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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Exodus 4

This chapter is not a break from chapter 3 but a narrative continuation. The amazing reality is that Moses does not appear to believe what God has said. Chapter 3 details God's description of what will happen, and Moses response is they won't believe me or listen to me and they will say YHWH hasn't appeared to me. This lack of faith reflects the "religious human" dilemma--man/woman in encounter with God must come to grips with the challenge of faith. While the word does not appear, one might think Moses is afraid or overwhelmed. On a spiritual level, it is a reminder that each of us, when confronted with God's action in our life, must stay focused on God and not on the problem (like Peter looking at the water). Focus on God not the problem is a spiritual law! Moses, like all humans, needs to come to confident trust in God. Doubt in the face of revelation is amazing, yet we have the Bible and God's promises there and we, like Moses, generate all manner of "what ifs" and"it won't works"...

The signs:
First God tells Moses to throw his staff which becomes a serpent. Why? This sign (which the magicians of Pharaoh can duplicate) is probably best understood in its Biblical verbal context. We all know of the first appearance of the word (in Genesis) and there is no obvious connection there. However, in Numbers 21 the Israelites are beset with biting serpents as a punishment for their sin and Moses raises up a bronze serpent on a pole so that all who look upon it are healed. [For Christians this is a type of the crucified Lord Jesus.] This will be a deeper meaning of the sign. Moses 'flees' from the snake, the next time that verb occurs it is in connection to the servants of Pharaoh who flee from God's threat of "killer hail" in chapter nine, and five chapters later the charioteers of Pharaoh will flee (2x) before the power of God at the Red Sea.

The second sign is tsara' sheleg (literally stricken, by extension as with a disease, scabby) and (snow, white). This combination occurs in Numbers 12:10 when Miriam is covered in a skin disease that makes her white (in punishment for her envious attitude toward Moses). tsara is also found in the Levitical Law in the sections on "clean/unclean." In the plagues on Egypt skin problems will be an issue, although the term will be different.

The third sign is the first which is an overt foreshadowing of the plagues: water turning into blood from chapter seven. Interestingly, the water becomes blood when it hits the yabbasheth (derived from a Hebrew verb meaning to wither and dry up; hence "dry land," only other occurrence in Ps 95:5). In the seventh chapter the Nile will turn to blood. Interestingly, later in this chapter in the unusual circumcision story the "bridegroom of blood" is used twice and in chapter twelve blood is the sign on the doorpost for the angel of death to pass over the Israelite's homes.

The final straw for God (4:14 His "anger burns"!) is Moses complaint that he is not a "man of words" (ish dabar). His problem is a "heavy tongue". This is translated myriad ways, but Friedman brilliantly points out that within the Scriptures this expression is found again in Ez 3:5-3:6; there it refers to foreigners as people with heavy tongues. In light of this, he thinks that Moses is saying "I don't speak Hebrew because he was raised Egyptian and lives now as a Midian. (this makes much sense to me) God is pretty angry. YHWH (this name is used) says that He created mouths and "I am with you." This reminder is important for us today as well. What malady can God our Father not take care of? His presence with us must inspire faith and enable trust. We are His. He is ours!!! Suddenly, we find that Aaron, now the chosen spokesman, is on his way to Moses. This could be God's hand at work, we are not told. Note, in support of the idea that the heavy tongue is foreign language, Aaron will speak "to the people" for Moses (v.16) not the Egyptians. The more amazing thing is that Moses will be an elohim (god) to him, repeated of Pharaoh in 7:1. The idea of a man being God may be another hint of the incarnation in the Jewish text?

[The hot anger of God is worthy of some reflection. 'aph (nostril, nose, face; by extension anger--because of the rapid breathing of strong emotion) carah (hot, furious, burn, be kindled, angry, passionate). [First, we note this is assigning human emotions to God; like God's repentance, His anger is not to be taken literally as if He were a human actor. Rather, I think, it is a descriptor meant to communicate our experience and relationship to The Eternal One.] Anger will be a recurring theme in God's salvation and judgment of the people.
   Ex 11:8 Moses storms off from Pharaoh in 'hot anger'
   Ex 15:7-8 is from an early song of the Red Sea--"you send forth your burning (charown,masculine
   noun form of  verb charah) at the blast of your aph (nostrils) the waters piled up.
   Ex 32 and Num 11 both contain extensive uses of the term in describing God's reaction to the sin of

 The next scene (4:18-23) has Moses taking leave of Jether (variant of Jethro).  Moses says he want to return to Egypt to see if his brothers are alive (recall Joseph in Egypt asked his brothers if his father were alive. Gen 43:7, 27; 45:3). Moses' safety is addressed, those seeking his life are dead (see Mt 2:20 for same message to Joseph about Jesus). Moses leaves with his wife and sons, we only heard of one. Notice how so many biographical details are left out. 4:21 is a source of endless theological debate. What does it mean "to harden his heart"? (the Hebrew chazak means strengthen, prevail, harden, be strong, become strong, be courageous, be firm, grow firm, be resolute, be sore, to encourage, to support) This Hebrew word appeared in 4:4 (when Moses grabbed the serpent by the tail) and recurs in describing Pharaoh's intransigence. However, in 12:33 it describes the urgency with which the Egyptian people wanted the Hebrew slaves to depart. The operative question is the freewill of Pharaoh and God's action on his heart. One is reminded that divine causation is simply declared in the Bible regularly, without the nuance of later theology. "God creates good and bad" is a stream of thought in the Bible. He is the author of all things. This is certainly embraced by contemporary churches which advocate God's supreme authority and many types of predestination. Trying to make sense of this (God punishing a hand puppet) baffles us. However, mystery is encountered all over and the fact that this makes no sense to us may just demonstrate our limits. In places, the hardness of Pharaoh will seem to be of his own choosing. It is hard to know how human freedom interacts with divine activity. There is a "Burger King" aspect to God ("have it your way") present in the teaching of Jesus as well. The message that Moses is given is actually a brief summary of what all will take place. In the text this is not the message which Moses delivers. Much of this section is a preview of coming attractions and serves as a narrative summary of what follows.  The juxtaposition of "first born son" and provides the (ancient, middle eastern) moral rationale of the conflict and what transpires. Israel is God's firstborn son.

4:24-26 feels like an intrusion in the story and interpretations vary widely. Most commentaries admit that the repetition of pronouns is equivocal (who is each "he"?). One reading it seems that God has decided to kill Moses, in another Moses' son. Propp speculates that Moses is liable for the murder of the Egyptian (the term damim in Hebrew is associated with blood guilt). To further complicate matters, in Arabic the term can mean bridegroom or circumcision (because that was when it took place). Those who believe that Exodus is composed from more ancient sources speculate that the story reflects a longer, primitive narrative about an ambiguous god who is dangerous (reflecting the struggles of life). Folktales and religious literature of neighboring cultures certainly contain such elements and the Israelites' roots are in those cultures. [think back to the two Genesis accounts: the "speaker creator" and the "potter shaper"] In the end, themes that are important include the importance of circumcision, the use of blood to save (type of of lamb blood on the doorpost), and a woman intervening to save Moses (again). Perhaps, in terms of revelation, this story serves the purpose of reminding us that while we know much about God, there is much more that remains outside our intellect and theologies!

The chapter closes, v27-31, with the arrival of Aaron. Here we see the Lord speaks to him and tells him to go meet Moses in the wilderness. Note the juxtaposition here of God's direct communication and the need for Moses to explain all that God had told him. This is subtle, but a reminder, that the Lord works most commonly 'in and through' human beings. The meditation of God's word is found again and again in the Word of God. The brief summary indicates that Aaron spoke to the elders, that the signs were performed and elicited faith  ('aman) and submission (bow down and worship) because God had seen their affliction and cared!

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