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.
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?
Here we have Jacob’s final message to his sons: an individual blessing for each son. According to the NASB’s subject heading, it’s also a prophecy. Jacob himself describes his message as “what will befall you in the days to come,” literally “the end of the days” (1). I sense that there’s a lot going on underneath the surface here, but here’s what I’ve got.
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.
For better or worse, the text of the Bible doesn’t generally come with content warnings, so I feel like I should begin with one. The story in today’s chapter deals with sexual violence, and the victim is in all likelihood a minor. I often make flippant or lighthearted remarks here on Chocolate Book, but I’ve had to scrap more than one incomplete intro here because the tone wasn’t appropriate to the subject matter. The story of Dinah, Shechem, and Simeon and Levi’s revenge is intended for mature audiences, in that if you or I aren’t going to treat it with the gravity it merits, we have no business discussing it at all.
Take your time machine back to late 2003, track me down on the campus of St. John’s College, and ask me who my favorite Bible character is, and I’ll tell you it’s Jacob. Why, you ask? My sophomore self tells you that it’s because God uses him in spite of his faults. In a book of hot messes, Jacob’s debatably the hot-messiest. But God gives him the name “Israel,” makes him the literal namesake of an entire race, and changes him dramatically over the course of his life. Jacob grows both in humility and courage; he learns to leave behind his swindling and cheating and to face the world honestly instead. Jacob’s story is hope for schmucks.
Welcome to the second installment of our new interstitial study, God’s Little Deconstruction Book. The verse from God’s Little Instruction Book for today is 1 Samuel 16:7b, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” It’s part of a larger story that you’re likely familiar with, in which God, having rejected Saul as Israel’s king, leads Samuel to look for a new king to anoint from among Jesse the Bethlehemite’s sons. So as not to draw Saul’s ire, Samuel has a cover story: he comes together with Jesse and his sons to sacrifice a cow to God. And by the end of the tale, of course, Samuel has anointed the youngest son, David.
Most of Malachi 1 is an indictment of the priests of Israel, but I spent the entire post on how God hates Esau and how it is even possible that God hates something. Sometimes that happens! But the priests have been offering food that’s not copacetic and animals that are blemished, and in this chapter the priest critique continues.
It gets better.
That’s God’s message to his people as he continues his monologue from the last chapter. Remember Sharezer and his companions, asking whether to fast, and God’s response criticizing their insincerity? Whether they fast or not in the present, the future holds a time to abstain from fasting–a time to celebrate. Speaking through Zechariah, God declares, “The fast of the fourth, the fast of the fifth, the fast of the seventh and the fast of the tenth months will become joy, gladness, and cheerful feasts for the house of Judah; so love truth and peace” (19). Whether people formerly fasted out of selfishness or sincerity, they’ll be swapping out fasts for feasts once God completes his work.
Between our recent excursions into Ezra and Nehemiah and our present entry into Haggai, the theme of the moment must be rebuilding projects. Haggai, a short book that is mostly narrative, opens with God calling his people to rebuild the temple. Despite their initial reticence, Haggai’s prophetic message moves them to begin work.