When Jacob (Israel) died in Egypt his children and grandchildren numbered seventy souls. But four hundred thirty years later the Israelites had grown in population to rival that of Egypt itsel. This compelled the Egyptians to put the Israelites to hard labor. The Egyptians feared the Israelites would unite with Egypt’s enemies and overthrow them. Ironically the same fear of a demographic time bomb that led the Egyptians to make the Israelites second-class citizens back then is leading the Israelis to make second-class citizens of the Palestinians today.
Pharaoh told the professional midwives to slay the infants of Hebrew women as soon as they saw it was a boy, but the midwives refused to do that, and their excuse was that the Hebrew women popped their babies out before they could even get to them.
So Pharaoh extended his orders from merely the midwives to all his subjects, ordering them to slay every Hebrew boy-child on sight, but to allow every Hebrew girl-child to live. And that wasn’t very smart if he was trying to limit the Hebrew population, it should have been the other way around.
During this time a couple in the tribe of Levi bore a son, and they hid him for as long as they could. When that was no longer feasible, his mother made a little boat, put the child within, and let it float in the Nile. And the daughter of Pharaoh found it. She remembered her father’s command to kill all the Hebrew children, but she had compassion on the babe and kept it, and gave it to a servant to nurse, and later the baby became her official son. She named him Moses.
Later when Moses was grown up, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. At some point in time Moses came to understand he was not really an Egyptian but a Hebrew, and now one of his kinsmen was being assaulted. He slew the Egyptian and buried him, thinking that no one saw it. But the Hebrew he saved had a big mouth, apparently, and word got around, and Moses became known as an “Egyptian” who kills other Egyptians. And word of this even got up to Pharaoh, who sought to have Moses executed. Moses in turn heard that Pharaoh was looking for him and fled to the land of Midian, where he met a girl named Zipporah and married her. They had a son named Gershom.
“I have been a stranger in a strange land.” — Moses
The collective moaning of the children of Israel in bondage rose all the way up to heaven and finally came to the attention of the omniscient deity. Then the all-knowing creator of the universe remembered his covenant with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and the eternal supreme being concocted up a plan to release them.
One day when Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, he came to the foot of the Mountain of God, known as Mt. Horeb.
And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
In the beginning God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden. He spoke with Cain and Noah and Abraham and even wrestled Jacob but by the time of Joseph he was only appearing in dreams. Now he appears to Moses only as the “angel of the LORD”, which is not an angel with wings, which came in with the influence of the Persians, but an avatar of God, a kind of remotely-controlled drone. God has isolated himself from humanity by a layer where a mere symbol (in this case a burning bush) represents his divinity.
He wants Moses to let the children of Israel know the God of their forefathers is about to carry out the terms of a covenant. Moses wants a specific name he can tell the people. So God identifies himself as “I AM THAT I AM”. This is not his actual name, but what he does every moment: He exists. God’s essential activity is being. And he commissions Moses to represent God to Pharaoh as God puts his plan into action to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt.
Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me.
Moses, ever the pragmatist, doubts God and fears that the Pharaoh won’t listen to him, and the Israelites won’t believe him. So God teaches Moses a few magic tricks to use as a passport. But Moses still wants to wiggle out of his mission, and God starts to get angry. Finally God says Moses can let his brother Aaron tag along to do all the actual talking to Pharaoh and the people.
In our journey through the odd corners of the bible we find our first “jump cut”. If the bible was a movie, this would look like a scene that had been caught in the gate of the projector and melted, and the theater had to cut out the ruined part and splice what was left over together.
Moses picked up his wife and kids, and started down to Egypt, and when it got dark, they stopped at an inn. Then, abruptly (the fragmented jump) it gets weird:
On the way, at a night lodging, Yahweh met him — and was ready to kill him. Zipporah took a flinty stone, cutting her son’s foreskin, and touched it to Moses. She said, “Because you are my blood bridegroom.” Yahweh withdrew from him.
So what just happened? Moses was a henpecked husband who didn’t even stand up for himself when Yahweh came to kill him. Zipporah, his wife, wouldn’t allow Moses to circumcise the baby. More than eight days had passed, and Yahweh came looking for Moses to kill him for being late. Zipporah did some quick thinking, did the bloody deed, and then smeared the blood on her husband. This was sufficiently gory for Yahweh, who backed away going, “Oooooooooo-KAY!!”
After Moses and Aaron spoke to the people and got them on board with God’s plan to rescue them, they went to Pharaoh. Baby steps. All they wanted at first was three days off for the people to go into the desert and hold a feast to the LORD. Not only did Pharaoh tell them no, he punished the Hebrews for even trying to get three days off by telling his taskmasters not to deliver straw to the Hebrews for their bricks. From that day forward, the Hebrews were to gather their own straw for their bricks, but they were also required to deliver the same number of bricks every day that they did when the straw was given to them.
“Go therefore now, and work; for there shall no straw be given you, yet shall ye deliver the tale of bricks.
The Hebrews complained to Moses, and Moses complained to God that so far his mission had only made things worse for the Israelites, and God hadn’t delivered the people from slavery at all.
God answered that he was the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, though they did not know him as YHWH but as God Almighty. And he remembered his covenant with them to make of them a great nation in the land of Canaan, and the time was come for God to take the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt and lead them to that promised land.
“And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
GOD: Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.
MOSES: Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who am of uncircumcised lips?
GOD (to Moses and Aaron, ignoring Moses’ question): I give you charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.
(Exodus then diverges into a family record of the sons of Levi: Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari, and Levi died at the age of 137 years. Then Korath begat Amram, who married his aunt Jochebed, and Korath died at the age of 133 years. And Amram was the father of Aaron and Moses, before he died at the age of 137 years. Even considering that Moses was eighty years old at this time, there are not enough generations listed to fill the 430 years between the time Levi moved to Egypt with his father Jacob and the Exodus. That 430 years is called out in Exodus 12:40. The forefathers of Moses would have each had to have lived at least 180 years to make the math work. )
And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses, the very Aaron and Moses to whom the LORD said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies. The very Aaron and Moses who told Pharaoh king of Egypt to let them bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: these are that Moses and Aaron. The very ones.
GOD: I repeat: I am the LORD: speak thou unto Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I say unto thee.
MOSES: And I repeat: Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?
Now we arrive at the sequence of the Ten Plagues. Each cycle begins with God telling Moses to request a few days of religious leave for the Hebrews, and if the religious leave is not granted, Moses will do something with his wizard’s staff to change Pharaoh’s mind. More often than not, Pharaoh’s court wizards are able to duplicate the plague on a small scale, so Pharaoh is not impressed and denies the religious leave.
Before the good stuff started, Moses did various magic tricks with his staff, such as turning it into a snake, but Pharaoh’s own magicians were able to match him trick for trick.
Now God had purchased ten very expensive plagues from the plague stand, and it wouldn’t do to have Pharaoh just let the Israelites take their leave before God had a chance to light all of them off. So he interfered with Pharaoh’s free will, and hardened his heart, which is to say, he used mind control to make Pharaoh refuse to relent.
The first plague was to turn the Nile River into blood, forcing the people to dig wells nigh to the river to drink. Pharaoh’s magicians were able to turn a bit of water into blood as well, so Pharaoh did not give in.
The second plague was a great swarm of frogs that would cover every square inch of Egypt. Pharaoh’s magicians were also able to make frogs, but they could not remove the frogs, so this time the Pharaoh said he would grant the religious leave if Moses made the frogs go away. Moses made the frogs go away, but Pharaoh went back on his promise and did not grant the three days of religious leave.
The third plague was lice, and Pharaoh’s magicians could not duplicate the plague, but Pharaoh did not let the Hebrews go on religious leave to worship God.
The fourth plague was a swarm of flies that only came upon the Egyptians but left the Israelites alone. Pharaoh begged Moses to remove this plague, but after Moses did, he refused to grant the religious leave. At this point Moses, though he wasn’t quite certain, began to discern a trend.
The fifth plague was a disease that exterminated all the Egyptian livestock but left the Hebrew livestock standing. Pharaoh still refused to let the Hebrews go, and in fact he probably took the Hebrew livestock because the Egyptians had cattle again by the seventh plague.
The sixth plague was a skin disease. Pharaoh’s magicians could not heal themselves, let alone heal anyone else afflicted in Egypt. But Pharaoh thought he could ride this one out so he “hardened his heart” (which is really to say God messed with his free will) and he did not hearken unto Moses.
The seventh plague was giant hailstones that killed any people or cattle standing outdoors. None of the hail fell on the Hebrews. Pharaoh admitted his guilt and Moses caused the hail to stop. After he did, Pharaoh went back on his word yet again. Yes, Moses was definitely starting to see a pattern here.
God told Moses to ask Pharaoh to grant religious leave for the Israelites again, but warned it wouldn’t actually happen because he was deliberately hardening Pharaoh’s heart so he could fire off all ten of his plagues. Moses winked at God, said, “I gotcha!” and went to see Pharaoh to do another round of the game. But this time Pharaoh broke through the conditioning and said, “Let the LORD be so with you, as I will let you go, and your little ones: look to it; for evil is before you.”
This didn’t suit God at all. In the wink of an eye Pharaoh revised his order to let only the men go. This gave God the opportunity to fire off the eighth plague, a swarm of locusts that ate every green thing in Egypt. Pharaoh begged Moses to end the plague, which he did. Then Pharaoh canceled the religious leave that he had previously granted. This gave God the opportunity to fire off his last two plagues.
The ninth plague was a darkness in Egypt so thick that the Egyptians could not even see each other across the room, while the Hebrews all had light in their household. The Pharaoh was weakening now. He told Moses to go ahead and take his religious leave, only leave all his cattle and sheep behind.
But Moses said no can do, because they needed the cattle to make a sacrifice to the LORD, and they needed all of it to provide a better selection. Pharaoh refused to let him take the animals, and he told Moses that he didn’t want to see his face ever again. The next time they met, Moses would die. Moses said Pharaoh spoke true, he would never see the face of Moses again.
Moses made one last prophetic utterance:
All the firstborn of the land will die at midnight. The firstborn humans, the firstborn of the beasts, and even the firstborn of the Pharoah himself. But all the children of Israel and their beasts shall escape this judgment. And when Pharoah’s servants came to Moses and bowed down before him, begging him to take the people and leave Egypt forever, only then would Moses go.
The Israelites asked their Egyptian friends and neighbors to “lend” them jewels of silver and gold, ostensibly to wear for the feast, and much clothing for the trip. Not having heard about the threat to kill all the firstborn of Egypt, they all assumed the Hebrews would return within a week after their religious leave and return their jewelry so they were happy to oblige, Of course the Hebrews had no intention of giving it back, and they would keep the jewelry even up until the time at Mt. Sinai when God carved tablets ordering them to never, ever steal.
On this night the children of Israel would become an independent nation. It would be, essentially, their Fourth of July. God told them it would be New Year’s Day for them, and he described the Passover ritual, which involved each family killing a lamb without blemish, marking their front door with the lamb’s blood in a Sign of a Cross, roasting the lamb, and eating it in haste while Samael, the Angel of Death, passed over the land of Egypt smiting the firstborn of every house where there was not a token of blood on the front door.
“And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.”
The lamb was to be killed without breaking any of its bones, which to Christians foreshadowed Christ as the ultimate Paschal Lamb, or Pascha in Aramaic, based on the Egyptian “Pesach” which essentially means coup de grace. This plague was the final straw that broke Pharaoh’s back. Because:
…it came to pass, that at midnight the LORD smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharoah that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead…
Now Pharaoh, speaking through agents, told Moses to take his people and flocks and herds out from his people and go serve God on his oft-requested religious leave. What he had in mind, of course, was merely a temporary leave of absence, and he was counting on the Israelites coming back to make more bricks later.
So a great multitude went into the desert on foot, six hundred thousand adults, all their children, and their animals. This crowd was not pure Hebrew, but included those of mixed ancestry, half-Hebrew and half-Egyptian. They were in such a big hurry that they had to eat unleavened bread, because there was never time to let the bread rise, and that is in fact what the feast of unleavened bread commemorates, the necessity to make do when responding immediately to God.
The entire span of the House of Israel in Egypt was four hundred thirty years to the day, bringing us to the calendar year 1,497 B.C.E.
God himself led the children of Israel out of Egypt. He went concealed inside a moving pillar of smoke during the day, and at night this was seen as a pillar of fire which gave them light to see. He did not go straight to Canaan to show them the land of the Philistines, which he promised them, because he knew they would chicken out when the saw Philistine chariots, and scurry back to Egypt. As we’ll discover later in the book of Judges, even God shudders in the face of iron chariots.
Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, to honor the oath the House of Israel swore to Joseph to take his bones with them when God delivered them from out of Egypt. The migration made its first stop at a water barrier.
The Red Sea separates Egypt from Saudi Arabia, and at the Sinai Peninsula it divides into two long fingers of water that resemble the eye stalks of a snail. In ancient times the left eye stalk terminated at what is now Lake Timsah, or Crocodile Lake.
Timsah Lake and the Bitter Lakes are in the ancient depression of this old seabed. Perhaps the land has risen a bit, or the sea level has fallen. But so nearly flush with sea level is this whole area that a simple ditch dug in the 1800s was sufficient to link these lakes with the Red Sea once more, and create another link to the Mediterranean Sea to create the Suez Canal. So Timsah Lake was the “Reed Sea” spoken of in Torah, confused in the popular imagination with the “Red Sea”. In those days the lake was an extension of the Gulf of Suez and so it really was part of the Red Sea back then.
When it was obvious the Hebrews were not coming back to make bricks for Egypt again, nor to return the jewelry and clothing they “borrowed”, the Pharaoh took his charioteers and went out after them.
The tide went out, and the stretch of land between Lake Timsah and the Great Bitter Lake became mudflats that were dry enough for those who go on two and four feet to cross to the eastern shore, but those who went on chariot wheels had a little bit of trouble. Pharaoh and his Egyptian cavalry got stuck in the mud, and when they tried to hoof it their boots got stuck also. They could not escape before the tide came in and drowned all of them.
Then Moses broke out into song:
I will sing unto the LORD, For he hath triumphed gloriously: The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea. The LORD is my strength and song, And he is become my salvation:
He is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; My father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. Pharaoh’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea: His chosen captains also are drowned in the Red sea. The depths have covered them: they sank into the bottom as a stone…
The sister of Moses, named Miriam, broke out her tambourine and led the womenfolk in a spontaneous refrain.
There is a tradition in the Talmud that the angels of heaven started singing this song too, thinking it would please God, but God told them, “What the hell are you doing? My children are drowning and you want to sing about it?”
Now on the other side of the water barrier the migration continued east, but they went three days and found only bitter water. God led Moses to a tree, which, when cut down and cast into the the water, made it fit to drink.
After that, the two million migrants went to the place called Elim where there were twelve wells of water, and seventy palm trees for shade. That’s one well for every 167,000 people, and one tree for every 29,000 people. And nobody got thirsty or sunburned.
On a Friday, one full month after leaving Egypt the Hebrews came to the Desert of Sin and there was no food. On Saturday the people started to murmur, but God sent a bunch of quail that evening. Overnight God left on the ground white flakes of bread from heaven called manna which translates literally as “What is this?”
For six mornings the people could gather manna, until about noon when the sun grew hot and melted it away. He told them to eat it all and leave nothing for the next day, but some of the people didn’t trust Moses, and they squirreled some manna away, but it got rotten and wormy, and that pissed off Moses. On Friday he said leave some manna because the next day would be the first Sabbath of the Lord, a day of complete rest, when there would be no new manna to gather. Overnight into Saturday morning the manna they stashed away miraculously did not become rotten, so they had some to eat all that day.
Some of the people didn’t observe the Sabbath and tried to look for manna, but there was none, just like Moses said, and he was pissed off that they broke the Sabbath, but it was a new ordinance so it took a little bit to get used to. The people all stayed in their tents the following Sabbath.
The people ate this manna for forty years, for the entire time they wandered in the desert of the Sinai peninsula. Moses told the people to put a little bit of manna in a time capsule so their descendants could see what they had to eat. This ended up being placed in the ark of the covenant.
The next order of business was water. God told Moses to strike a rock in Horeb, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.
After that came the first test of arms for the Israelites, in the form of an attack by the Amalekites. Joshua was chosen by Moses to lead men into battle against them, while he stood on a hill with the rod of God in his hand.
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
When Moses grew tired, Aaron and Hur held up his arms for him, until Amalek was defeated. God told Moses to write in a book that he would utterly put out the rememberance of Amalek from under heaven. Which Moses promptly did. Then Moses built an altar to God and dedicated it by saying, “Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
Which exactly contradicts what God just told him, that he would wipe the remembrance of Amalek from the annals of the Earth!
Moses had sent his wife Zipporah and his two boys to live with his father-in-law Jethro, and now Jethro had taken them to catch up with Moses. When he got there, he noticed that Moses was spending all day judging the miscreants of the Israelites, and his caseload was killing him. Jethro advised that Moses delegate authority to minor judges, and Moses found this to be sound advice.
Exod.18:25-26 And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people, rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And they judged the people at all seasons: the hard causes they brought unto Moses, but every small matter they judged themselves.
But the curious thing is how all this judgment took place before God handed down his Law to Moses. How was that possible? Don’t Christians tell us God is the sole source of morality?
Moral relativism has been co-opted by the absolutists as a sort of straw man, much like the concept of “macro-evolution”. There is no such thing as macro-evolution, you see, only micro-evolution applied over millions of years, but its fun to put scientists on the spot by tossing the word macro-evolution at them and making them defend it when they don’t even hold that position.
The same goes for “moral relativism” which absolutists critique using nothing but word salad while social Darwinism quietly takes over the mainstream discourse in the same way evolution inexorably displaced creationism. A more accurate name for equilibrium morality is moral naturalism: evolutionary game-theory applied to ethics.
About two months after leaving Egypt the people came to the foot of Mount Sinai near the southern tip of the triangular peninsula. Moses went to the summit, where God announced that the Israelites had been chosen to be his priestly people. They would be a race of priests among the human race, participating in the ritual sacrifices, just as the Aaronic priesthood would be super-duper priests among the Israelites themselves who would perform the actual sacrifices. Moses went back down and told the people that’s what God had in mind. And he told them to get ready, and not have sex for three days, because on the third day God was going to land on Mount Sinai.
And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
But something had happened to God in the years since he used to walk in the Garden of Eden, or have a picnic with Abraham. He didn’t want the people to come too close to him anymore.
“Away, get thee down, and thou shalt come up, thou, and Aaron with thee: but let not the priests and the people break through to come up unto the LORD, lest he break forth upon them.”
Then God spoke to Moses the Ten Commandments (orally before committing them to stone):
1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.
3. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5. Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
6. Thou shalt not kill.
7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8. Thou shalt not steal.
9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.
Catholics traditionally use the restatement of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy chapter five as the template for the Ten Commandments which they teach catechumens. It more clearly states the precept of not coveting another man’s wife as separate from not coveting his earthly goods. In order to maintain the number ten (because Exodus itself, in chapter 34, calls them the ten commandments), the first two commandments are merged into one, to read “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
Thus, Catholic catechisms often will not state the commandment against making graven images because it’s “covered” by saying have no other gods. Anti-Catholic Protestant sects such as the Seventh Day Adventists jump on that omission, claiming that Rome “changed the Bible” to allow devotions using Marian statuary, but that is not precisely true. Catholic Bibles retain the original text.
- If you buy a Hebrew slave, he only works six years, and in seventh he goes free, unless he’s a she, then she never goes free.
- Kidnapping for the purpose of slavery is a capital crime.
- Beating a slave to death is only punishable if the slave dies quick. If he lingers for a day or two, no biggie.
- Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
- Maiming a slave shall be cause to let the slave go free.
- If an animal is known to be aggressive in the past, and the owner did nothing, and it kills a man, then the owner dies too.
- The going rate for restitution of stolen animals is five to one for oxen, and four to one for sheep.
- Grazing animals in another man’s field, or burning another man’s crops is considered theft.
- Killing a thief in the act is not a capital crime.
- If a thief does not have sufficient goods to make restitution, he goes into slavery.
- If you swear to God that you didn’t dip into the flocks you were keeping for another man, that’s good enough for the judge.
- If you seduce a virgin, she must become your wife, unless the father says nay, then you shell out beaucoup shekels.
- Witches are to be killed on sight.
- Sleeping with animals other than homo sapiens merits the death penalty.
- Worshiping a god other than Yahweh is also a capital offense.
- No teargassing strangers or putting their children in cages.
- No picking on widows and orphans, because if God hears about it, he will make your own wife a widow and your own children orphans.
- Lending money to poor Hebrews must be without interest and good luck making a living at that.
- Respect other gods and politicians (Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.)
- Don’t eat carrion like vultures do.
- No false reporting or conspiracy to commit false reporting.
- Don’t join a lynch mob.
- No favoritism for poor men in criminal or civil case law.
- If you see your neighbors animals running astray, round ’em up.
- Do not accept bribery.
- Let the fields like fallow every seven years.
- Don’t work from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday.
- Don’t even mention the name of the gods of the pagans.
- Keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Harvest, and the Feast of Ingathering.
- The men must stand for a personnel inspection by God three times a year.
- Do not cook a baby goat in its own mother’s milk.
Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel approached Mt. Sinai, but only Moses summited the peak to talk to God. The rest of the people had to remain on the flats at the foot of the mountain. Moses wrote all the rules that God told him the people must follow from that moment until the end of time, and read them out, and the people swore to obey all of them.
Then again went up Moses, but Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went to the top with him.
And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.
And this is most interesting because in the New Testament, St. John would claim, on multiple occasions, that no man has ever seen God.
Then Moses stayed on the mountain alone for forty days and forty nights while God worked on carving the Ten Commandments into stone with his own finger.
Now that the preliminaries of escaping Egypt and parting the Red Sea and drowning Pharaoh and fighting the Amalekites are out of the way, Exodus gets to the exciting part.
Moses took offerings from the people of gold, and silver, and brass, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, and fine linen, and goats’ hair, and rams’ skins dyed red, and badgers’ skins, and shittim wood, and oil for the light, and spices for anointing oil, and for sweet incense, and onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod, and in the breastplate, and made a dwelling place for God.
They made an ark of shittim wood two and a half cubits long, and a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half tall, overlaid with pure gold, within and without, and capped with a gold cover. It had a ring of gold in the four corners and two rings on each side, for staves of shittim wood overlaid with gold for porters to bear the ark. The stone tablets were put inside. Gold images of cherubim were made for the cover of the ark, despite God telling people never to make images of things in heaven.
A table was made of shittim wood overlaid with gold, two cubits by one cubit, and a cubit and a half tall, and it had rings and staves to bear it as well. The table was for the dinnerware and the candles and the showbread.
The exciting part of Exodus continues as God gives directions for making his tent out of ten curtains of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, adorned with images of cherubim, twenty-eight cubits by four cubits each. Two sets of five curtains must be attached together with a hundred blue rings and fifty gold clasps. Another set of eleven curtains, thirty cubits by four cubits, made from goats hair, is to cover the tent, but this time the hundred clasps are to be made from brass. Then another covering for the tent is to be made of ram skins dyed red, and yet another covering made of badgers’ skins.
Now on to the woodwork. Twenty boards for the north and south side of God’s tent, ten cubits by a cubit and a half, with tenon joints. The east and west side get six boards each. All the boards get silver sockets and bars of wood overlaid with gold. And a veil is to be made to divide the tent into just plain vanilla holy and super holy holy. The ark of the covenant gets set up in the super holy part, but the table for the showbread and the candles get set up in the plain vanilla holy part.
As Moses listened to God on Mt. Sinai, he continued to receive instruction on how to trick out the tabernacle (the tent of God) with fine linen decorated by needlepoint for the walls of the court which was to be so many cubits long this way, so many cubits long that, with pillars and sockets of brass and fillets and hooks of silver.
God also mentioned that he wanted the altar (five cubits square and three high) set up like a barbecue with a grate and pans to collect the ashes, and also to have the usual rings in the side so it could be carried by staves like the ark. The altar and all the dinnerware was to be made of brass. The children of Israel were to bring pure olive oil every day as fuel for the candles. Aaron and his sons and their sons were to keep the tabernacle in order from morning to night, and this was their job in perpetuity.
Moses tried to memorize all these detailed instructions but wrote nothing down, possibly because all the scribbling would have distracted God. But later when he was done speaking (and he was nowhere near done speaking) God himself would carve in stone the ten commandments that any child could memorize in Sunday School, just in case Moses forgot something.
God designated Aaron and his sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar to be priests and he told Moses to make a special garment for Aaron to wear with a breastplate, two joined sholderpieces with an onyx stone each engraved with the names of the children of Israel and set in ouches of gold, sitting on a blue ephod of fine linen that is gold and blue and purple and scarlet, a robe, a broidered coat, a mitre with a gold plate that says HOLINESS TO THE LORD, and a girdle.
God said the breastplate should have one row with a sardius, a topaz, and a carbuncle, a second row with an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond, a third row a ligure, an agate, and an amethyst, and a fourth row a beryl, and an onyx, and a jasper. The stones should be set in gold with the names of the children of Israel engraved on them. And the breastplate was to have two chains and two rings and two ouches of gold.
And Moses was supposed to bind the breastplate by the rings thereof unto the rings of the ephod with a lace of blue, that it may be above the curious girdle of the ephod, and that the breastplate be not loosed from the ephod. Also he was supposed to put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim so they would be upon Aaron’s heart when he went in to talk to God.
Beneath the hem of the blue ephod Moses was to make pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet, round about the hem thereof; and bells of gold between them round about, and golden bells and a pomegranates shall be upon the hem of the robe round about. As for Aaron’s sons Moses was told to make coats and girdles, and bonnets for glory and for beauty, plus linen breeches to cover their nakedness from the loins even unto the thighs.