Exodus – Summary

We’ve seen some truly unbelievable things happen in the Second Book of Moses – indeed, if not for the glory of the Lord Himself, one might be inclined to think this wasn’t an entirely accurate account of things.

Despite a tyrannical Egyptian with a tendency towards severe oppression of the Hebrews, Moses managed to escape a murderous Pharaoh and lived his life as a humble shepherd until the day he stumbled on some burning vegetation in the desert, which turned out to be God himself. In spite of his speech impediment, Moses became the representative of the Lord and enlisted his brother Aaron as his mouthpiece.

Now backed by God Almighty, Moses returned to Egypt, where he confronted the Pharaoh and demanded the Hebrews be freed from their bondage. Armed with a magical staff, Moses and the Pharaoh engaged in an elaborate battle of wits and magic, while the Lord continually interfered. Eventually, with a sweeping infanticide that left thousands of innocent babies dead, Moses and the Lord were able to so badly damage the morale of the Egyptians that the Hebrews were able to flee Egypt.

Now bumbling through the hot desert with only the vaguest guidance from the Lord, the Hebrews were pursued by an Egyptian army, some began to wonder if Moses had any idea what he was doing. But with some more magical help from the Lord, Moses was able to drown the entire army in the sea and reinstituted the Hebrews’ faith in him.

Having endured hardship after hardship in the desert, the Hebrews were finally ready to meet this so-called God they’d been following. Ever mysterious, the Lord stayed hidden inside an ominous black cloud that hovered around the summit of Mount Sinai, and only Moses was permitted to ascend to talk with the Lord for forty days.

While on the summit of Mount Sinai, Moses received an extensive list of verbal instructions from the Lord on what people should and should not do, thus finally affording the Hebrews some moral guidance. Surely at least one Hebrew philosopher at the time must have pondered: if the Lord commands us not to kill, but prior to receiving this command we weren’t all running around killing each other, does our moral guidance come from the Lord, or from somewhere else, and if the former, why weren’t we all killing each other without moral guidance, and if the latter, do we really need Him? Fortunately, any such philosopher would have been put to death promptly.

Having received his list of laws (some of which seemed to entail unnecessarily harsh punishment), Moses descended the mountain, where he engraved them all from memory into some stone tablets. All his stonework was for nothing, however, as when he returned to the Hebrew camp to find them worshipping a golden calf, Moses lost his temper and threw down the tablets, shattering them to pieces. In spite of the Lord’s previous instruction, Moses commanded a series of senseless murders as punishment, before trudging back up the mountain with some blank stone tablets.

Now back on the summit with the Lord’s Holy Cloudmobile, the Lord Himself inscribed the blank stone tablets with His commandments, which were notably different than the first time around. Indeed, while the first set of ‘rules’ were more useful in giving moral guidance, the only official set of ‘Ten Commandments’ was mostly religious in nature and said nothing against theft, adultery, perjury, or murder. However, since the second set of tablets were the ones inscribed by God himself, we must assume that these are the Ten Commandments we must live by. Moses took this new set of stone tablets with the ‘actual’ commandments back to the Hebrews, where he sealed them in the holy ark.

What awaits the Hebrews, still stuck out in the desert with only minimal guidance, and how much more hardship will they have to endure? When will the Lord finally fulfill his end of the Covenant and deliver the Children of Israel to their promised land of milk and honey? What additional feats of magic and sorcery will we see, and will they be a force of good or evil? Find out in the next book, Leviticus.

The building of the Tabernacle

Exodus 35-40: Putting it all together

Moses called all the Hebrews together for a general meeting and reminded them of the Fifth Commandment: “For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a day of Sabbath rest to the Lord,” he told them, “Anyone – mark my words: anyone who does any work on the Sabbath is to be put to death! Oh one more thing,” Moses added, “FYI: lighting a fire is considered work. Just sayin’.”

Then Moses commanded a sacrifice to the Lord, consisting of miscellaneous bits of precious metals, yarns, goat hair, leathers, wood, spices and onyx stones. Apprarently the Lord also commanded the construction of yet another elaborate altar, as Moses called together the skilled Hebrew tradesmen, and once again detailed everything from the lampstands to the curtains.

The generosity of the Hebrews ran deep, as they brought all the goat hair and miscellany they could scrounge up – so much so that Moses instituted an order that no one else was allowed to bring any more offerings.

How to make a Holy Tabernacle: for the biblical DIY-ers, Exodus 36:8 – Exodus 39:31 outlines in great detail the exact materials used, cost, and design of various aspects of the Holy tabernacle including, but not limited to: the curtains, the ark, the table, the lampstand, the basin, the surrounding courtyard, and various priestly garments. For brevity’s sake these instructions have been omitted from this chapter.

After all the work was complete, Moses nodded approvingly and blessed the Hebrews for their work. He then took the two tablets of the covenant law and put them in the ark. The great cloud of the Lord floated down and the Glory of the Lord filled the entire tent.

From that day forth, lacking any skills in meteorology, the Hebrews used the Lord’s cloudmobile as a travel guide – when the cloud lifted from the tent, they would pack up and travel during the day; if the cloud remained surrounding the tent, they would stay put.

The Real Ten Commandments

Exodus 34: Rules to live by”… again

“Hey!” the Lord said to Moses one day, “remember those stone tablets? You know – the ones you threw down in a tantrum and broke? Yeah – go make some replacements, and meet me up on Mount Sinai with them tomorrow morning.”

Up on the mountain the Lord descended in His holy cloud pillar and, in a self-important monologue, began to trumpet His arguably incorrect perceptions of Himself: “Oh, how compassionate and gracious I am!” He crowed, “How slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. I love thousands of people, but I am so forgiving to those that sin against me! Yup, I am just so great, if I do say so myself!”

Deciding against protesting, Moses bowed to the ground and worshipped the Lord’s holy cloud cover.
“Oh, great, great Lord,” Moses grovelled, “I know our people are wicked and sinful and just absolutely horrible and could never, ever, be nearly as great as you. But please, forgive us and if we’ve found favour in your eyes, accompany us on this journey through the desert.”

Always a sucker for flattery, and apparently not remembering that he had already given Moses and the Israelites some commandments, God swore the same Covenant (again), and gave the people some rules to live by (again):

  1. Don’t worship any other gods, and don’t make friends with anyone who does.
  2. Don’t make any idols. None whatsoever.
  3. Celebrate the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Yes, it may taste bland and awful, but you must feast on it.
  4. Your firstborns – children and livestock alike – belong to Me. You must sacrifice a lamb to redeem your firstborn sons. And donkeys.
  5. On the seventh day of the week, you must rest. Even during harvest season, when there’s likely something much more productive you could be doing, you must take a day off.
  6. Celebrate the Festival of Weeks and the Festival of Ingathering – whatever that is – at the turn of the year.
  7. Three times a year, you must appear before Me.
  8. Do not sacrifice anything to Me with yeast in it. I hate yeast. Blood is OK though.
  9. You also have to bring Me the first fruits of your harvest.
  10. Don’t cook a young goat in its mother’s milk. Beef? Sure go ahead. Old goats? Yup. Just stay away from the young goats. Don’t ask why.

Thus with the set of the (actual) Ten Commandments, Moses spent forty days and forty nights fasting on the mountain, while the Lord himself inscribed the new tablets with the New Commandments – this time to avoid any confusion.

Fun fact: The alleged “Ten Commandments” set out earlier in Exodus are not actually referred to in the Bible as “The Ten Commandments”. In fact, as of yet, only these rules have been officially called “The Ten Commandments”. Thus, of the Big Ten rules that we absolutely must keep, two instruct on how not to invoke God’s jealousy, three discuss how and what must be sacrificed to God, and none of the remainder give any meaningful moral guidance whatsoever.

Moses came down from Mount Sinai – again – carrying the two stone tablets – again. His face carried the afterglow that only comes after a satisfying talk with God, so much so that people were concerned about his appearance. Nevertheless, Moses called the Hebrews together and read out the command the Lord had given him.

From that day forth, Moses wore a veil over his face all the time, except for when he went to speak with the Lord.

Moses Tames the Lord’s Fury

Exodus 33: The Smoke Monster

Moses had a special tent in the Israelite camp where he would go to convene with the Lord. Moses would enter the tent, and the Lord’s pillar of cloud would descend and wait outside the door. This particular day, the Lord was thoroughly perturbed about the previous events involving the Golden Calf, and told Moses to continue leading the Israelites through the desert without Him.

“I’ll send an Angel for you that will kill and exile all the tribes that might stand in your way, but I myself won’t come with you,” the Lord said, “I just can’t stand you stiffnecks, and who knows what I might be inclined to do to you if my temper gets the better of me.”
“Ah,” retorted Moses, “but remember that this nation is your People! How will anyone else know we are the Chosen Ones if not for your presence?”
“Good point,” said the Lord, and he was convinced to change his mind. “I will come with you, but remember: no one can look upon my face and live. Consider yourselves warned.”

The Golden Calf

Exodus 32: Supervision required

While Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving his moral guidance from the Lord, the Children of Israel naturally assumed he had gone AWOL, and so turned to Aaron for spiritual guidance.

Not having had the benefit of the Lord’s guidance, Aaron did the best he could: he collected up all the Israelites’ gold trinkets and smelted them down into a golden calf for the people to worship. “Tomorrow, we’ll have a festival for the Lord!” Aaron announced excitedly, and the Children of Israel sacrificed burnt offerings to the golden calf, ate, drank, and were merry.

Meanwhile, up on Mount Sinai, the Lord was unimpressed.
“These people! You leave them alone for awhile and they go off worshipping false idols,” the Lord grumbled to Moses, “go on and leave me alone to sulk and ponder the ways I can utterly destroy them for their insolence”.
“But my Lord,” Moses protested, “we just made all this effort to bring all these people out of Egypt. It might look bad if you brought all these people out into the desert just to kill them all. Besides, remember the Covenant?” Thus, having been reminded of his promise not to kill the Israelites, the Lord reconsidered his decision.

Moses descended Mount Sinai, lugging the two stone tablets the Lord had engraved with His own hands. But as he entered the camp, he saw the Children of Israel singing, dancing, and worshipping their golden calf, and in a momentary lapse of judgement and apparent surprise, Moses threw down the tablets in anger, breaking them to pieces. He snatched the golden calf, threw it in the fire and ground it to powder. For good measure, he mixed the powder with water and forced the Israelites to drink their beloved idol.

“I leave you alone for one month”… ” Moses sputtered in fury.
“Don’t be mad, bra!” Aaron interrupted, “you know these people and how prone they are to evil. It was really all their fault! They wanted something to worship, so I took all their gold and threw it into a fire and – poof! – out came a golden calf! I had nothing to do with it!”

To make amends for their sins, Moses instructed the men to take up swords and run through the camp killing each other. They did so, and although they lost some three thousand people to senseless violence that day, it was not enough to satisfy the bloodlust of the Lord.
“Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot out of my book,” He told Moses, “when the times comes to punish, mark my words: I will punish these people.” And with that, the Lord struck the survivors of the day’s slaughter with a plague.

Something to consider: Although it was Aaron who gathered up the gold, made the idol, and led the festivities and worshipping of the golden calf, he went unharmed while the rest of the Israelites were being killed. Should Aaron have also been punished?

The Death Penalty

Exodus 31: “I’m no judge, but isn’t that a bit harsh? Maybe just a teensy-weensy bit?”

The Lord Almighty realized that his frail human followers might not be able to live up to his expectations. Between all metallurgy, woodwork, and engineering needed to build all the altars, golden rings, lamps, and so on, there was a lot of work to be done. Thus, the Lord magically blessed a bunch of people with the skills and craftsmanship required to do the work. Problem solved!

On to more serious matters, the Lord brought up the Sabbath. “Observe the Sabbath,” the Lord commanded, “Work six days of the week, and the seventh day is to be a Day of Rest. Anyone who works on the Sabbath Day must be put to death!”

Being a reasonable man, Moses must have wondered whether a death sentence wasn’t a little harsh. After all, some people are just workaholics and don’t like taking a day off. Still, any concerns Moses may have had about the Law went unspoken. The Lord finished speaking to Moses, and gave him two tablets of stone inscribed by His own finger with the Covenant Law.

Self-reflection: do you keep the Sabbath holy as the Lord commands? Do you ensure other people keep the Sabbath holy? How many people have you personally put to death for working on the Day of Rest?

The Holy™ Product Line

Exodus 30: This chapter is brought to you by Holy™

Pleased with Moses’ undying enthusiasm to hear more and more rules, the Lord spouted off more commands about altar sizes, golden rings and incense burnings. Then he moved on to more pressing issues:

“Take a census of the Children of Israel,” the Lord said, “and everyone over the age of twenty is to pay a flat head tax of half a shekel. Call it a tithing if you want.”

Fun fact: while likely not at all comparable to a biblical shekel, a modern-day Israeli shekel is worth about 25 cents.

“Next,” the Lord continued, “make ye a brass basin for washing yeselves. When Aaron and his sons enter the tabernacle, they need to wash themselves so they don’t die. They must wash their hands and their feet so that they won’t die, and this is to be an everlasting statute for generations to come. Always wash your hands. Got it? Good.”

“Then thou shalt make the Holy Anointing Oil™ from myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, cassia, and some olive oil, and thou shalt put the Holy Anointing Oil™ on whatever you want to make holy. Do not pour Holy Anointing Oil™ on the common man; it is reserved for Aaron and his priests only. And remember: Holy Anointing Oil™ is the One True Oil! There may be many oils, but there is only one Holy Anointing Oil™!”

“And also shalt thou make a Holy Incense™ from sweet spices, stacte, onycha, galbanum (whatever those are – I sure as heck don’t recall creating them) and frankincense. Do not make any Holy Incense™ for yourself, as it is a trademarked product and only licensed for use for and by the Holy Lord. Whosoever does try to make his own Holy Incense™ will be cast out from society. And remember: Holy Incense™ is the One True Incense! There may be many incenses, but there is only one Holy Incense™!”

How to Consecrate a Priest

Exodus 29:Your 16-step guide to successful consecration!

According to the Word of Lord, this is a step-by-step guide for consecrating a priest so that he may serve Him.

  1. Make some unleavened bread, cakes and wafers and put them in a basket. Save for later.
  2. Bathe the man to be consecrated and dress him in the holy costume.
  3. Bring a young bull to the front of the tabernacle and have the man place his hands on the bull’s head. Slaughter the bull.
  4. Finger-paint some of the bull’s blood on the altar. Pour the rest on the floor in front of the altar.
  5. Burn the bull’s flesh, hide and offal outside the camp.
  6. Take a ram and have the man place his hands on the animal’s head. Slaughter the ram.
  7. Sprinkle the ram’s blood around the sides of the altar. Meanwhile, cut the ram into pieces and place all pieces on the altar.
  8. Burn the ram – the aroma is pleasing to the Lord.
  9. Take another ram and have the man place his hands on its head. Slaughter the ram.
  10. Smear some of the ram’s blood on the right earlobe, the right thumb, and the right big toe. Sprinkle the remainder around the sides of the altar.
  11. Sprinkle anointing oil on the man’s clothes.
  12. Separate the fat from the second ram, as well as the liver and kidneys, and the right thigh. Take these, and one bread loaf, one cake, and one wafer from earlier. Have the priest-to-be wave all of these things around, then place on the altar for burning. The aroma is pleasing to the Lord.
  13. Take the breast of the ram and wave it around.
  14. Cook the remainder of the ram meat in a sacred place. Eat the meat and remaining bread at the entrance to the tent. If there is any left over, it must be burned.
  15. Repeat steps 1 to 14 once a day, for seven days.
  16. In addition to the above, sacrifice a one-year old lamb twice a day – one at morning and one at twilight – with a little olive oil and wine.

That’s it! If you’ve followed these instructions precisely, you should have one newly-consecrated priest on your hands (please note that results may vary).

Holy Interior Design

Exodus 25-28: Moses gets micromanaged

The Lord gave Moses a long grocery list of items he was to collect from the Israelites as offerings, including precious metals, fine linens, spices and incense. “Make a sanctuary exactly in the way I’m about to explain to you,” the Lord told Moses.

“First,” God began, “an Ark. I want it made with acacia wood overlaid with pure gold inside and out. Give it two rings on each side, and make gold-covered acacia poles to carry it on. Oh, and don’t forget the cherubim – you know I love my cherubim. I want one on each end, wings spread, facing each other, made from pure gold, of course. And I’ll give you a Testimony, and you’ve got to keep in this Ark at all times.”

The Lord continued giving incredibly precise instructions to Moses on how He wanted his golden table, accompanying golden lampstand, and seven lamps to be built. He also discussed the finer points of interior design of tabernacles, altars, and courtyards: curtain colors, embroidery, framing, crossbars, and so on. Unsurprisingly, the decorations involved a lot of gold.

While Moses was scribbling notes, God (being someone who knew what he liked and couldn’t have it any other way) continued to micromanage down to the finest point, giving Moses instruction on what the priests were to wear and what precious stones were to be embedded in the breastplates in what exact order. Of specific importance, the Lord instructed that Aaron must wear a specific type of undergarment, and that bells must chime when he entered or exited the tabernacle, “so that they will not incur guilt and die” (the Lord did not elaborate on how this underwear might prevent guilt and/or death).

Written in Stone

Exodus 24: Moses puts it in writing

After God had listed off all His various rules and commandments, Moses went back to the people of Israel and wrote all the words down somewhere. The next morning, he got up early and built an altar with twelve pillars (cleverly representing the twelve tribes of Israel) at the base of the mountain. Then the sacrifices began.

Several young men came and made burnt offerings (they lit various things on fire) and peace offerings of oxen (they killed a bunch of oxen). Moses took half of the blood from the slaughtered animals and put it in basins around the altar; he happily splashed the rest all over the altar, saving just a little extra to splash on the gathering audience while he shouted, “BEHOLD! The Blood of the Covenant which the Lord hath mad with you concerning all these words!”

After this whole debacle, the audience went home to wash the encrusted dried cow’s blood off, while Moses, Aaron, and some elders of Israel went up the mountain to see God. There they found Him – much like the Wizard of Oz – standing on a road paved with sapphires, and they ate, drank, and were merry.

The Lord called to Moses and said,
“Come on up here; I will give thee some giant pieces of stone with all the laws and commandments so you mayest teach all those Israelites at the bottom of the hill.”
“But I already spent all that time writing them down and — ”
“NOW!” So Moses trudged up to the summit of Mount Sinai, and a cloud covered it so no one could see what was going on. Moses stayed up on that mountain doing God-knows-what for forty days and forty nights.

Something to Consider: if God had just given Moses some pre-engraved tablets to begin with, it would have eliminated any possibility of error or modification and wouldn’t have really taken more than a few minutes. Instead, Moses received all this instruction verbally, then descended the mountain to write everything down from memory without God’s help.