Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Bible, Pt. 21: Exodus, Chapter 24 - 31

This continues my series on the Christian Bible from Part 20. All quotes are from the King James version.

Chapter 24:
1 And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the LORD, thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship ye afar off.

2 And Moses alone shall come near the LORD: but they shall not come nigh; neither shall the people go up with him.

...

5 And he sent young men of the children of Israel, which offered burnt offerings, and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the LORD.

6 And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basons; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar.

The previous four chapters of Exodus covered what Moses learned on the mountain (identified as Mount Sinai, here) from God. Prior to that, we had the Israelites arriving at Mount Sinai and their god descending on it in fire and smoke.

Although the rest of the tribe were forbidden to touch even the lower slopes of the mountain, on pain of death, God was going to show himself to them, to demonstrate that he really existed and that Moses was his prophet. But the people were too frightened to come near.

Now, in Chapter 24, we go back to that and see a somewhat different story, much more detailed. (And after this, we'll see more instructions from God, mind-numbingly detailed.) Clearly, as we've seen many times in the Bible already, these were originally two separate stories, almost certainly by separate authors, which have been combined into one.
9 Then went up Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel:

10 And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness.

11 And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.

This isn't the only place in the Old Testament where God seems to be so similar to human beings that he eats with them. In Genesis, Chapter 18, for example, God and his angels eat and drink with Abraham - and wash their feet, too. (Note that God has feet, here, although there's no other description of him.)
12 And the LORD said unto Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and be there: and I will give thee tables of stone, and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them.

13 And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the mount of God.

Does Joshua go with Moses? That seems to be the implication, doesn't it? But Joshua isn't mentioned again. Earlier, in Chapter 19, Verse 24, it's Aaron who was supposed to come up the mountain with Moses, but no one else. (Again, that's also the last we hear of that, although Aaron is with the rest of the nobles here.)
18 And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, and gat him up into the mount: and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights.

So, why did this take forty days and forty nights? After all, God already had the "tables of stone" written. Well, from what I can see, it's just because God is both a control freak and an overly enthusiastic interior decorator. (Just wait. You'll see.)

Chapter 25:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 Speak unto the children of Israel, that they bring me an offering: of every man that giveth it willingly with his heart ye shall take my offering.

3 And this is the offering which ye shall take of them; gold, and silver, and brass,

4 And blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats' hair,

5 And rams' skins dyed red, and badgers' skins, and shittim wood,

6 Oil for the light, spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense,

7 Onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod, and in the breastplate.

8 And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them.

9 According to all that I shew thee, after the pattern of the tabernacle, and the pattern of all the instruments thereof, even so shall ye make it.

Until now, I've been enjoying this. Sure, some parts have been boring - the long lists of genealogies, for example. But for the most part, it's been an interesting story. Now, however, we go chapter after chapter with God describing exactly - in excruciating detail - how he wants his new home built.

Yes, when they get to Jerusalem (still forty years in the future), God is going to live among them in his temple. And he's very particular about every little detail.

Let me repeat that: God is going to live in the Temple. On Earth. In Jerusalem. That's what the early Jews believed, and that's why the Temple was so important to them. Yahweh was a tribal god - their god, not the only god - and he lived with them in the Temple. He had a physical presence on Earth, among his chosen people, on the land he'd given them.

Jewish thinking changed as time went on, of course - especially after the destruction of the temple and the diaspora. But also, different Jewish sects arose, with different beliefs. After all, if you weren't in the mainstream, you didn't control the Temple. And if you lived elsewhere, far from the Temple, you still wanted to worship your god. So their thinking eventually changed.

Here, however, God tells Moses exactly how he wants his new home to be furnished. Unfortunately, my eyes glaze over when I start to read it. Honestly, I can barely force myself to even skim these next few chapters. They're just incredibly boring. So, for my sake and yours, I'll try to keep this brief.
10 And they shall make an ark of shittim wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof.

First, God tells him how to make the Ark of the Covenant - in excruciating detail, right down to the decorations. For example:
20 And the cherubims shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubims be.

Then he describes the table, also of shittim wood (wood from the acacia tree), the dishes, the candlesticks, the bowls, etc. And we're just getting started!

Chapter 26:
1 Moreover thou shalt make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet: with cherubims of cunning work shalt thou make them.

Now we get into the details of the curtains of the tabernacle - verse after verse describing them. And the size of the boards which make up the tabernacle, and how they're fastened together. And the "vail" (veil?) which "shall divide unto you between the holy place and the most holy."

There are 37 verses just describing that stuff!

Chapter 27:
1 And thou shalt make an altar of shittim wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be foursquare: and the height thereof shall be three cubits.

...

3 And thou shalt make his pans to receive his ashes, and his shovels, and his basons, and his fleshhooks, and his firepans: all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass.

And now we're into the design of the altar. If you've ever gone to church, you probably remember the fleshhooks and the firepans, right? Heh, heh. No, this isn't the kinder, gentler religion you probably experienced. This was a god who wanted blood sacrifices - lots of blood sacrifices - and who, as the Old Testament mentions many times, really savored the smell of burning flesh.

In Part 17, I quoted a passage from Paul Johnson's A History of Christianity which described the Temple of Jerusalem as an abattoir the size of a small city. You might want to read that again, if it didn't sink home the first time.

This chapter continues with instructions for the court of the tabernacle, 150 ft. by 75 ft. in size. But the chapter is only 21 verses long, thankfully.

Chapter 28:
1 And take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest's office, even Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's sons.

2 And thou shalt make holy garments for Aaron thy brother for glory and for beauty.

This chapter is all about the design of those "holy garments" - again, in excruciating detail. (If you thought that God was obsessed with unleavened bread, that's nothing compared to his interest in fashion and interior decorating.)

That's it. Just 43 verses detailing the design of the "holy garments" Aaron and his sons should wear (as a hereditary priesthood). Well, at least we're getting through these chapters quickly, huh?

Chapter 29:
1 And this is the thing that thou shalt do unto them to hallow them, to minister unto me in the priest's office: Take one young bullock, and two rams without blemish,

Yeah, and guess what God wants you to do with those animals? Heh, heh. Yeah, this chapter contains 46 verses, most of them similar to this:
16 And thou shalt slay the ram, and thou shalt take his blood, and sprinkle it round about upon the altar.

17 And thou shalt cut the ram in pieces, and wash the inwards of him, and his legs, and put them unto his pieces, and unto his head.

18 And thou shalt burn the whole ram upon the altar: it is a burnt offering unto the LORD: it is a sweet savour, an offering made by fire unto the LORD.

Note that this isn't just once in awhile, and it's not just rams and bullocks, either:
38 Now this is that which thou shalt offer upon the altar; two lambs of the first year day by day continually.

39 The one lamb thou shalt offer in the morning; and the other lamb thou shalt offer at even:

40 And with the one lamb a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil; and the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering.

It sounds just like a recipe, doesn't it? Coat lamb meat with flour and fry it in oil, then serve with wine? Coincidentally (or not), the priests do get to eat some of this stuff (some of the ram meat and the inevitable unleavened bread, at least), so it doesn't all go to waste.

But this is killing and frying two lambs every single day. Do the priests get to eat them, too? This  chapter doesn't say, but you really have to wonder about that recipe, don't you?

Chapter 30:
1 And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it.

We're back to interior design again, this time of an altar for burning incense (separate from the altar for burning animals).
9 Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon.

10 And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD.

This altar is just for incense (and no "strange incense," either!), nothing else. Well, blood, too, but only once a year. God has to have a little blood, right?
12 When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.

13 This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctuary: (a shekel is twenty gerahs:) an half shekel shall be the offering of the LORD.

...

15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when they give an offering unto the LORD, to make an atonement for your souls.

Rich and poor alike pay the same. No progressive taxation here! (I'll bet proponents of a flat tax love this verse, huh? But do they go along with all the rest of this stuff, too?)

The remainder of the chapter describes the hand and foot sinks and the composition of the holy ointment and the holy perfume - all very necessary, I suspect, given the blood they're drenching the temple with.

But re. that last:
37 And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD.

38 Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people.

No one had better make a perfume that smells like God's perfume! That's his signature scent, his alone.

Chapter 31:
1 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

2 See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:

3 And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,

4 To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,

5 And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

OK, after six chapters of interior design, what's next? Well, deciding on which contractor God wants to do the work, of course! But that takes only a dozen verses or so.
12 And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying,

...

14 Ye shall keep the sabbath therefore; for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death: for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

15 Six days may work be done; but in the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD: whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.

This is important stuff, which God emphasizes by repeating himself: if anyone works on the Sabbath, they must be put to death. There's no getting around this commandment, huh?

Note that, in Chapter 20, God also says to keep the Sabbath. That's one of his top ten commandments, in fact (going only by it's relative position among all the others). But there's no mention of any punishment for working on the Sabbath, not even in the following chapters which do prescribe punishments, even for such things as cursing your parents (which, as I noted, merits the death penalty).

But here, this is the only commandment mentioned (the rest being detailed - very detailed - instructions for building the Temple). Clearly, whoever wrote this part of Exodus wanted to make one thing clear: if you worked on the Sabbath, they'd kill you.
18 And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.

After forty days and forty nights, Moses finally gets those two stone tablets, apparently filled with home decorating tips. (But I'll bet you think this is the end of the interior decorating details, don't you? Ha! Not even close!) So it's time to head back down the mountain (still identified as Mount Sinai).

But not for us, not yet. This is a good place to stop, for now.

___
Note: My entire Bible series is available here.

4 comments:

jeff725 said...

WCG,

Good start to the new year for me. The Huskers beat an SEC team (NO!! Not possible!!), and Extrano serves one up right in my wheelhouse in Thursday's LJS.

http://journalstar.com/news/opinion/mailbag/letter-hospice-for-profit/article_aa7eec5c-c07d-570f-877b-e85831b53d3f.html


EXTRANO: So people are supposed to donate their time an energy to something and gain nothing in the way of material reward?

How do "non-profit" hospice workers eat if they do not get paid? How is the cost of infrastructure paid for? Not to mention the cost of energy, medicines, and supplies.

Fifty years a nurse or not, the Bible tells those of us who still read that "the workman is worthy of his hire," and it also tells us "if you do not work you do not eat." And if you do not turn a profit you will soon be hungry.

Extrano

MY REPLY: Extrano,

"if you do not work you do not eat." Ah, quoting the Soviet Constitution, are you?

" In the U.S.S.R. work is a duty and a matter of honor for every able-bodied citizen, in accordance with the principle: "He who does not work, neither shall he eat." --Article 12 1936 Constitution of the USSR

http://www.departments.bucknell.edu/russian/const/36cons01.html

Who's the commie now, Extrano?

It may not be baseball season, but now I know how David "Big Papi" Ortiz feels.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJyxzaLNlNw

Jim Harris said...

I never minded the details of building the temple or the ark of the covenant because it made the story more historically realistic. However, I was always disappointed with the Book of Exodus because the storytelling failed to make Moses into a real person. As a character in a story he is very distant. The Bible spends a lot of time on Moses, yet he feels like a pawn. He's not very dynamic, and does no thinking for himself.

Chimeradave said...

Between the recipes and the interior design God is a regular Martha Stewart. And they say the bible isnt practical. :)

WCG said...

Jim, I tried to reply to this the other day, but Blogger ate my comment. Naturally, that was the one time I hadn't copied it before clicking on "Publish." Heh, heh. That'll teach me!

I was too disgusted to try again - until now - so I apologize for the delay.

Anyway, getting to your comment, I wouldn't mind details, in moderation, but six chapters of interior design? Honestly, that was boring as hell.

And don't make the mistake of thinking we're done yet. This stuff seems to be repeated a second time (as if it wasn't boring enough the first). In fact, that's part of the reason I haven't gotten to the next installment of this series yet. I'm kind of dreading that part of it.

Re. Moses, of course he's a pawn. He's God's pawn. That's the whole point. God doesn't want anyone thinking for himself. Nowhere in the Bible, as far as I've seen, is thinking praised at all. Only obedience.

To my mind, the best part of the story is in Chapter 3 and 4, when Moses tries to get out of being God's pawn. He argues with God quite a bit, explaining how he isn't really suited for the job. It's pretty funny. He argues so much that God gets ticked off about it. (Maybe that's why God tries to kill him not long afterwards?)

That's about all the characterization you get here, but I don't suppose that audiences back then were big on character studies. They probably wanted plot, don't you think?