Exodus… the “Too Long, Didn’t Read” edition.
The Book of Exodus has the Ten Commandments and the story of the parting of the Red Sea. But did you know it also contains tent decorating instructions? In Okay, So Look, Micah Edwards helped us laugh our way through the “begats” in Genesis. Now he brings the same keen insights and comedic skills to Exodus, in a retelling that will leave you thinking as well as laughing, and also maybe asking “What are an Urim and Thummim?”
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MANY HANDS MAKE ISRAELITE WORK
Welcome to the sequel! Just like Hollywood, once the first one does well, everyone's clamoring for more, so the Bible dives right back into it with Exodus (rejected title: Jew Fast Jew Furious). Also like in a standard movie sequel, the authors start off with a quick recap just in case you've forgotten what happened in the first one.
In this case, it's a fairly simple recap: Israel has seventy sons and grandsons — and Dinah, who they've forgotten about again — and they're all living in Egypt. Take note, Hollywood: that's how you do a recap. Five lines and we're done! Let's get on to the new story.
So Bible II: Electric Jewgaloo starts off by skipping ahead about three hundred years, during which time the Israelites grow fruitful and multiply all throughout Egypt. Everything's fine until a villain enters the scene: Pharaoh. This is not the pharaoh everyone knows about, the one featured in the upcoming ten plagues, but he's close enough. Also, we obviously haven't gotten to the plagues yet, but they're like that one really cool scene in the trailer: everyone knows they're coming before they ever start the story. If I've just spoiled the plagues for you, I apologize, but Exodus is at least a couple of millennia old, so I think you had time to read it.
This pharaoh starts out by establishing his evil credentials early on. He looks around the land, sees that the Jews outnumber the Egyptians, and decides to enslave all of the Jews. His rationale for this is that if they don't enslave the Jews, then if a war broke out, the Jews might side with their enemies and escape. This is what you might call a self-fulfilling prophecy, since presumably if the Egyptians hadn't enslaved the Jews, the Jews wouldn't side against them, and they definitely wouldn't have escaped, since there wouldn't have been anything to escape from.
Generally speaking, though, it's not a life-prolonging move to nitpick the logic of a pharaoh, and so the Egyptians enslave the Israelites. The Israelites, despite being described as "more powerful and more numerous" than the Egyptians, put up with this for some reason, which is very nice of them. It doesn't seem to work out for them too badly at first, actually. In fact, they have even more kids, presumably to help them with all of the city building that they're doing for the Egyptians.
This freaks out the Egyptians — and in particular Pharaoh, who is starting to realize that his brilliant plan to enslave over half of his population is really just setting the stage for a slave revolt. So, how can he fix this? Murder!
Pharaoh tells the Hebrew midwives, of which there are apparently only two, that when they're delivering babies for the Jews, they should kill all of the boys as soon as they're born. The midwives are not on board with this plan, so they tell Pharaoh that they can't, because Jews give birth so easily that they're done before the midwife can ever get there. This might sound a bit ridiculous, but the fact that there are only two midwives for an entire nation lends credence to their claim.
So instead of saying, "Well, just hit the babies on the head when you get there," Pharaoh decides that this problem is insoluble and gives up for a while; Exodus 1:20 says "and the people multiplied and became very strong." Now, they started out this chapter as more numerous and powerful than the Egyptians. They've twice been described as multiplying and spreading or becoming stronger, while the Egyptians have been described as fearful and weak in childbirth. And I know that this book is written from the Jewish perspective, so they want to make themselves sound cool, but at this point it's really becoming difficult to see how they're enslaved at all.
In fairness, so far all we know about their enslavement is that they're getting stronger, the Egyptians dread them, and Pharaoh is ordering them killed but no one is listening to him. You've got to wonder how much the Israelites are really paying attention to their overseers, either.
"Yeah, no, tiny man, we are definitely working this field for you. You'll totally get the harvest after we take it to the storage city we've built and will certainly allow you access to. Oh, you're so ruthless! Oh, the suffering!" I'm not trying to make light of slavery! I'm just really not sure that that's actually what was going on here, no matter what the text says.CHAPTER 2
MOSES IN DE NILE
After a while, Pharaoh realizes that babies are actually pretty easy to kill, so he gives the order for all male Hebrew babies to be thrown into the Nile. He tells all Egyptians to do this, just on the off-chance that the two midwives weren't being entirely honest with him. Solid call, Pharaoh!
It works out pretty well for an unspecified period of time, until one Jewish woman comes up with the clever plan of simply not throwing her baby in the water, totally thwarting Pharaoh. She sticks with this plan for a solid three months before chickening out. The Bible says that she "could hide him no longer," but I don't know what the Bible thinks happens to babies on day 91 that suddenly makes them conspicuous. Is that baby's first tuba lesson? I don't have that milestone marked in my baby book.
Whatever the reason, into the water goes the baby. His mom's not willing to totally dump him, though, so she puts him in a waterproof basket to keep him afloat. This is the beginning of a fine Jewish tradition of meeting the letter of the law, but ignoring the spirit.
"Look, you said babies go in the river! He's in the river, in a boat. What's the problem?"
Frankly, if this logic was going to work, the Jews could have sidestepped the whole issue by moving onto houseboats. This also would have made the later escape across the Red Sea a lot easier. But I'm getting off topic and ahead of myself.
So Pharaoh's daughter comes down to the river to bathe, and sees a baby there in a basket. She's apparently always wanted a three-month-old — maybe she has a tuba in need of playing, I don't know — so she takes him to raise as her own.
Of course, the baby needs to nurse, so she summons one of the Jewish women who've had their babies chucked into the Nile. The baby's birth mom answers the call, and now she's getting paid to feed her own baby, which is a pretty sweet deal. Bonus: no infant practicing his tuba in the house.
Pharaoh's daughter decides to call the baby Moses, after the Hebrew word for "draw out," because she drew him out of the water. Why did an Egyptian woman give her son a Hebrew name? And why didn't Pharaoh find that to be a strange thing for his daughter to do? For that matter, why didn't he notice that she suddenly had a three-month-old? I know running a kingdom and enslaving people takes a lot of time, but it's important to have a good work-life balance.CHAPTER 3
BLAH BLAH BLAH, SKIP TO A MURDER
So, what was it like growing up as a Hebrew in Pharaoh's household? We'll never know, because the Bible doesn't think that's interesting or important. It jumps straight ahead to Moses as an adult beating a dude to death. This sort of thing needs a little more backstory, Bible. Work with us here.
We are told that the guy Moses killed was an Egyptian who was beating one of the Jewish slaves, so it wasn't like he was a great guy. But this wasn't some accident, where Moses was trying to stop him and accidentally knocked him into a rock or something. The Bible says, "Looking this way and that and seeing no one, [Moses] killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand."
For "no one" to have seen him, even the slave that the overseer was beating must have already left. So basically Moses sees this whole thing happening and, instead of yelling at the guy, just stalks him until he was all alone, then offs him and ditches the body. This is not a healthy way to handle your problems.
Moses is pretty sure he's in the clear — until the next day, when he sees two slaves fighting, and tells them to knock it off. One of them says, essentially, "Or what, big man? You gonna kill me like you did the Egyptian yesterday?"
This is a bold question to ask of a person you suspect of cold-blooded murder, because when you think about it, the answer might very well be yes. Fortunately for this unnamed slave, though, Moses is so rattled by the fact that someone spotted him that he decides to flee the country.
This might seem like an overreaction, but the Bible tells us that when Pharaoh hears what happened, "he trie[s] to kill Moses," so I guess Moses knows his granddad's reactions pretty well.
So Moses splits for Midian, where he sees some shepherds harassing some women by a well and immediately butts in, because that's the sort of guy he is. He manages to drive the shepherds off without killing any of them, though, so: progress!
The women get water for themselves and their sheep and go on home. Their dad, Reuel, is surprised to see them so early, which frankly means he's sort of a jerk. That's not a nice thing to say about a priest, but think about it: clearly, if they're home early, that means that they get harassed by other shepherds every time they go to get water. So either Reuel doesn't know about this, or he doesn't care. Either way: sort of a jerk.
Anyway, so he asks how they got home so soon, and they tell him about Moses. Reuel says, "You met a violent stranger by the well, and you didn't invite him home for dinner? What were you thinking?" So they go back and get Moses, who stays with them and marries one of the daughters all in one sentence. Moses is a fast mover.
To his credit, while Reuel might be horribly wrong about what makes for a good husband, at least he's choosing a guy from another country. This is a big step forward from Genesis, where people would send their kids on long journeys just to go marry someone who was as closely related to them as possible. I'm glad to see that we're moving on from that.CHAPTER 4
THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN
Some time later, God suddenly remembers that he'd left the Israelites in Egypt, and upon checking in, finds that they aren't having a great time of it. The pharaoh that enslaved the Jews is dead, but his successor is keeping the same traditions going. So God thinks, "What's the best way to bust these guys out? I know! I'll go find a murderer on the run from the Egyptian government and have him come talk to Pharaoh. Best possible emissary."
So God finds Moses, who is tending Jethro's sheep. You may be wondering: who is Jethro? It's his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. But wasn't his name Reuel a mere five verses ago? Why, yes, yes it was.
So why does this guy have two names? Well, in Hebrew, "Jethro" means "excellence" or "preeminence," so probably his name is Reuel, but his title is Jethro, just like you'd call someone "Your Honor" or "Your Excellency." This is not really a word that's hung onto its meaning in recent years, though, so I would recommend against referring to a judge as "Your Jethro-ness." It probably won't go over well.
And what does all of this have to do with the story? Not one thing, so let's get back to that. To get Moses's attention, God sets a bush on fire. Then when Moses comes over to check it out, God says, "Hey, Moses!"
You may ask why didn't he just skip straight to the "Hey, Moses!" part? Because when you have the option of pyrotechnics, you use them. That's just common sense.
Anyway, so then God tells Moses to take off his shoes, because this is now a holy fire bush and it's rude to have shoes on near it. This seems like a pretty niche piece of knowledge, but now you know: regular talking fire bush, shoes stay on. Holy talking fire bush, shoes off. Make a note of it.
Next God tells Moses that the Israelites are not enjoying being enslaved, and so he, God, is going to take them out of Egypt. And the way he's going to do it is by sending Moses to go tell Pharaoh to let them go.
Moses says, basically, "Who, me? Dude, no."
God says, "It's cool, tell them I sent you."
Moses says, "Sure, okay, so what do I call you?"
God says, "I am who I am." Which is a great mysterious answer, or was until Popeye the Sailor Man started using it. Technically, that was "I am what I am," and anyway this predates Popeye by a fair margin, so I'm still marking this one down as great.
God then lays out his plan, which goes like this: Moses tells the Israelites that it's time to leave; they'll be on board with that. Then Moses tells Pharaoh that they're going. He's not going to be on board with that, but God will perform miracles until he gets on board. Then the Israelites will steal a bunch of fancy goods from the Egyptians, and then it's off to the land of milk and honey for everyone! Except the Egyptians.
Moses says to the fiery bush, "What if they think I'm just a crazy person who's hearing voices, instead of a prophet of God?"
God's solution: parlor tricks. He turns Moses's staff into a snake, and then back into a stick. Then he has Moses put his hand inside his cloak, and when he pulls it back out, it's covered in lesions. Back in the cloak again, and bam! Normal hand.
Moses must be looking pretty skeptical at this point, because God says, "Okay, just in case they don't accept your stick-snake and magic lesions as proof that you talk to God, check this out. Pour some Nile water on the ground, and it'll become blood. There is absolutely no chance that they won't be convinced then."
Now, Moses is talking to God, so he doesn't want to offend him. But he also doesn't want to go through with a plan this flimsy. So he tries to gracefully weasel his way out of being God's emissary, saying in Exodus 4:10, "I am slow of speech and tongue."
God waves away this objection, saying, "Dude, I made you. I can make you sing opera if I want to. Don't worry about it."
So Moses drops the pretense and flat-out tells God that he doesn't want to go, and to pick someone else. God, ticked off, goes, "You want someone else? Fine. Your brother's on his way here. Nice guy, your brother. Be a real shame if something were to happen to him. Spontaneous combustion is real bad this time of year. Maybe you should go with him to Egypt, like I told you to, to make sure he stays safe. Now pick up your stupid stick-snake and get out of here before I really get mad."
Moses may be slow of speech and tongue, but he's not slow of thought, so he skedaddles. You don't mess with an ultimatum like that.CHAPTER 5
BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD
Moses, having finally realized that God's not going to take no for an answer, gathers up his wife and kids — the Bible just says "sons," but it's got a proven track record of forgetting that daughters exist, so I'm going to go out on a limb here — and heads back to Egypt to go chat with this new pharaoh.
Now, last chapter when God told Moses to go free the Jews, he mentioned that Pharaoh wouldn't let them go "unless a mighty hand compels him." Sure, fine. That's sort of a known feature of slaveholders; they like to hang on to the free labor, and it generally takes a pretty serious effort to get them to knock it off.
This chapter, though, God goes back over the plan with Moses, and it's slightly different this time. Moses is still supposed to go to Pharaoh and show him the fancy stick-snake and blood-water and the other close-up magic tricks. However, God is now guaranteeing that they will not work.
This raises two major questions: "What's the point?" and "How can he be so sure?" The Bible does not address the first question, so I assume the point is that it's going to look cool, and also probably God has a rivalry going with the Egyptian gods.
"Yeah, you like that Nile river? Now it's blood! What about that?"
This may be the real reason that Judaism is a monotheistic religion; none of the other gods want to hang out with this one.
And in case you think I'm being unfair, let's address that second question: how can God be so sure that the magic tricks won't convince Pharaoh to let the Jews go? Aside from the fact that "now I have lesions, now I don't, so you must free your slaves" is a pretty lame argument?
Well, it's because God's going to make sure that they don't work. In Exodus 4:21, God says to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go."
Then he tells Moses to threaten Pharaoh's firstborn son, whom you'll recall is Moses's cousin. All around, it's going to be a pretty awkward family reunion.
And to top things off, it almost never happens, because partway there God suddenly realizes that Moses was never circumcised and tries to kill him. On the one hand, circumcision is the sign of the covenant, and probably before you go off to be a prophet you should make sure you're up on all of the appropriate rituals. On the other hand, maybe a simple reminder could have worked? The guy's going to a land where he's wanted for murder to threaten the leader for you. You could give him a courtesy note before showing up with knives out. Maybe God was practicing for Pharaoh and accidentally hardened his own heart.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Here's the Deal"
Copyright © 2018 Micah Edwards.
Excerpted by permission of Annorlunda Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW?,
EXODUS 5:22–6:12 & 6:28–7:5,
EXODUS 11:1–10 & 12:29–30,
ARE WE THERE YET?,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,
ABOUT THE PUBLISHER,
Other Titles from Annorlunda Books,