Nile River in a basket, where Pharaoh’s daughter found him and had him raised in the Egyptian palace.
It started when God created the universe.
If anyone ever tells you that the Bible is outdated and has no application for modern life, just point them to Exodus 25 through 29. You’ll find these chapters immediately relevant whenever you have to build a furnished replica of the tabernacle and outfit the priests to offer sacrifices in it. All sarcasm aside, though, you may come away from these chapters wondering not only what they have to do with your life, but also what they even describe. They don’t have any helpful illustrations, and they’ve been translated for us English speakers from a several-thousand-years-old instance of a foreign language, so don’t be surprised if they’re less clear than Ikea instructions.
Today, we discover that God has feet.
I’ll be frank: the last half of Exodus 22 and the first half of Exodus 23 read like God suddenly gave up on organizing his laws into categories and just started declaring norms. The NASB gives the section the header “Sundry Laws,” which sound like laws pertaining to your sundry. But no, “sundry” is an adjective, not a noun. And if you look through this legal grab-bag, you can find some recurring themes, like gods.
Oh, thank God there’s no mention of slaves in this one.
Oh, great. We’re not two verses into this chapter, and God–the same God whom we had established was speaking out loud about what not to do as his people and how to build altars–now starts talking about the proper keeping of slaves. Comedian Bo Burnham’s song from 2010 “Rant” immediately sprang to mind. Most of it is unfit to quote on this blog, as it’s Bo Burnham. But there’s a section where a hypothetical priest interprets the Old Testament passages about slavery as allegorical, referring to “slaves within our hearts,” and then Bo observes: “And then as God goes on to explain / The logistics of buying and selling slaves…” And worse, this isn’t the last time in the Torah that we’ll read a passage detailing the rights and obligations of the slave and slave-owner. To quote another song by Bo Burnham, I don’t think that I can’t handle this right now.
Welcome to the Ten Commandments, also referred to as the Decalogue. In Judaism, they’re known as the Aseret ha’Dibrot, which might be translated “the Ten Sayings,” “the Ten Statements,” or, as my dad is fond of putting it, “the Ten Words.” They’re not technically imperative sentences, but they do prescribe certain behavior, or more accurately, they proscribe certain behavior. And they certainly are sayings, as the chapter says right out the gate that God says them.