I’m familiar with the story, of course, but reading this felt a bit like reading an original Grimm fairy tale after growing up on Disney.
I had three main reactions:
I’m not sure how to say this without being horribly offensive, so I’m just going to say it:
In my opinion, the god in Exodus reads a whole lot more like a demon than a god.
What really got to me in this book was that not one person wanted God’s attention or intervention. God makes demands of and threatens his chosen people and his enemies alike.
The Israelis were unhappy as slaves, but it had been generations since God had paid them any attention at all so they never asked for anything, and when God did decide to intervene, their situation got so much worse that they begged God and Moses to just let them be.
Moses himself was an unwilling prophet. He had committed murder and had run away before he ever met God. Out in the wilderness, God gets to Moses and demands that Moses be his prophet and doesn’t take “no” for an answer.*
Repeatedly, the Israelis tell Moses and God to stop trying to help them.
Instead, God intentionally makes things worse for them in order to demonstrate His power. Every time Pharaoh decides to give in to Moses demands to let the Israelites go, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart** so that Pharaoh refuses to let the Israelites go and God gets the chance to kill more Egyptians in a display of power. The death-toll is both tremendous and also completely intentional.***
After the Israelites get out of Egypt, Moses goes up Mount Sinai to speak with God and comes back with the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments. That’s pretty common knowledge. I was also already pretty familiar with the rest of the judiciary-type rules stated in Exodus 20-23.
However, somehow I had never before noticed God’s demands in Exodus 25-31 where Moses is given detailed instructions for how God wants his temple to be constructed and what he wants his priests to wear. God has some extremely specific concepts of what he wants and how he wants it. I can only assume that God gave Moses some illustrations in addition to the verbal descriptions written down for me to read, because the instructions for how to take large expanses of cloth and turn them into a tent by means of 50 loops didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
One thing that wasn’t immediately evident from the text but that Anna pointed out when I was talking it through with her later, was that the rules set forth in Exodus 25-31 were revolutionary for the time. They were both revolutionary and extremely liberal, because they defined rule of law. Here is potentially a first step away from a straight-up might-makes-right culture, with God setting down a basic code of laws that everyone must obey, poor and wealthy alike.
But the rules are not actually that long. There’s a lot more time spent describing exactly how the temple was to be constructed and then how it was constructed, along with what the priests were to wear, down to their high quality linen underwear so that they don’t expose themselves in the temple.
There’s a lot of foreshadowing of future conflict, for all that God promises a land of milk and honey for his Chosen people. He promises this glorious land, but also specifically states that he’s going to run off a whole bunch of other people who were there first.**** I am strongly reminded of Nina Paley’s This Land is Mine animation.
Summary: God is playing a game and using all the people as pawns.
Moral: Maybe blind obedience? When a power as strong as God decides to pay attention to you, your best bet is to be unquestioningly obedient because nothing else will help and obedience just might? I don’t know. I’m certainly not a religious scholar. If anyone else has any ideas, please comment and let me know.
* Moses apparently really does not like confrontations and gets stage fright too awful to be able to demand anything of anyone. God, who apparently can only work miracles through Moses at this point, assigns his mouthpiece a mouthpiece of his own, and Aaron comes along to speak for Moses who speaks for God.
** That level of mind control also makes me deeply uncomfortable. I couldn’t help but sympathize with Pharaoh who must have felt like he was going insane.† Pharaoh wasn’t capable of making logical decisions or react naturally to events because every time he did something to make himself less evil, God made him change his mind.
† Not that he was particularly sane to begin with. Example: Pharaoh refused Moses’ first few demands because the first few miracles Moses performed were things that Pharaoh’s own magicians were capable of replicating, ie, Pharaoh doubled several of the early plagues by having his magicians duplicate them. Why did he think that was a good idea?
*** God is quite bloodthirsty. Even after the Isrealites have left Egypt behind, when they make God angry, the Levites are the clan to follow Moses’ command to slaughter their friends and families. They killed 3,000 of their own in a single night and are much rewarded for that.
**** Exodus 33:2 And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Prizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Next up: Leviticus