Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 18: Exodus, Chapter 10 - 13

This will continue my Bible commentary from Part 17. (There are links to the entire series here.) All quotes are from the King James version of the Bible.

Chapter 10:
1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh: for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might shew these my signs before him:

2 And that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son's son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the LORD.

As I noted last time, God has already brought seven plagues to Egypt, but he continues to harden the Pharaoh's heart, because he doesn't want the Pharaoh to relent, not until he can kill a whole bunch of kids first. That, you see, will show everyone how powerful he is.

But first, how about some locusts?
7 And Pharaoh's servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?

8 And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: and he said unto them, Go, serve the LORD your God: but who are they that shall go?

9 And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the LORD.

10 And he said unto them, Let the LORD be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you.

11 Not so: go now ye that are men, and serve the LORD; for that ye did desire. And they were driven out from Pharaoh's presence.

Now wait a minute! The Pharaoh has just agreed to let them go, hasn't he? Or am I misinterpreting this? Moses threatened him with locusts (I'm skipping that part, but you'll get the gist of it in a moment), and the Pharaoh's servants urge him to let the Hebrews go.

After all, God has already plagued Egypt with frogs, lice, and flies, with horrible diseases that wiped out their livestock and hail that flattened their crops, not to mention painful sores and all the water in Egypt turning to blood. "Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed?"

And the Pharaoh seems to agree, doesn't he? "Let the LORD be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones." Am I missing something here? This isn't like the previous examples where God hardens his heart, causing the Pharaoh to change his mind. As far as I can tell, the Pharaoh agrees to let them go,... but God sends the locusts anyway:
13 And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.

14 And the locusts went up over all the land of Egypt, and rested in all the coasts of Egypt: very grievous were they; before them there were no such locusts as they, neither after them shall be such.

15 For they covered the face of the whole earth, so that the land was darkened; and they did eat every herb of the land, and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left: and there remained not any green thing in the trees, or in the herbs of the field, through all the land of Egypt.

Note that the hail (mingled with fire) of the previous plague had already "smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field," and now the locusts devour everything else. Of course, the cattle have already died - twice! Can you imagine the famine in Egypt?

If this had actually happened, this would have been the greatest disaster ever to befall what was easily one of the most powerful countries on Earth. There's no way this wouldn't have been recorded somewhere by Egyptian scribes,... unless this is all just fiction, of course.

Well, to get back to the story, you can guess what happens now, right? Yup, it's just like last time (and several times before that). The Pharaoh apologizes, so God removes the locusts. Then God hardens the Pharaoh's heart again, so he changes his mind and gives God the excuse he wants to continue plaguing the Egyptian people.
20 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.

21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.

22 And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days:

23 They saw not one another, neither rose any from his place for three days: but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings.

Darkness? Yeah, that would be scary, I suppose, but compared to everything else God has done to them - and to what he does next - this was probably like a vacation to the Egyptians, don't you think?
27 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let them go.

28 And Pharaoh said unto him, Get thee from me, take heed to thyself, see my face no more; for in that day thou seest my face thou shalt die.

29 And Moses said, Thou hast spoken well, I will see thy face again no more.

Hmm,... this threat seems to be forgotten completely by Chapter 12.

Chapter 11:
1 And the LORD said unto Moses, Yet will I bring one plague more upon Pharaoh, and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go hence: when he shall let you go, he shall surely thrust you out hence altogether.

2 Speak now in the ears of the people, and let every man borrow of his neighbour, and every woman of her neighbour, jewels of silver, and jewels of gold.

This is a very, very short chapter, which just sums up some of what's been going on here. But trust me, given how often the text repeats itself, that's pretty much the last thing we need. Anyway, it's only ten verses long, and I don't know why anyone even bothered with it.

But note that the chapters and verses of the Bible are a very late addition to it. Heck, there wasn't even any separation between words in the ancient Greek manuscripts. (The Hebrew of the Old Testament might have separated words, but it didn't include vowels.) My point is that what we think of as the Bible is very different from the collection of short stories and other manuscripts it was created from.

Chapter 12:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying,

2 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you.

Thus Nisan, when Passover is celebrated, is the first month of the Jewish year. It's not, however, the Jewish New Year, which is seven months later. Funny, huh? Actually, as an Israeli friend of mine frequently reminds me, there are many Jewish "New Years."
3 Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house:


6 And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening.

7 And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it.

8 And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it.

9 Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance [entrails] thereof.

10 And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire.

Very elaborate instructions here for killing and eating this lamb, huh? And I haven't even included it all. (Don't even get me started about all the emphasis on "unleavened bread"! Given the amount of repetition here, unleavened bread must be the most important thing in the world to God.)

Of course, you don't want to make any mistakes, not now, certainly.
11 And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD'S passover.

12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.

13 And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt.

Keep in mind that this isn't just the Jewish god now, but the Christian god, as well. In both beliefs, their god is supposed to be omniscient. So why does he even need this blood smeared on the doors to remind him of who to kill and who to spare?

Furthermore, most Christians believe in a loving god. (Jews, not so much, apparently.) Well, note that this has been the plan of their 'loving' god all along. He kept hardening the heart of the Pharaoh specifically so he'd have an excuse for killing their kids. How in the world can Christians read this stuff and not be completely disgusted by it?

(Incidentally, when it says "firstborn," it means firstborn sons. Daughters don't count, because women aren't important enough that God even cares whether they die or not. Even when it's the firstborn cattle, God is only talking about the firstborn males, as he makes quite clear later.)

OK, there's lots more about unleavened bread and about how God wants Passover to be celebrated forever (so you have to wonder why Christians ignore that, too, don't you?), but I'll skip all that, because it isn't a part of Christianity (not that I've ever seen, at least).

Instead, we'll get directly to the heart of the matter:
29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

Well, I guess God really showed them, huh? He killed all those innocent children in every innocent family in Egypt. Indeed, even the Pharaoh should be considered innocent here, shouldn't he? After all, the reason he didn't let the Jews go after experiencing one of the other nine plagues is just because God kept "hardening his heart."

God loves the little children. (They're delicious!)

Note that God killed all the firstborn of the cattle, too - the Egyptian cattle which had already been killed twice previously in Exodus, once by the diseases of the fifth plague and once by the hail of the seventh. (Hmm,... did the Hebrews have to splash blood on their barn doors, too, so God could figure out which cattle to spare? Or was the fact that theirs were the only cattle left alive in Egypt enough of a clue for him?)

At least he's finally had enough of death and destruction now. (Or has he? Just wait!) The Pharaoh agrees to let the Jews go, and this time, God doesn't harden his heart.
35 And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses; and they borrowed of the Egyptians jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment:

36 And the LORD gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they spoiled the Egyptians.

Here's that plan again, which we saw clear back in Chapter 3, where God has commanded them to steal. They're "borrowing" expensive jewelry and clothing from their Egyptian neighbors - those neighbors who are now too terrified to resist - and they certainly don't plan to return anything they "borrow." (That's the meaning of 'spoiling' the Egyptians - as in the spoils of war.)

This is nothing but theft, not just condoned by God, but commanded by him. And it was very definitely premeditated. In fact, it's mentioned three times in Exodus, just to make sure to drive the message home: that when you've got the most powerful god in the land on your side, you can take whatever you want.
37 And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot that were men, beside children.

38 And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle.

39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.

40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.

More about unleavened bread! (I'm skipping the vast majority of it. Really, someone was just obsessed with unleavened bread. I suppose it would be like me writing about bacon, huh?)

OK, the Jews lived in Egypt for 430 years (which you could reasonably say rounds off to the 400 years God told Abram). And in those 430 years, despite the oppression they suffered, they went from 70 people to... several million? (Note that there are now 600,000 Hebrew men, so there must be roughly that number of women, too - women not being important enough to even bother counting - and who knows how many children.)

Even in the modern world, with modern medicine, this would be a ridiculously unbelievable rate of population growth. (That's a 4,000,000% increase. I wish my stocks would do that!) Admittedly, they didn't have birth control back then, but they hadn't discovered the germ theory of disease, either. Back then, you'd be lucky if half of your children survived to become adults - and if their mother survived all that childbirth, herself.

Furthermore, can you imagine several million people walking out of Egypt - with their vast herds of cattle, too - and then wandering 40 years in the desert? Can you imagine the logistics of that?
41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years, even the selfsame day it came to pass, that all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.

And they all walk out of Egypt, in their stolen jewels and fine clothing, driving their flocks and their herds before them, in one day.

Chapter 13:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.

Since he's killed the firstborn son of all those Egyptians (again, although it usually says just "firstborn," other passages make it clear that we're only talking about their male children - you know, the kids who actually matter) and the firstborn of all those dead cattle, God demands the firstborn of both man and beast forever after.
12 That thou shalt set apart unto the LORD all that openeth the matrix, and every firstling that cometh of a beast which thou hast; the males shall be the LORD'S.

13 And every firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb; and if thou wilt not redeem it, then thou shalt break his neck: and all the firstborn of man among thy children shalt thou redeem.

Luckily, you don't actually have to kill your firstborn children. If you can afford it, you can just buy a lamb and kill that instead. But one way or another, God wants his blood sacrifice for all of them.

OK, there's still more about unleavened bread here. (I'm not kidding.) But I'm going to skip all that.
17 And it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God led them not through the way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when they see war, and they return to Egypt:

18 But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea: and the children of Israel went up harnessed out of the land of Egypt.


21 And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night:

So the Jews have suffered horrible oppression in Egypt, and God has worked miracle after miracle to set them free. And now, several million of them are walking to a new land, with all their livestock and their stolen loot. But God is afraid they'll turn around and go back to Egypt if they actually get a look at what civilized lands elsewhere look like! Funny, huh?

So he takes them through the wilderness, instead. Well, I'm sure it will work out just great. But I'm afraid that will have to wait for the next episode.

Note: This entire series can be found here.


Chimeradave said...

It's funny, my parents got Henry a kid's Bible with big pictures. I was looking at the Moses story. It says that Pharaoh worked the Jews day and night. And it talks about the plague but makes them seem like inconveniences rather than anything serious. And it doesn't mention the killing of the firstborns at all. And it doesn't mention how God was "hardening Pharaoh's heart." I think in a lot of ways the "kids" version is the version people learn.

WCG said...

That doesn't surprise me, John. But what does surprise me is how people can study the Bible - and I've known plenty of evangelicals who spend much of their spare time doing that - without seeing any of this stuff.

Oh, well. This has been fun, so far. In fact, I'll have another post up shortly. But I wonder how it's going to go when I get past the familiar stories of Genesis and Exodus...

Chimeradave said...

It's because of the way the Bible is studied today. Most people use a study. A handbook that tells them the old testament reading the gospel reading and the new testament reading of the day. Therefore they'd read just one or two of the exodus chapters at a time and not see them as a whole. And probably stories like the Tamar one would never be assigned.

WCG said...

Coincidentally, I was listening to this Human Bible podcast this morning, and he said that evangelicals often use Bibles which have been rewritten just for them.

In fact, he went so far as to say that these versions were paraphrasing the Bible, rather than translating it. In other words, some people have rewritten the Bible to agree with what they thought it should say, rather than what it actually says.

Even mainstream Bibles do that sometimes, changing "brothers" to "brothers and sisters," for example (since people today tend to think that women are important, too). But apparently right-wing evangelicals have taken that to a new low in some translations, basically rewriting whatever they don't like.