Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Bible, Pt. 20: Exodus, Chapter 18 - 23

Continuing with my commentary on the Bible from Part 19. (The entire series is here.) All quotes come from the King James Bible.

Chapter 18:
1 When Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses' father in law, heard of all that God had done for Moses, and for Israel his people, and that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt;

2 Then Jethro, Moses' father in law, took Zipporah, Moses' wife, after he had sent her back,


5 And Jethro, Moses' father in law, came with his sons and his wife unto Moses into the wilderness, where he encamped at the mount of God:

Apparently, Moses had sent his wife and sons back to live with his father-in-law (first called Reuel in Chapter 2, but since then, Jethro) during the plagues. They'd gone to Egypt with Moses in Chapter 4 (remember that "bloody husband" stuff?), but now we learn he'd sent them back to her father.

Incidentally, Moses was supposed to have been 80 years old at the start of this (Chapter 7), so you really have to wonder about the age of his sons, don't you? When Zipporah took a sharp stone and bloodily circumcised their son, was the child a sixty year old man at that point? Is that story even creepier than it seems at first? :)

Or didn't Moses even get married until he was 75 or so? Either way, he must have been atypical in only having two sons at that age, given the incredible birth rate among the Jews (which supposedly took them from only 70 people to several million in just four centuries.)

Anyway, Moses seems to completely ignore his wife and two sons. It's only his father-in-law who he talks to and takes advice from:
8 And Moses told his father in law all that the LORD had done unto Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, and all the travail that had come upon them by the way, and how the LORD delivered them.

9 And Jethro rejoiced for all the goodness which the LORD had done to Israel, whom he had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.

10 And Jethro said, Blessed be the LORD, who hath delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of Pharaoh, who hath delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.

11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all gods: for in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them.

Hmm,... Yahweh has demonstrated that he's greater than the other gods, huh? "For in the thing wherein they dealt proudly he was above them." That seems to indicate that the plagues of Egypt were a matter of God competing with other gods - specific Egyptian gods - doesn't it? Either way, note the clear implication that Yahweh, the 'LORD,' is just one of many gods.

Of course, Jethro is a priest of Midian (we don't know exactly where that was), not one of God's chosen people. Indeed, a little later, God commands Moses to kill all of the Midians - the men, women, and children, excepting only the virgin girls who they should "keep alive for yourselves."

Nevertheless, Moses never objects to this idea that God is simply a stronger god than the others. In fact, it seems obvious that he agrees with that. As I've noted before, their god isn't the only god, he's just theirs. And they're proud of his strength. What God has just done in Egypt demonstrates his power. Indeed, as the story continually emphasizes, that's why he did it.
12 And Jethro, Moses' father in law, took a burnt offering and sacrifices for God: and Aaron came, and all the elders of Israel, to eat bread with Moses' father in law before God.

Note this verse, too. Jethro, the priest of Midian, sacrifices a burnt offering to their god right along with the Israelites. Has he converted to their religion? Of course not. All gods are just tribal. No one even thinks of attempting to convert the Midians, not even God himself. And so, in a little while, God will command that they all die. Why not? They're not his people.

How can Christians read this stuff and not wonder why their holy book presents such a different version of God than the one they've always been taught to believe?

Anyway, while he's there, Jethro watches Moses spend the entire day settling disputes, and he's got a suggestion:
17 And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good.

18 Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.

19 Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God:

20 And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.

21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens:

22 And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee.

So that's what Moses does. He appoints men to rule over the Jews, men to judge the lesser disputes, while he decides the big issues. This seems to be the introduction to God's commandments, which will take up most of this post. (I hope it's not too boring.)

Chapter 19:
1 In the third month, when the children of Israel were gone forth out of the land of Egypt, the same day came they into the wilderness of Sinai.

It's less than three months since they've left Egypt, and they're already in the Sinai Peninsula. So you really have to wonder why it takes them 40 more years to get to Israel, don't you?

At any rate, they've now come to Mount Sinai, where God is going to give Moses the Ten Commandments (although in Deuteronomy, this is said to happen at Mount Horeb, which is where God first appeared to Moses in a burning bush).
9 And the LORD said unto Moses, Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and believe thee for ever. And Moses told the words of the people unto the LORD.

10 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them to day and to morrow, and let them wash their clothes,

11 And be ready against the third day: for the third day the LORD will come down in the sight of all the people upon mount Sinai.

12 And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death:

13 There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live...

God wasn't so shy back then, I guess. He's willing to show himself to everyone, to prove that he really exists and that Moses is his spokesman. Of course, for the lesser people, anyone who dares even touch the border of the mountain will be put to death. You can't let the rabble get too familiar. Even their livestock must be killed if they get that close.

But guess what? This doesn't actually happen. As it turns out - at the end of the next chapter - the people are too afraid to get close enough to hear God themselves, anyway. So only Moses gets close enough to hear God, who supposedly tells him, "Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven."
18 And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.

19 And when the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder, Moses spake, and God answered him by a voice.

20 And the LORD came down upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the LORD called Moses up to the top of the mount; and Moses went up.

21 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish.

22 And let the priests also, which come near to the LORD, sanctify themselves, lest the LORD break forth upon them.

Hmm,... it sounds like a volcano, doesn't it? And like every volcano among primitive people, it has a god (or is a god). Furthermore, it's a sacred place, so it's taboo for most people. Only Moses can go up the mountain, but the priests can come near, since they have to keep the rabble at a distance.

(I'm not saying that Mount Sinai is a volcano, you understand, just that whoever created this story had clearly heard of volcanoes. Gods tended to live on the top of mountains anyway, and volcanoes were obviously magical. Of course, as I noted previously, the Bible contradicts itself by also claiming that these events happened on Mount Horeb, not Mount Sinai.)

Chapter 20:
1 And God spake all these words, saying,

2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:

5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

I'm not going to copy the whole chapter here, but I did want to make a few comments. For example, note this verse, where God promises to punish not just the people who 'hate' him, but their children and grandchildren, too. Does that really sound like a just god?

And that first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Are they free to worship other, lesser gods then, as long as they keep Yahweh on top? (Apparently not, from later passages.) Certainly, there's not the slightest indication that this god is the only god. Just the reverse, in fact. Even 'God' acknowledges that there are other gods. He just wants to be the top dog. His people had better put him on a pedestal, above all those other gods.

Note that there's nothing about the "Ten Commandments" here. This chapter includes those commandments which are commonly considered to be the Ten Commandments, but they're not numbered or anything. Indeed, God's commandments continue for several more chapters, and they number far more than just ten. Do we just assume that these are listed in order of importance?

Furthermore, there's nothing about stone tablets, not here (later, yes). Here it's just God telling his people what he expects, what they should do and not do. And what later became the "Ten Commandments"? Isn't that just normal human behavior, widely seen even today, of creating "Top Ten" lists?
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

From what I understand, this did not mean profanity or blasphemy, but more like perjury. If you swore on God's name, you'd better not be lying. As time went on, though, it became a warning against using God's name at all in ordinary usage (which is one reason why he's commonly called "God," instead of his actual name).
13 Thou shalt not kill.

Obviously, the Bible has nothing against killing! Heh, heh. Really, the whole idea is laughable. This is clearly a mistranslation. It should be "Thou shalt not murder." (Killing is fact; murder is just opinion.)
17 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.

There goes the entire economic basis of modern society, huh? :)

Note that the King James Bible always says "servant" when referring to a slave. Don't be confused by "manservant" and "maidservant." These are slaves. They're property, and you're not supposed to covet your neighbor's property (including his wife).
23 Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold.

24 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.

It's odd that we don't kill animals for burnt offerings anymore, isn't it? Did God finally get civilized? Or did he just lose his taste for blood and burnt flesh?

God's instructions go on for several more chapters. And remember, the chapters and verses themselves are relatively new additions to the Bible. Originally, there weren't even periods at the end of the sentences, or even spaces between the words. So it's hard to see any big significance in the first commandments, except that they are first.

Again, I'll just comment on some of these things. If you want to read them all, you know where to find them. :)

Chapter 21:
2 If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.


4 If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master's, and he shall go out by himself.

5 And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free:

6 Then his master shall bring him unto the judges; he shall also bring him to the door, or unto the door post; and his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he shall serve him for ever.

These are God's rules for slaves, if they're Hebrews. (Elsewhere, they're encouraged to buy foreigners, since they don't have to treat them even this well.)

Male Hebrew slaves have to be set free after six years, but that doesn't include their wife and children, if the master has given them a wife in the meantime. If that's the case, the slave gets to make a decision. He can abandon his wife and children, while getting his own freedom. Or he can stay with them, by agreeing to be a slave forever after (and his wife and children, too). Nice choice, huh? What a loving god!
7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.

8 If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.

9 And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.

10 If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish.

11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.

And these are the instructions for Hebrew women who are purchased as slaves (again, just the Hebrews). Note that there seems to be little difference between being a slave and being a wife. In both cases, you're sold to a man, without anyone really caring about your own wishes. In both cases, you're expected to have sex with him.

As I read this, if a Hebrew slave doesn't please her master in the bedroom, her father is supposed to buy her back. Her master isn't allowed to sell her to foreigners, at least. (That restriction doesn't apply if the slave isn't Hebrew.)

If he gives her to his son, then she shall be considered a daughter-in-law. And since bigamy was legal and socially acceptable (for men only, of course), she'd still get food, clothing, and "her duty of marriage" even if her master took a second wife. But what if he doesn't do that? "Then shall she go free without money."

Tell me, what options are there for an ex-slave - or an ex-wife - without money? And keep in mind that these are the instructions for Hebrew slaves. God doesn't give a crap about anyone who isn't an Israelite.

And what about other instructions involving slaves? This one doesn't specify whether it's talking about Hebrew slaves or not:
20 And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished.

21 Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.

These verses come after several which specifically impose the death penalty for a variety of crimes (including striking - or even cursing - your father or mother). So that clearly indicates that the punishment for killing a slave, while it's not specified here, is not that severe. Killing a slave is not considered murder.

Furthermore, this punishment is only if the slave dies immediately. If you beat your slave - man or woman - so severely that he or she dies a day or two later, that's not a crime at all. (Yes, you really need religion for morality, don't you?)
22 If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.

23 And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,

Clearly, according to God, abortion isn't murder. Even forced abortion isn't murder, because the punishment for murder is death. As long as no "mischief" follows (rape? or does this mean her death, too?), causing a woman to miscarry isn't a capital crime. It's merely a property crime.
26 And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye's sake.

27 And if he smite out his manservant's tooth, or his maidservant's tooth; he shall let him go free for his tooth's sake.

Well, here's another way a slave can attain his freedom - if he (or she) loses his sight, or has his teeth knocked out. I'm not sure if this one applies to foreign slaves, or just to Hebrews.

The rest of the chapter is about liability (when your ox gores someone). I'll just skip that, since this is getting too long already.

Chapter 22:
1 If a man shall steal an ox, or a sheep, and kill it, or sell it; he shall restore five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.

2 If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him.

3 If the sun be risen upon him, there shall be blood shed for him; for he should make full restitution; if he have nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.

As you can see, we're moving on to theft and arson and other crimes.
16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.

17 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.

This doesn't refer to rape, apparently, but only seduction. Still, it's clearly considered a property crime. Virgins are worth a certain amount of money. If a father can no longer sell his daughter as a virgin, he should still get her bride price, one way or another.
18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

19 Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.

20 He that sacrificeth unto any god, save unto the LORD only, he shall be utterly destroyed.

Oh, yeah. Death to witches. Death for bestiality. Death to heretics. Note that other gods are clearly assumed to exist. That's not the issue. The issue is that 'the LORD' is a jealous god who wants the Hebrews worshiping only him.

Oh, and maybe now is the time to point out that there's absolutely nothing about homosexuality here. Why not? Did it just slip God's mind?
22 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.

23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;

24 And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.

This is nice, I suppose. But note the difference between this and all those other crimes: this doesn't specify a punishment which God's people are supposed to carry out themselves. No, if you 'afflict' a widow or an orphan, they're supposed to cry to God, who'll take care of it himself. (Yeah, good luck with that.)

So why doesn't God take care of all those other crimes himself, too? If he wants witches to die, why doesn't he kill them himself? Heretics, likewise. Why doesn't God just take care of that himself? That would have saved humanity a great deal of pain and horror, you know.

But no, it's only in the protection of widows and orphans that we're supposed to leave everything to God. Funny, huh?
28 Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.

Again, "gods" - plural, not singular.

And "Thou shalt not... curse the ruler of thy people"? Hmm,... I wonder if Republicans need to have this pointed out to them? :)
29 Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.

Um,... I also wonder what use God has for ripe fruit and liquor - to say nothing of firstborn sons? But these are just more sacrifices, right? In Chapter 13, we saw how you were supposed to redeem your firstborn son by buying, and killing, a lamb. So I suppose God has just decided that he wants some dessert to go along with that (or his priests do, at least).

Chapter 23:
15 Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: (thou shalt eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded thee, in the time appointed of the month Abib; for in it thou camest out from Egypt: and none shall appear before me empty:)


18 Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning.

19 The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.

Again with the unleavened bread! Just one brief line about killing witches, but God has to drone on and on about unleavened bread?

Well, you can see ("Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk") that we're getting into picayune details now, so maybe these commandments are listed in order of importance. This is the last of them - for now, at least.
20 Behold, I send an Angel before thee, to keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have prepared.

21 Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him.

22 But if thou shalt indeed obey his voice, and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy unto thine enemies, and an adversary unto thine adversaries.

23 For mine Angel shall go before thee, and bring thee in unto the Amorites, and the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites: and I will cut them off.

Remember, God is giving the Israelites a land which is already owned by lots and lots of other tribes. Well, might makes right, huh? And Jehovah has already shown them that their god is the toughest god on the block.
24 Thou shalt not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do after their works: but thou shalt utterly overthrow them, and quite break down their images.


27 I will send my fear before thee, and will destroy all the people to whom thou shalt come, and I will make all thine enemies turn their backs unto thee.

28 And I will send hornets before thee, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before thee.

29 I will not drive them out from before thee in one year; lest the land become desolate, and the beast of the field multiply against thee.

30 By little and little I will drive them out from before thee, until thou be increased, and inherit the land.

31 And I will set thy bounds from the Red sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the desert unto the river: for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and thou shalt drive them out before thee.

Nice, huh? This is the Hebrew tribal god, so of course he has no concern for anyone else. But remember that I'm reading the Bible here. This is supposed to be the Christian god, too.

God is giving his favorites someone else's land. And he specifically tells the Israelites (in verses 32-33) to make no agreements with those other people and definitely not allow them to stay. Drive them out or destroy them, and their little gods, too.

Again, those other gods exist, just don't have anything to do with them. Yahweh is a jealous god, and you don't want to make him angry!

In the early years of Christianity, there was immense debate about... well, pretty much everything (including the nature of Jesus). The orthodox view which ended up dominant was far from the only Christianity, certainly not before it finished suppressing all those other sects and burning their manuscripts. But one of the debates was about how much Judaism to include in the new religion (and even whether the Jewish Yahweh was their own God or not).

When the Bible was being created from various sources, centuries later, there were still Christians who thought that the Old Testament shouldn't be included at all. (Even today, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches disagree on which parts are really canon.) You can understand that, can't you? After reading this far, I sure can.

But then, the Christian God back then wasn't as most Christians think of him today, either. Back then, burning witches and stoning heretics were doing God's will, and slavery was positively approved by the Lord. So I'm sure the Old Testament Jewish god is harder to explain away these days, not because he's so much different from the Christian god, but because he's so much different from today's version of the Christian god.

Note: My entire series on the Bible can be found here.


Chimeradave said...

I guess animal sacrifices went out of vogue when people started having church services in cathedrals. Can you imagine what would happen if someone tried this in a church today. The head of the local fire department comes to my church. He'd go into conniption.

And aren't you glad that you now know how to treat your slaves? Practical advice. LOL!

WCG said...

See, John, that's why I never buy Hebrew slaves. You don't have all those petty rules if you avoid buying Hebrews.

Worrying about whether my slave dies today (in which case maybe I'll have to pay a fine) or lingers until tomorrow (at which point it will be completely kosher)? It's not worth it. I'll just buy people God doesn't give a crap about. :)