If anyone ever tells you that the Bible is outdated and has no application for modern life, just point them to Exodus 25 through 29.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.
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.
The Pentateuch is weird. Genesis is mostly narrative with periodic genealogies. Exodus, too, consists of sizeable portions of narrative containing occasional genealogies, but here in Exodus 12, we see detailed instructions for observing Passover woven into the story. The ancient Hebrews had no problem deriving what ought to be from what is, because in their view, a moral God had created a moral universe, and he had told them how things should be in it. The bulk of the chapter consists of God issuing Passover norms to Moses and Aaron. But you can set those aside for the moment, because I want to talk about that narrative portion in the middle where God does what he’s been saying he’s going to do, namely, killing the firstborn of Egypt.
If there’s one phrase for which the book of Exodus is known, it’s “Let my people go.” But if there are two phrases for which the book of Exodus is known, the second one is “Pharaoh hardened his heart.” Or “God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Or “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.” There are a lot of different ways that the phrase shows up, and they’re even more diverse in the original Hebrew, so let’s take a look at some of them.
Today’s chapter features the first half of a conversation with God that will turn Moses around and send him back to Egypt. It features a miraculous flaming bush that burns for far longer than a bush has any right to, and which emits God’s voice. It features Moses’ commission to bring the people of Israel back to the land that is their birthright. It features God’s holiness and compassion in equal measure. And, famously, it features God formally giving his name, the tetragrammaton YHWH. But the event raises a question: why the crud does Moses need to be told God’s name?
Today’s chapter has a genealogy in the middle of it. After listing the children of each of Jacob’s sons, grouped by mother, it gives the final count of family members as 70. At this time, I don’t think it would be a particularly good use of my time to check the narrator’s math. His point is that these are the people who ended up living in Egypt. After all, this is the chapter that reunites the family and gathers them all in Egypt; this is the home stretch of the story of the patriarchs.
Today, as Joseph continues to use his position of authority to mess with his brothers, I want to take a look at two questions: where has God been in Joseph’s life, and how do people talk about him?
It’s a genealogy, everybody. It’s literally just Esau’s descendants.
In junior high, when one of my friends encountered the name “Abimelech,” he adopted a silly deep voice with a quasi-Middle-Eastern accent and pronounced it “a-BIM-lick.” I started drawing a series of comics titled “The Bimlik,” in which a handful of shyguys, at least one of whom had just had or was about to have or was in the process of having face surgery, had inane conversations before encountering a nebulously-drawn monster called the Bimlik, with violent results. Apart from illustrating how strange ancient Semitic names can sound to contemporary American ears, this story has nothing to do with today’s chapter, but a personal anecdote can make for an effective introduction.
Finally, Abraham is officially Abraham! Now I can stop feeling weird when I refer to him by the name by which he is most widely known, but which he has not technically been given yet!