Posts Tagged ‘Exodus’

Why does God have such strict laws about yeast?

March 2, 2010

Unleavened bread can be made much more quickly than bread with yeast because it does not need time to rise.

Reference: Various verses throughout the Old Testament

Question:

Why does God hate yeast?

Answer:

The laws in Exodus concerning yeast have everything to do with these two verses in Exodus 12…

26And when your children​s​ ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ 27then tell them, ‘It is the Passover​t​ sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.’

God does not hate yeast.  God was insuring that the people would remember his rescue of them from Egypt.  On the night of the passover they made bread without leaven (yeast), Exodus 12:8.  It is likely that this was done because they were preparing for a haste exit from the Egypt (Exodus 12:39).  Thus, every year in preparation for the passover feast, the Israelites did not eat bread with leaven in it as a powerful reminder of what God had done for them.  As Exodus 12:26-27 says it is about reminding future generations about what God did for his people.  Ceremony is a powerful way to remember, and it is the same reason why we share bread and wine on a regular basis.  We remember what Christ did for us on the cross, his body (the blood) and his blood (the wine) broken and shed for us.

Subtle Contradictions in Scripture (How long did the Exodus plagues take?)

February 17, 2010

Do the plagues contradict each other?

Reference: Exodus 9

Question:

How long was the period of time of the different plagues? It seems that it must have been many years because in one plague God killed all the livestock and then later the livestock had boils.

Answer:

It is difficult to tell exactly how long the Exodus Plagues took.  Thankfully it’s not important at all.  Some students of the Bible might like to go through and count  days, weeks, tomorrows, etc. that are mentioned in Exodus 7 through 11 (e.g. Exodus 7:25).  This rough calculation ends up somewhere in the vicinity of 2 weeks to a month.  But this doesn’t account for larger (unmentioned) time spans that could have occurred between other plagues.  We cannot comment on things that scripture leaves unsaid.   The fact is that the author of Exodus does not tell us how long the process took.  Probably because it doesn’t matter.

But what do we do with the apparent contradiction in this chapter?

In chapter 9, it says that all the livestock of the Egyptians were killed (Exodus 9:6), but later in the same chapter we see that livestock of the Egyptians were subject to other plagues.  The following plague of the boils stuck the “animals” in the land.  It does not say “livestock”, in fact it is a completely different word in the original Hebrew.  Livestock refers to the animals raised for human use.  Animals is a broader term that encompasses all animals.  Thus, we don’t need to jump to the conclusion that livestock had repopulated Egypt in time to be struck with boils.  However, in the subsequent plague, the plague of hail, it alludes to the fact that the Egyptian livestock were subject to the horrible hail storm.  Also, in chapter 14 Pharaoh and his army chase after the Israelites on their horses, so clearly there were livestock still alive in Egypt.  How could there be livestock if they had all been killed in the fifth plague?  What explanation could there be for that?

Well, I could be a smart-alek and point out that God said back in verse 3 of chapter 9 that he would strike down the livestock ‘in the field’. Thus, those livestock that were not outside would not have been affected by the plague against the livestock.  That answer doesn’t sit well with me though.  We should never overlook words and details in scripture, but we should only give them the weight that their communicative intent warrants.   Proof-texting and word-for-word literalizing does the meaning of the text a disservice.  When interpreting scripture, we need to continually ask the question “what is this passage trying to communicate?”.   Exodus is not a historical document like we understand historical documents today.  Thus, even when we read in scripture what we would call contradictions, it does not diminish its truth or its weight for our lives.

This passage is not trying to communicate the subtleties of the plagues, it IS trying to communicate the power of God, the rescue of God, and the glory of God.  We also see the significance of what it means for the will of a man (Pharaoh) to contend with the will of God.  This is a significant theme throughout scripture, and here we see that although God gives us free will, ultimately God will not contend with our disobedience, and he will accomplish his perfect providential will.  In this case, part of that providential will was releasing his people from captivity.  The amount of time that the plagues took, or the appearance of what we might call a contradiction does not change what this passage was meant to say.

Were Pharaoh’s magicians able to perform real magic?

February 17, 2010

The Plague of Blood: Did the magicians really do these things too?

Reference: Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7

Question:

In Exodus 7:10+ how can that act of going ‘One On One’ with Moses’ miracles such as the staff turning into a serpent or the staff turning the water to blood, etc… be explained? This wasn’t just 3 Card Monte or slight of the hand tricks. These were huge events that took place.  Yet Pharaoh’s magicians were able to perform them as well.

2 Possible Answers:

Logically there are only two options concerning the magic.  Either these guys were the ancient Egyptian equivalent of David Blane or they had X-men powers.  Either way though, the message communicated stays the same.

Option 1. The magic was a trick:  It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that these men were simply performing amazing tricks.  They may have been students of nature who knew how to manipulate animal behavior for the sake of control or appearance.  Or perhaps they may have been very good at selling people on their tricks.  In the passages listed above it says that Moses performed the action first.  In the plague of blood, the entire Nile River turned to blood by the hand of God first.  So how could the magicians have turned the Nile to blood if it was already turned to blood.  It doesn’t say that they did, it only says that following the actions of Moses and Aaron the magicians turned some nondescript water into blood.  This certainly could have been a trick.  But turning the Nile into blood is nothing short of a horrific sign of God.  Likewise, Aaron and Moses first caused frogs to come up and cover the land.  How then could the magicians prove that they did anything if the land was already covered with frogs.   This again could have been a trick, or a manipulation of Pharaoh, who is the key antagonist in this contest.

Option 2. The magic was real: The only other option is that the Magic was indeed real.  We know from scripture that the world we live in is one in which there is a real spiritual battle going on all around us.  God is the great God of power, but his kingdom on earth was usurped by Satan back in Genesis 3.  That means there are spiritual forces, with unexplainable spiritual powers in this world.  Paul dealt with this in Acts, Jesus confronted it often in the Gospels.  Thus, it is also perfectly logical and within Biblical precedent to arrive at the conclusion that Pharaoh’s magicians, by some type of ancient divination had tapped into a source of power other than God (a practice explicitly forbidden by God Deuteronomy 18:10; Leviticus 19:26).  All this to say, some other spiritual power could have been allowing them to perform real magic.

One Possible Interpretation

Whichever option one ascribes to above, they must still arrive at the same conclusion, and the main point of these passages.  Namely, Pharaoh’s heart hardens and God wins the contest.  Whether this was real magic or well-disguised tricks, Pharaoh’s heart became hard because of them.  Or, as I conclude in a previous blog post, Pharaoh’s heart was already hard.  Thus, even if they were only tricks they still wouldn’t have had to be very impressive to make Pharaoh deny God’s request to “Let my people go!”  But the most important conclusion is that God wins.  Every time that the magicians of Pharaoh try to challenge the mighty hand of God they fall short until they themselves agree that this is “The finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).  But still Pharaoh would not believe until the most horrific plague of all, the death of the first-borns, in which Pharaoh lost his own son.  Awful as this was, it served as a potent sign of God’s power, and his mercy, for it was in this final plague that God would “passover” the Israelites and spare them from his wrath.  The Israelites shed the blood of lambs and marked their homes so that God would, pass them by.  This is one of the most powerful moments of mercy and of foreshadowing toward Jesus, who would be the Passover Lamb for all of us.  Again, we see a reminder of one of the most important truths of this passage and all of scripture, God wins!

Did God approve of slavery in the Old Testament?

February 5, 2010

Reference: Exodus 21:2-11

Question:

We simply can’t believe that God made the regulations for having slaves. Although we know that these regulations were a big deal at that time, it’s unbelievable for us that God literally said them. Wouldn’t God say that everybody belongs to him instead of to a person?

Could God really have condoned slavery?

Answer:

An entire volume could be dedicated toward the explanation of this topic, but this is a blog, so I will try to keep it brief.

For obvious reasons, it is very difficult for us to justify the issue of slavery as it is presented in several parts of scripture.  First of all, the idea of possessing or owning another person is detestable to us, as it should be.  The other reason that we find this so difficult is because the primary understanding that our westernized culture has of slavery comes from the history of African slaves and their experience in Europe and the Americas during the 16th through the 19th century.  Even today people of African decent still feel the effects of that racist system that was abolished a hundred and fifty years ago.  Perhaps the most intriguing issue with slavery in the book of Exodus is the fact that God just rescued his people from slavery in Egypt, so it seems that there is an inherent contradiction within the culture if there is any acceptance of slavery.

In an effort to answer the question above as it pertains specifically to God and slavery, I will approach the question with a mind toward faithful Biblical interpretation.  There are 3 angles from which we can better understand slavery in the Bible, cultural context, textual context, and theological context (the latter of which will give the most concise answer concerning God).  I will stay away from doing any in depth language or other exegetical work and I will keep this post focused on the Old Testament, as there will likely be future posts on slavery in the New Testament.

The Practice of Slavery in its Cultural Context

As with any difficult issue of interpretation in the bible we must not underestimate the importance of cultural context.  It is too complicated an issue to simply say “slavery was accepted in the ancient near east” and then brush it aside.  But it is important that we understand that the kind of slavery referred to in the Mosaic Law is a different kind of slavery than the African slavery in U.S. history or the sex slavery that is still so prevalent today.  Even when Exodus was written there were different kinds of slavery.  There was prisoner of war slavery, in which prisoners became the property of the nation or army that captured them in battle; there was the chattel slavery, in which slaves were captured, sold, and traded as the Israelites had experienced in Egypt (this can be likened to the capture and sale of Africans during the African diaspora).  Lastly, there was a kind of slavery called debt slavery, in which individuals or families would submit themselves to temporary or permanent slavery as a means of paying off a debt or taking care of their families.  It is the later kind of slavery, debt slavery, to which the laws in Exodus refer.

All forms of slavery are economic in nature.  Some though, are more socially balanced than others.  When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt there there was no social balance to speak of.  In other words, they were captured and forcefully put to work so that Egypt would have free labor for which the slaves received nothing but cruelty from their masters.  Debt slavery however, works much differently.  Debt slavery was a part of a social structure that allowed for the poor to care for themselves.  Sadly, this was the lot of the poor and destitute in ancient society.  For the poor there were few options for them to pay off their debts or earn a wage that would allow them to survive.  In such cases they could (by their own free will) submit themselves to a slave/master relationship in which they would work for a certain amount of years (depending on the size of they’re debt) in return for their debt being released or paid for.  While this is not an ideal situation, and led to many abuses, there is a clear difference between this kind of slavery and chattel slavery which was explicitly forbidden by God (Exodus 21:16).

In ancient near eastern culture the practice of debt slavery would have been common.  What would not have been common were laws designed to protect the slaves, as we see in Exodus 21 and elsewhere.  Thus, God was providing a means of protection for people who otherwise would not have had rights at all.

The Practice of Slavery in Its Broader Biblical Context

It is not enough though to acknowledge that slavery was an accepted part of the ancient social structure and then move on.  These laws are still difficult to swallow, so we need to understand them in their broader textual context.  As we read through the Law of Moses in Exodus through Deuteronomy we need to remember that the Law works much differently then our laws today.  Unlike our laws, the laws of Israel did not stand alone, they complemented each other, leaned on each other, and relied on each other.  There are 613 different laws from Exodus through Deuteronomy and none of them stands in isolation, they support and sustain the whole (Bruckner).

In other words, if you are going to fully understand the laws on Slavery, you need to understand ALL of the laws together.  They cannot stand on their own.  For example, we cannot simply read the first few verses of Exodus and assume that all slavery was okay, because later in the same chapter we see that the kidnapping of people and selling of slaves is forbidden (Exodus 21:16).  Furthermore, we cannot fully understand the social structure of debt Slavery within the Jewish faith without fully embracing the idea of ‘debt release’ as prescribed in the Law’s teaching on the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25).  The year of Jubilee was an unprecedented time of renewal, redemption, and forgiveness that God prescribed in his law.  It took place every fiftieth year.  In the verses below you see what represents a radical protection of the poor who otherwise would have been subject to harsh treatment as slaves.

“If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and is forced to sell himself to you, do not treat him as a slave. 40 Treat him instead as a hired worker or as a temporary resident who lives with you, and he will serve you only until the Year of Jubilee… 42 The people of Israel are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt, so they must never be sold as slaves. 43 Show your fear of God by not treating them harshly.” Leviticus 25:39-43

The astute observer would note that the next verses in Leviticus state that for the foreigner it is okay to purchase them as slaves and treat them as property (Leviticus 25:44-46).  These words seem hard, yes, but we must not forget the many laws that protect and advocate for the foreigner, as well as the foreign slave.  God reminds the Israelites often that they too, “were aliens in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

The Practice of Slavery in the Broader Theological Context

Ultimately, the question that we need to wrestle with here is ‘how could God allow for this within the community of his people?’  God is not advocating for slavery in these passages.  God abhors the inequality that exists in our world .  No human can belong to another because we all belong to God (Psalm 24:1).  But we must not forget that the laws that God provides in Exodus are for a broken society living in a broken world.  The system of slavery (be it debt slavery or chattel slavery) is a powerful reminder of that brokenness.  The Law does not bring redemption of that brokenness, only Jesus Christ can do that.  Thus, when God gave Law and regulations concerning slavery, that did not constitute an acceptance of that broken system, it was more like a bandage given to his people to help protect those who were marginalized in society.  At the end of the day though, salvation and redemption do not come through the Law, but through Christ (Galatians 2:16)