Exodus Overview

Genesis had the promise of a nation.  Now the 12 sons of Jacob have grown to 12 tribes, they’ve become a large ethnic group of slaves within Egypt.

Exodus is God’s action on the Genesis promise, the action that creates the nation.

They are the ones God chose, the ones God saved, they know God’s will, and they know it because of this adventure. The passover, and receiving the means of grace via law and sacrifice, remain the seminal events of Judaism.  And of Christianity, via the transforming link of Jesus’ last supper.

It invents the road movie cliche of the geographical trip being less important than the spiritual journey.  They never do reach the promised land in this book, but reach oneness with God.  Getting there is a painful journey with much failure and loss. God’s judgement of those who can’t accept it is absolute, hard to read.

I spoke about him being revealed in flashing tableaux, as if lit by lightning in Genesis.  Here, through his relationship with Moses, God’s character is on full display: cloud by day, fire by night.  They climb mountains to meet him and he passes right by, so close Moses’ face glows, and God writes with his finger on stone that Moses can carry and read. Guidance, judgement, salvation, provision, love.

Moses the rescued orphan; unwilling, humble leader becomes the catalyst of God’s revelation. He transfers his intimacy with God to the people.

Recovering from a low of completely rejecting God & Moses, they end on a high of creative energy for God, crafting the tabernacle, and being blessed with his presence.

Getting away

1 The Israelites are, slaves, hated in Egypt, their male babies are to be killed 
2 Moses is born lucky, but his life seems at a dead end in exile after an impulsive murder
3 An ordinary day, except the momentous moment God speaks to Moses
4 Moses is an unwilling mouthpiece, God gently persists
5 Moses’ message makes things worse, which is how faith, truth, will often work
6 The older patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph had a promise, Moses will have an act
7 God given signs, and the first plague, don’t convince Pharaoh. There’s none so blind…
8 Frogs, gnats, flies. Pharaoh learns some flexibility, Moses learns some courage.
9 Diseased livestock, boils, hail & lightning. Designed to discredit Egyptian Gods 
10 Pharaoh tires of Moses, reacting against perhaps God tiring of him?
11 Pharaoh is warned of the killing curse and still won’t bend
12 Passover – God judges, chooses, rescues
13 As the Israelites leave, God is so present, in cloud & fire, as he is for us in prayer
14 The mighty nation making moment where the Egyptians are defeated is accompanied by doubt and longing to return by many Israelites
15 Finally, a moment of joy and celebration, praising God’s “unfailing love”, then whinging when they start to get thirsty.  I’d like to say it wouldn’t be me…
16 Manna and quail, the lord’s provision. I have a week of 3 deaths.
17 Water from rock, in which I contemplate how faithful the Israelites actually are despite appearances to the contrary; and the phrase “author of life”
18 Moses delegates. We see his take on a good leader

Getting the law: 10 Commandments and much other stuff

19 Dramatic scene setting as Moses approaches Sinai for the law. How vague their religion must have been before then!
20 The 10 commandments. I’m particularly struck by “no other Gods” & covetousness
21 Detailed law starts. I call it “God’s imperfect bargain with our sinful natures”
22 The Israelites’ exemplary justice code is in some respects a judgment on us today.
23 The laws on social inequality and fairness, they also put us to shame
24 God calls a group up the mountain for a special covenant… only Moses goes to the top
25 God speaks in great detail, gives them creative work to do for him – tabernacle etc.
26 Instructions for the tabernacle
27 More parts of the tabernacle.  I imagine a theology without the indwelling spirit, needing a place for God
28 The priestly garments, holy, representative of the tribes, and with wisdom built in
29 Consecration of priests rules, and how rituals scratch our spiritual itch
30 lights & incense in the tabernacle… predicting messiah (gold, frankinsence, myrrh)
31 the artisans who will make everything, the sabbath & tablets of stone with the law

Losin’ it all ….almost

32 devastating golden calf incident. God wants to start again. 1000 destroyed
33 Moses argues for saving the people. God shows Moses his glory, and relents.
34 God makes another set of stone tablets, renewed promise, Moses’ face glows
35 The people have a 2nd chance & throw themselves into tabernacle construction

Repentance through tabernacle making, and God’s blessing

36 Joy of tabernacle making, the people bought more than necessary, so keen
37 Making the sacred articles, God takes pleasure in the people’s artisanship
38 The curtains that define the place where God is. Being with God, mind=blown
39 Making the priestly garments for tabernacle. All done! Moses blesses everything.
40 Ends on a high, with God descending on the completed tabernacle, state of Grace

 

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Exodus 40

And they all lived happily ever after. Well this old testament book ends on a high, unlike so many that seemed to chart decline and fall before the Messiah.

The tabernacle is done, and it is to the pattern God required, and his cloud of presence descends on it.

They are in a state of grace, such as we always are who believe these days.

Exodus 39

The priestly garments. Yes, they are just like God specified on the mountain. The fringe of alternating pomegranate tassels and bells is a great detail.

Moses inspects everything, this amazing collection of items lovingly made to god’s specification from freely offered materials, and blesses it. The climax of almost 10 chapters describing their effort.

Live by his word and be blessed, eh?

Exodus 38

The sacrificial altar and paraphenalia, of bronze, where animals will die as offering to acknowledge that all things come from God, and to take away sin.

The curtains that define the courtyard, where the people will come. Sure there is a holy of holies, a layer within the layers, where almost no one can go. But it’s still a bit mind blowing that the people can get as close to God as they do. 

They’ve wandered a long way from home on a second hand experience of god’s presence (well they do have the magical food, and the cloud/fire guidance system.

Even more mind blowing is the Christian evolution of this theology, that our body is a temple where God dwells.

Moses has them record all the materials from which the work was done. The logistics of their situation are daunting, almost impossible to imagine. 

600000 people. And while they had become slaves, in Egypt they didn’t do that bad. They have a prodigious amount of gold, bronze, cloth, wood etc they have bought with them. And herds of animals. And they’ve made this very big fancy tent the will now continue to drag through the desert for decades. 

It must have been a crazy hard life. It went on for 40 years, none of the generation who left Egypt would see the promised land, only their kids I think. 

Mind you, modern scholarship has found almost no corroborative evidence for any of exodus. The most compelling history is the book itself which was written much later from a bunch of sources, that presumably came from somewhere. Historians’ explanations of how and why the story came to be are about as threadbare as the evidence of any of it happening. 

Personally I don’t care much about that sort of thing. Once you’ve bought that a creator God made everything, why not? And for me the alternative, no God, no meaning, has never seemed remotely plausible. 

And I’m with the overwhelming flow of humanity there. I don’t see atheism as the natural state of any people.  They tend towards the theory, the experience, of a God.

There is the atheism of youth, a sort of indifference to God because just being alive and discovering the joys of the physical world is so compelling and seemingly consequence free. The sort of atheism that evaporates in a hospital room, or just with the passing of years as mortality becomes more evident in your body. 

I think this attitude also exists among believers too. 20 year olds basically feel immortal and invincible. They are the doers of most of the great things of humanity, and a fair share of its worst.

Then there is the bitter, hurt atheism, which I see as an acting out of rebellion against God. That has mostly been fringe in human culture.  

As for other religions, they are a matter for God I think. This one has always rung very true to me, and I am grateful for it.

Praise God!

Exodus 37

Here they make the ark, the lampstand and the insence altar (different from the one where animals would be sacrificed). Again, detailed loving descriptions that show how closely they followed god’s design. 

Looking at pictures of Jewish menorah, I wonder if God didn’t have something more organic in mind. They make much of the curve of the branches in concentric “U” shapes, and i imagined the branches more naturalistic. But whatever. 

They don’t have idols like the pagan religions, but they have symbolic artefacts that enable worship of God or say something about his character without themselves being God. And those are made with deep deep love, a bit like all the gorgeous pointy churches that litter our towns. And the lord’s supper is a symbolic ritual requiring some artefacts, a table a plate, a cup. 

Evangelicals are good about music but suspicious of artisanship. God is comfortable with it, and seems to understand the value of work done with a pure sense of dedication to his glory.

Exodus 35

Most of the remaining chapters of exodus detail the building of the tabernacle. God designed it in detail on the mountain for Moses’ ears, and even choose his supervising craftsmen. Now everyone who remains after the traumatic golden calf affair gets to start again working together on the tent where God will meet with them. It’s like taking Moses’ personal faith and extending it to the whole nation, since he already meets with God in a tent.

There’s an obvious excitement and joy in doing fine work for the lord. Giving and making.

My church is very good in this, a doing church.

Exodus 34

Moses smashed the stone tablets with the law on them back in chapter 32 when he came upon the people apostate. So now he and God do it all again.

The smashed law was the sign of god’s abandonment of them, now Moses take new blank tablets he made himself for God to write on. First was all God, this includes Moses’ participation.

So god makes his promise again and shows his love and compassion to precious, faithful Moses. After that Moses’ face shines, and he has to wear a veil to stop people staring.

The warnings have started about the promised land. They must not comprise with the local religions. I already know that only partially works.

Exodus 33

The people must have been traumatised after the false gods experience, then the killing and now with Moses back he negotiates with God about whether the whole enterprise will continue. God says they can have the promised land, but he will not be present with them. It only seems reasonable as they are a landless people right now.

It’s an exodus scene I wasn’t aware of before. Pre- tabernacle Moses has a tent of meeting, he goes and talks to God like a “friend”. The pillar of cloud rests the as he does so and all the people stand at the mouth of their tents and watch him, worshipping.

Moses pleads with God to stay with them, and in relenting, God decides to show Moses his glory. He can’t look directly at god’s face, only his back.

Contemplating how extraordinary was Moses’ relationship with God, I start to realise ours is better. We have Jesus’ face to contemplate, and his indwelling spirit to meet and chat anywhere we happen to be.

If I plead with God, it will be over my son’s mental issues. Can’t he gave a happy life?

Exodus 31

So here are the people who will actually make all this stuff. It’s a celebration of artisanship, the spirit of God is on them. Their ability is god given. 

Then the Sabbath, the seventh day of rest that still defines our week. The seven day week appears to have been simultaneously adopted by Jews Babylonians and Greeks, and spread very early to Asia. It is a promise, a sign, of god’s attachment to the people, but harsh too… Pain of death if you don’t rest.  Jesus said the law brings death. 

Then the tablets of stone written by god’s finger. There is something about the theatrical smallness of that, from the creator of the world, I find extraordinary. I shouldn’t be surprised of course, he made butterflies as well as volcanos and planets. 

And he invented tickling. He’s the master of context. He made our sense of delight and awe. He could have turned us into robot slaves, or destroyed us of course. He went with props. 

He gave the law written in stone to show us it was important. Like giving children ice-cream with a cherry on top.

Exodus 30

The altar of insence and the lamps, including the washing that priests must do, and the offertory that pays for the upkeep of the system.

Holiness, things we can do for God.

We have burning, of fragrant insence and lamps. Pleasing God, obedience, good works

Anointing, oil is seen as cleansing and literally would have replaced bad smells with good ones. Accepting god’s cleansing, letting grace make your life smell better.

Washing. Cleaning away dirt in recognition of god’s purity and holiness. Showing god reverence, it’s respect and in a larger sense it’s seeking God, wanting a relationship.

Giving money and time, supporting dedicated workers for god’s service.

We get the formulas for the oil and insence… They are copyright God, and anyone else making that material is in grave trouble.

When the wise men bought God, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus, it was very much an offering identifying him with God. Gold is over the altar, myrrh in the oil and frankincence in the incense.