Tag Archives: Aaron

Exodus 29: Ordination and Offerings

Michael Schmitt, the High Priest Aaron (1912)

 

Exodus 29: 1-37 Consecration and Ordination

Now this is what you shall do to them to consecrate them, so that they may serve me as priests. Take one young bull and two rams without blemish, 2 and unleavened bread, unleavened cakes mixed with oil, and unleavened wafers spread with oil. You shall make them of choice wheat flour. 3 You shall put them in one basket and bring them in the basket, and bring the bull and the two rams. 4 You shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting, and wash them with water. 5 Then you shall take the vestments, and put on Aaron the tunic and the robe of the ephod, and the ephod, and the breastpiece, and gird him with the decorated band of the ephod; 6 and you shall set the turban on his head, and put the holy diadem on the turban. 7 You shall take the anointing oil, and pour it on his head and anoint him. 8 Then you shall bring his sons, and put tunics on them, 9 and you shall gird them with sashes1 and tie headdresses on them; and the priesthood shall be theirs by a perpetual ordinance. You shall then ordain Aaron and his sons.

 10 You shall bring the bull in front of the tent of meeting. Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the bull, 11 and you shall slaughter the bull before the LORD, at the entrance of the tent of meeting, 12 and shall take some of the blood of the bull and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and all the rest of the blood you shall pour out at the base of the altar. 13 You shall take all the fat that covers the entrails, and the appendage of the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and turn them into smoke on the altar. 14 But the flesh of the bull, and its skin, and its dung, you shall burn with fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.

 15 Then you shall take one of the rams, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, 16 and you shall slaughter the ram, and shall take its blood and dash it against all sides of the altar. 17 Then you shall cut the ram into its parts, and wash its entrails and its legs, and put them with its parts and its head, 18 and turn the whole ram into smoke on the altar; it is a burnt offering to the LORD; it is a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD.

 19 You shall take the other ram; and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on the head of the ram, 20 and you shall slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear and on the lobes of the right ears of his sons, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet, and dash the rest of the blood against all sides of the altar. 21 Then you shall take some of the blood that is on the altar, and some of the anointing oil, and sprinkle it on Aaron and his vestments and on his sons and his sons’ vestments with him; then he and his vestments shall be holy, as well as his sons and his sons’ vestments.

 22 You shall also take the fat of the ram, the fat tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the appendage of the liver, the two kidneys with the fat that is on them, and the right thigh (for it is a ram of ordination), 23 and one loaf of bread, one cake of bread made with oil, and one wafer, out of the basket of unleavened bread that is before the LORD; 24 and you shall place all these on the palms of Aaron and on the palms of his sons, and raise them as an elevation offering before the LORD. 25 Then you shall take them from their hands, and turn them into smoke on the altar on top of the burnt offering of pleasing odor before the LORD; it is an offering by fire to the LORD.

 26 You shall take the breast of the ram of Aaron’s ordination and raise it as an elevation offering before the LORD; and it shall be your portion. 27 You shall consecrate the breast that was raised as an elevation offering and the thigh that was raised as an elevation offering from the ram of ordination, from that which belonged to Aaron and his sons. 28 These things shall be a perpetual ordinance for Aaron and his sons from the Israelites, for this is an offering; and it shall be an offering by the Israelites from their sacrifice of offerings of well-being, their offering to the LORD.

 29 The sacred vestments of Aaron shall be passed on to his sons after him; they shall be anointed in them and ordained in them. 30 The son who is priest in his place shall wear them seven days, when he comes into the tent of meeting to minister in the holy place.

 31 You shall take the ram of ordination, and boil its flesh in a holy place; 32 and Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 33 They themselves shall eat the food by which atonement is made, to ordain and consecrate them, but no one else shall eat of them, because they are holy. 34 If any of the flesh for the ordination, or of the bread, remains until the morning, then you shall burn the remainder with fire; it shall not be eaten, because it is holy.

 35 Thus you shall do to Aaron and to his sons, just as I have commanded you; through seven days you shall ordain them. 36 Also every day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement. Also you shall offer a sin offering for the altar, when you make atonement for it, and shall anoint it, to consecrate it. 37 Seven days you shall make atonement for the altar, and consecrate it, and the altar shall be most holy; whatever touches the altar shall become holy.

The week that I am thinking about these texts I have also been preparing to preside at an installation service for a new pastor in my conference. For a modern ordination, at least in the Christian tradition, is far less elaborate than the ritual that is described here. This is a public rite that lasts for seven days as Aaron and his sons are set aside for the ministry in the tabernacle. Not only are there special garments that are prepared (previous chapter) and the tabernacle itself with all its furnishings (chapters 25, 26 and 27) but now the people, vestments and furnishings must be set aside for the ministry in the tabernacle.

As I mentioned in the previous chapter when discussing the vestments, this process of setting aside Aaron and his sons for the priesthood and the elaborate preparation and consecration become a new beginning after Aaron’s incident with the golden calf. The rite of setting aside Aaron and his sons grants them a new start so that they might be holy before the LORD and continue to offer up the sacrifices that the people might be holy.

The community offers up the produce of their fields and flocks as gifts that are used to be a part of the service. There are three specific offerings lifted up: a sin offering, a burnt offering and an offering of ordination. The bull becomes the sin offering and is the first one offered. Ritually the sins of Aaron and his sons are laid on the head of the bull and then the bull is killed and consumed partially by fire and partially is left outside of the camp. This offering becomes a place where Moses symbolically acts as a priest for Aaron and his sons and acts as an intercessor between them and God, just as they will later act as intercessors between the people and God. The first ram is also consumed by the fire and as a burnt offering is to be pleasing to the LORD while the final ram has a portion set aside for Aaron and his sons to eat.

The ritual use of the blood of an animal may seem abhorrent to us today but was very normal in ancient times. When most of our meat comes shrink wrapped in a grocery store we may find it unimaginable to have blood sprinkled on us or place on our ear lobe or poured out on the altar, but in the ancient world this was life paying for life. The blood was never to be consumed by the Hebrew people, it was always poured out for God for that was where the life was believed to reside. Here the life of animals are used as a way to set aside these people as priests for their service to the LORD.

Exodus 29: 38-46 Offerings and the Presence of God

 38 Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old regularly each day. 39 One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer in the evening; 40 and with the first lamb one-tenth of a measure of choice flour mixed with one-fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and one-fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41 And the other lamb you shall offer in the evening, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD. 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 I will meet with the Israelites there, and it shall be sanctified by my glory; 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar; Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate, to serve me as priests. 45 I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God.

Scholars may disagree on what the exact reason sacrifice was so prevalent in ancient cultures and there may have been a multitude of understandings among different cultures about sacrifice and its meaning. Yet, every religion has some manner in which the best one has (and in an agricultural culture this is the produce of the fields and the animals of the herd) and committing it to the LORD. Perhaps some understood this as a way of feeding or appeasing their gods, others may have seen it as a demonstration of their dedication to the deity they worshipped or a way of currying favor with their god. Yet, for the Hebrew people there is also the understanding that these are also ways of demonstrating their continued obedience to the God they believe travels with them each day. The tabernacle becomes a place where God’s presence will dwell among the people and the priestly actions become ways in which they mediate between the holy God and the people who are also set aside to be holy but the continual action of the priests. Just as Aaron and his sons will be consecrated, now their perpetual action becomes a way of consecrating the people as a priestly nation.

 

Exodus 28: The Vestments for the Priesthood of Aaron and his Descendants

Michael Schmitt, the High Priest Aaron (1912)

Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests — Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. 2 You shall make sacred vestments for the glorious adornment of your brother Aaron. 3 And you shall speak to all who have ability, whom I have endowed with skill, that they make Aaron’s vestments to consecrate him for my priesthood. 4 These are the vestments that they shall make: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a checkered tunic, a turban, and a sash. When they make these sacred vestments for your brother Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests, 5 they shall use gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine linen.

 6 They shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen, skillfully worked. 7 It shall have two shoulder-pieces attached to its two edges, so that it may be joined together. 8 The decorated band on it shall be of the same workmanship and materials, of gold, of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen. 9 You shall take two onyx stones, and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel, 10 six of their names on the one stone, and the names of the remaining six on the other stone, in the order of their birth. 11 As a gem-cutter engraves signets, so you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel; you shall mount them in settings of gold filigree. 12 You shall set the two stones on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel; and Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders for remembrance. 13 You shall make settings of gold filigree, 14 and two chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; and you shall attach the corded chains to the settings.

 15 You shall make a breastpiece of judgment, in skilled work; you shall make it in the style of the ephod; of gold, of blue and purple and crimson yarns, and of fine twisted linen you shall make it. 16 It shall be square and doubled, a span in length and a span in width. 17 You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of carnelian,1 chrysolite, and emerald shall be the first row; 18 and the second row a turquoise, a sapphire1 and a moonstone; 19 and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; 20 and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper; they shall be set in gold filigree. 21 There shall be twelve stones with names corresponding to the names of the sons of Israel; they shall be like signets, each engraved with its name, for the twelve tribes. 22 You shall make for the breastpiece chains of pure gold, twisted like cords; 23 and you shall make for the breastpiece two rings of gold, and put the two rings on the two edges of the breastpiece. 24 You shall put the two cords of gold in the two rings at the edges of the breastpiece; 25 the two ends of the two cords you shall attach to the two settings, and so attach it in front to the shoulder-pieces of the ephod. 26 You shall make two rings of gold, and put them at the two ends of the breastpiece, on its inside edge next to the ephod. 27 You shall make two rings of gold, and attach them in front to the lower part of the two shoulder-pieces of the ephod, at its joining above the decorated band of the ephod. 28 The breastpiece shall be bound by its rings to the rings of the ephod with a blue cord, so that it may lie on the decorated band of the ephod, and so that the breastpiece shall not come loose from the ephod. 29 So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart when he goes into the holy place, for a continual remembrance before the LORD. 30 In the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the LORD; thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the Israelites on his heart before the LORD continually.

 31 You shall make the robe of the ephod all of blue. 32 It shall have an opening for the head in the middle of it, with a woven binding around the opening, like the opening in a coat of mail, so that it may not be torn.  33 On its lower hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, all around the lower hem, with bells of gold between them all around —34 a golden bell and a pomegranate alternating all around the lower hem of the robe. 35 Aaron shall wear it when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the holy place before the LORD, and when he comes out, so that he may not die.

 36 You shall make a rosette of pure gold, and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, “Holy to the LORD.” 37 You shall fasten it on the turban with a blue cord; it shall be on the front of the turban. 38 It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall take on himself any guilt incurred in the holy offering that the Israelites consecrate as their sacred donations; it shall always be on his forehead, in order that they may find favor before the LORD.

 39 You shall make the checkered tunic of fine linen, and you shall make a turban of fine linen, and you shall make a sash embroidered with needlework.

 40 For Aaron’s sons you shall make tunics and sashes and headdresses; you shall make them for their glorious adornment. 41 You shall put them on your brother Aaron, and on his sons with him, and shall anoint them and ordain them and consecrate them, so that they may serve me as priests.42 You shall make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked flesh; they shall reach from the hips to the thighs; 43 Aaron and his sons shall wear them when they go into the tent of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place; or they will bring guilt on themselves and die. This shall be a perpetual ordinance for him and for his descendants after him.

In North Africa during the 4th Century there was a schism that emerged within Christianity known as Donatism. In a time where Christians were no longer a persecuted church there were many individuals both lay and clergy who had, under persecution, denounced their faith while others had been imprisoned or martyred. The Donatists felt that clergy especially needed to be without fault for their ministry to be effective. For the Donatists, clergy who had denied their faith were unable to serve as a pastor. The conflict centered on whether it was the person or the office that made the ministrations of the priest effective and while the early Catholic church decided on the office of priesthood making the ministrations effective and not the character of the priest there are Donatists of every age who want to make priests into prophets, yet here in Exodus we have the setting aside of Aaron and his sons for the ministry of priesthood directly before Aaron fails dramatically in what his role will be.

Moses and the prophets who come after him will not have the vestments, ephods, breastplates, headpieces and all the elaborate garments that Aaron and his sons will have crafted for them as they fulfill their role within the tabernacle on behalf of the people of Israel. The type of relationship that Moses and other prophets have with the LORD will be rare, and yet there is a need for people to lead the community in worship. The clothing they wear sets them apart from everyone else, they are robed more richly than even kings would be, their garments are of incredible detail and workmanship and full of symbolism as they represent the people before their God. Aaron and his sons will not be perfect and yet they are to represent and bear the judgment of the people of Israel before God. The ephod and the breastplate also seem to have some functional role within the worship and the discernment of the will for the people of God.

On both the ephod and the breastplate there is the continual representation of the entire people before the LORD as the priest ministers. The priest acts not on their own behalf but on behalf of the entire people they intercede for. The engraved stones serve as a reminder for the priest, the people and for God of identity of the people in relation to God. The priest intercedes for the priestly kingdom. The precious stones remind us these tribes are God’s treasured possession. even though Aaron and his descendants will be consecrated to be holy to the LORD, the headband reminds both the LORD and the people that they are by extension ‘holy to the LORD.’

There is danger in the priestly role as well, for the priest intercedes for the people and must approach the holiest of spaces. Within the garments there are safeguards to protect the priest, bells sewn onto the robe that would ring as the priest approached the holiest of spaces and the undergarment to prevent the priest from accidentally exposing himself in the presence of God and the holiest items in the tabernacle.

Even though I come out of a liturgical tradition I don’t cling to the symbols of office the way that some pastors and priests do. Perhaps it is an arrogance on my part to not feel the need to be set apart by vestments that are a symbol of my office or simply comfort within my role. Yet, I do see the value in these vestments or symbols that let others know who I am and what my role is. I serve in the capacity I do not because of my own perfection or because I have lived a spotless life but simply because I trust that God and the community has called me. On behalf of the community I do serve in the capacities as priest/pastor and sometimes prophet. Clothes may not make the man (or woman) but sometimes they do grant them some of the power of the office to which they have been called.

Exodus 4: Divine Magic, Anger and The Return to Egypt

Burning Bush by Quirill at deviantart.com

Burning Bush by Quirill at deviantart.com

Exodus 4: 1-9- So That They May Believe

Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you.'” 2 The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 3 And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”– so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand– 5 “so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

 6 Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. 7 Then God said, “Put your hand back into your cloak”– so he put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored like the rest of his body– 8 “If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign. 9 If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

Moses’ second objection or clarification leads us to the first demonstrations of divine power in the form of magic. In our modern disenchanted world, we may have trouble trusting a narrative where God acts in concrete physical and magical ways within the world but to remove the magic from Exodus, or the Bible in general, is to remove from the story the active engagement of God in the liberation of the people of Israel. Personally, I have little interest in the enlightenment era portrayal of God as ‘the divine clockmaker’ or ‘the prime mover’ who stands unengaged and uninvolved in the world. The bible does speak to a world where ‘good magic,’ the magic which kept the forces of death and darkness at bay was the purview of the temples and churches. While many of the more fundamentalist churches have been troubled by the popularity of books like the Harry Potter series, The Magicians, and many other fantasy series involving magicians, witches, and a world that is somehow still enchanted I personally enjoy these books and believe in a world that is still more magical than our scientific disenchantment would encourage. To limit faith to that which is seen, observed and controlled is to transform faith into some sort of disenchanted dogmatism. There was wisdom when the council of Nicaea included in the Nicene Creed’s first article “We believe in One God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, visible and invisible.” (Emphasis mine)

These three magical signs are in response to Moses’ fear that they will not believe him or listen. Here with each of these signs the emphasis on believing is placed. The staff becomes a snake and then again, a staff so that they may believe. The hand becomes diseased and then healed and whole again in case they do not believe the first sign, they may believe the second.  This skin disease, probably not Hansen’s disease or what we know today as leprosy, was still a fearful thing in the ancient world and particularly for the purity concerns of the ancient Jewish people. Leviticus chapters thirteen and fourteen are entirely dedicated for how the people are to deal with those who have a skin disease like this, this type of disease would prevent a descendant of Aaron from participating in or receiving the benefits of the offerings and the temple (Leviticus 22:4) the book of Numbers will remind the people again that people with a skin disease are to be put outside of the camp (Numbers 5:2) and later Miriam, Moses’ sister, when she and Aaron challenge Moses’ leadership will also be afflicted with this or a similar skin disease. (Numbers 12) This type of skin disease must have occupied a central place of fear or disgust for the Hebrew people and here the LORD uses this disease as a demonstration of the God of Israel’s power over this feared ailment. Finally, a third sign is given but not demonstrated but it foreshadows one of the coming signs in the conflict between the God of Israel and the leaders (and by extension gods) of Egypt.

The gospel of John will later share a similar view of the signs that Jesus did so that his followers may believe. While that gospel can state that many other signs other than those recorded were done: “But these were written so that you may come to believe” (John 20:31). Yet, these demonstrations of power tend not to create a robust and long lasting faith. One of the continual struggles throughout the book of Exodus will be the people’s continual inability to trust in either Moses or the LORD despite the incredible actions that God will do to bring the people out of Egypt, to bring them across the Red Sea and to sustain them in the wilderness. Yet, these signs and the conflict with Moses and the magicians of Egypt will be an essential part of the way the LORD will triumph and bring about the liberation of the people.

Exodus 4: 10-17- Prophetic Resistance and Divine Anger

 10 But Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 Then the LORD said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” 13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron, the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. 16 He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. 17 Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

Isaiah could proclaim he was a person of unclean lips, Jeremiah was only a boy too young to take up the calling God placed upon him, Gideon, Zechariah and countless others would wonder about their sufficiency for the task that God had entrusted to them. Moses has already asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (see 3:10) Now Moses claims he is slow of speech and slow of tongue (literally heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue). There is a parallel with the Apostle Paul who, particularly in his correspondence with the Corinthian churches, where his eloquence in person may not compare to the words of his letters. Yet he, like Moses,

“did not come proclaiming to you the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom…My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” 1 Corinthians 2: 1, 4

Moses’ proclamation of the message to the people of Israel and to Pharaoh will not depend upon his words but as demonstrated with the magical signs immediately before will predominantly be a display of God’s power working through Moses.  Yet, God also wants Moses to know that these words will come from God and that God can empower his mouth and tongue. Yet Moses persists in asking God to send someone else.

The anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses. This is a pregnant statement which may be connected to the strange interlude in verses 24-26, but the LORD’s anger about Moses’ unease at accepting this mantle does not prevent God from attempting to find an accommodation. Here Aaron enters the story as Moses’ previously unknown brother. Moses will not find a way out of the calling that the LORD has placed upon him but now there is the sharing of the mantle between the two brothers. Aaron will become the mouthpiece for Moses and Moses the mouthpiece for God. The words of God will now be doubly mediated but still effective. Aaron’s partnership with Moses will perhaps make the beginning of the process easier on Moses but there will come a time where Aaron and his sister Miriam will also become a challenge to Moses’ leadership of the community. (Numbers 12)

Exodus 4: 18-26- A Strange Interlude

 18 Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Please let me go back to my kindred in Egypt and see whether they are still living.” And Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” 19 The LORD said to Moses in Midian, “Go back to Egypt; for all those who were seeking your life are dead.” 20 So Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey and went back to the land of Egypt; and Moses carried the staff of God in his hand.

 21 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders that I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. 22 Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: Israel is my firstborn son. 23 I said to you, “Let my son go that he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; now I will kill your firstborn son.'”

 24 On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the LORD met him and tried to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched Moses’ feet with it, and said, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” 26 So he let him alone. It was then she said, “A bridegroom of blood by circumcision.”

Moses returns to Jethro and requests his leave for the task the LORD has set before him and begins his journey back to Egypt with his wife and sons. The LORD is now speaking to Moses separate from the theophany at Mount Horeb giving him insight to both the situation back in Egypt and charging him to perform the acts of power he has been given. The dynamic of hardening Pharaoh’s heart will be a theme for much of the coming conflict between Moses and the LORD with Pharaoh. The charge to identify before Pharaoh that ‘Israel is my firstborn son’ serves multiple purposes. First, it demonstrated the close and intimate bond that the LORD has with the people of Israel and the vulnerability that the LORD experiences not only their suffering and oppression but also later the feeling of betrayal. Second, the phrase is connected in parallel to the foreshadowing of the final plague, the death of the firstborn sons in Egypt. Finally, it may be one of the textual insights into the strange interlude that comes immediately afterwards.

Detail of Ziporah from Boticelli's the Trials of Moses (1481-82)

Detail of Ziporah from Boticelli’s the Trials of Moses (1481-82)

Exodus 4: 24-26 is one of the strangest and most cryptic passages in all the bible. Generations of scholars have come at this passage and come away puzzled. Many scholars of a previous generation would have pointed to multiple sources that preceded the final composition of the book of Exodus and this portion being an inclusion from an ancient telling of this story but regardless of how we arrived at the canonical form of Exodus this story has survived any attempts at editing away the uncomfortable image of the LORD coming to kill the messenger. The Hebrew is ambiguous about whether the LORD is coming for one of Moses’ sons or for Moses himself and either argument can be made textually. If the LORD is coming for Moses it is due to the divine anger being kindled in 4: 14. If the LORD is coming for the first-born son of Moses it may be linked textually to the parallel Israel is my firstborn son/killing the firstborn son of Egypt, which may sound like a more stretched link but considering some of the discussion below about foreshadowing the Passover it at least needs to be considered. Regardless of the ambiguity the aggressor is clearly the LORD and the savior is clearly a woman.

One of the themes of the first portion of Exodus is the ways that women’s actions, often foreign women, led to the preservation of the children of the Israelites and particularly Moses. The midwives, Moses’ mother and sister, the daughter of Pharaoh and now Zipporah (the first one to receive a name) all have a part in the preservation of life and making possible the future liberation of the people. Perhaps due to her position as a daughter of Jethro, priest of Midian, she is aware of what is required in this type of encounter with the presence of the LORD. Even though the Israelites did not have women priestesses many Near Eastern cultures did use women in priestly roles. The quick circumcision of her son and then the touching of Moses’ feet (or genitals- feet is often a euphemism in the bible) combined with the unique proclamation of Moses being ‘a bridegroom of blood’ is enough to thwart the LORD’s attempt on Moses’ (or his son’s) life.

Some interesting things, at least to me, to reflect on: the LORD only tried to kill Moses. We have already seen that the LORD can make healthy skin instantly become diseased or turn water to blood and a staff into a snake and we are approaching a phenomenal display of divine power to bring the people out of Egypt, yet here the LORD is unable (or perhaps unwilling) to follow through on the threat to Moses’ life. Perhaps this is a place where Moses is learning that he will be called upon at times to stand up to the LORD, as he will both later in the book of Exodus and throughout the journey of the people of Israel to the promised land. Perhaps it has something to do with perception of uncleanness for Moses’ uncircumcised son (and perhaps self). Literarily the passage has a unique connection with the Passover as Carol Meyers can demonstrate when she says,

It foreshadows the way blood will save the firstborn Israelites from the final plague that God will visit upon the Egyptians (12: 7, 13, 22-23), and it anticipates the role of circumcision in defining the legitimate participants in the Passover (12: 43-49). (Myers, 2005, p. 66f.)

There are some similarities between this story and Jacob’s wrestling with God in Genesis 32: 22-32 and yet this story is unique in the LORD attempting to kill in this way. Perhaps the closest I can come to a resolution on this strange interlude begins in the description of Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia by Mr. Beaver, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the king, I tell you.” The LORD is many things, but safe is not among them. Walter Brueggemann can speak of the passages witness to, “the deep, untamed holiness of God.” (Actemeir, 1997, p. 2:718) Moses’ entry into the role of mediating God’s presence is one that can be threatening to his very life, and not only by Pharaoh. It is an uncomfortable passage but one that resonates with many of the prophets who found their lives surrendered to God’s message. The God who can turn healthy skin into diseased or a staff into a snake or who will unleash the plagues that will bring the empire of the day to its knees is many things, but safe is not one of them. We can only believe that God in God’s deep untamed holiness is indeed good, the king, and that God’s entry into the ordinary space of our world will ultimately be a force for setting the captives free.

Exodus 4: 27-31 Moses, Aaron and the Israelites

 27 The LORD said to Aaron, “Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.” So he went; and he met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28 Moses told Aaron all the words of the LORD with which he had sent him, and all the signs with which he had charged him. 29 Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites. 30 Aaron spoke all the words that the LORD had spoken to Moses, and performed the signs in the sight of the people. 31 The people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had given heed to the Israelites and that he had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.

At this point in the narrative Aaron is the primary mouthpiece and actor before the people of Israel. Moses’ taking the central role will come soon enough, but for now Aaron acts as the LORD allowed to Moses in 4:14. The words and the signs produce within the people a hopeful faith and they are able to worship knowing their misery and oppression has been seen and heard. Moses has survived his experience with God on the mountaintop and in the wilderness and together he and Aaron and Zipporah have returned to Egypt and the struggle for the people of Israel’s freedom is about to begin. The struggle between the God of the Israelites and Pharaoh of Egypt will unleash a power previously unknown by the people and will allow a captive people to emerge from the superpower of the age.