While Moses was feeding the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro, a Midianite priest, he once led the sheep into the wilderness and came to God’s mountain Horeb. Then the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the center of the bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire, and it was not burned by it. Then Moses said to himself, “I will go over to see this extraordinary phenomenon. Why is the bush not burning? ”. And when the Lord saw Moses coming to see, God called to him from the middle of the bush, “Moses, Moses.” He replied, “Here I am.” God said to him, “Don’t come here! Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. (Ex 3: 1-5)
First, as in the drama, the scenery was marked out – it is the sacred Mount Horeb, otherwise known as Mount Sinai, which we will meet many times in the pages of Scripture. And they are dramatis personae.
There is he who speaks. He is named mysteriously, sometimes he is called the Angel of the Lord, other times he is simply called God. It should be clearly stated that the name Angel of the Lord was eagerly used to denote the presence of God himself, in order to avoid too blatant anthropomorphism. The man of the Bible knows that God is not what his imagination puts before his eyes, therefore he looks for various alternative forms of saying the name of God indirectly.
The first quality of God we come to know is his holiness. The same term will be used by Isaiah, who will see the glory of the Lord in the interior of the temple and the angels cry out in a hymn of praise: Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of hosts (cf. Is 6: 1).
Holiness is a purely religious category, only a religious man uses this term in principle. But the colloquial use of the word is misleading. For we most often think of someone as being holy when we attribute ethical perfection to them. “He is a holy man” we are talking about someone who endures life’s adversities with patience. Holiness in the original sense means something a bit different. “Holy” is the same as different, completely different.
Let us dwell on this thought. Holiness in Hebrew is expressed with the word qodesh, most likely derived from a root which means ‘to cut’, ‘to separate’. To be “holy” is, first of all, to be separated from what is profane, what is ordinary and everyday. Thus, holy things are those that are separated, that are not touched, that are not allowed to approach, that are dangerous because they are marked with mysterious power.
The most dramatic revelation of this side of holiness is described in the Book of Samuel, which describes the arrival of the Lord’s Ark in Jerusalem. The oxen pulling the cart carrying the Ark have arrived at their destination. But at the last moment they somehow jerked and the Ark staggered. Uzzi upheld her, but he was not empowered to do so, so the Lord’s anger against Uzzi was kindled, and the Lord struck him for this act, so that he died at the ark of God (2 Sam 6: 7-8). The author of the book describes King David’s reaction to being “troubled.”
Not only David was distressed, but also the modern reader of Scripture, accustomed to the image of God as a gentle old man, toothlessly chewing his joy and helplessly angry at human madness. It is our sense of superiority over God that even makes us sometimes refer to God by a pseudonym that challenges the biblical concept – often, as if we are ashamed of God’s name, we say sacrum.
Let no one suspect us that we are speaking sacred, because we are ashamed to simply say God. In the book of the American thinker I found an excellent comparison. Well, so often repeated by us vicariously, the sacred resembles an old, moldy lion, which is shown to the circus audience in order to arouse in them some kind of atavistic fear, while feeling completely safe. After all, such a lion poses no threat, unlike the one wandering in the jungle. The Living God, however, is still a young, dangerous predator.
Man understands what he can turn into action. Therefore, religion is not only a reflection on God, but an act in which we worship God. Therefore, in the conversation between God and Moses, a call was made – take off your sandals, because the place on which you are standing is holy. It is not holy in itself, but it has become so because the Lord is next to it.
Muslims still take off their shoes before entering the mosque. In some scholarly commentary, I read that the Samaritans to this day climb the holy mountain of Gerazim with their bare feet. In the first centuries, mature baptism candidates also stood barefoot to receive the sacrament. It was a sign of purity of heart, ready to accept the word spoken by the Lord from the Fire Bush. There is a clue in this for anyone who wants to read the Bible in the spirit in which it was written.
The Lord said: I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Then Moses covered his face because he was afraid to look at God (Ex 3: 6).
THE NAME OF THE LORD
We are at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses speaks with the Lord. God informs Moses that he has decided to liberate his people and lead them from the land of slavery to a beautiful land flowing with honey and milk. Moses is commanded: go, speak to Pharaoh and let my people lead out.
The two questions Moses now asks are significant. He asks first – and who am I, what distinguishes me from others, so that I have the right to go to my brothers and Pharaoh and demand such works? Moses does not ask God, on the contrary – the truly called one resists first. There is Kierkegaard’s saying that he who is called in the divine sense is cursed in the human. A vocation is not a call to honor, but to greater suffering. Moses knows what he is saying when he asks – who then am I to send me? He actually argues with God, but obeys and accepts the final verdict with humility.
And then he asks God – and when I come to my countrymen and say that the God of your fathers is sending me, then they will ask – what is His name? What will I say to them then? To understand the importance of this problem as Moses saw it, we need to become aware of the meaning of the name in the culture of the Ancient East.
The name wasn’t just a sound. A significant relationship was discovered between the name and the essence of man in his personal being – the person who wears it exists in the name, it expresses his most intimate essence. To know someone’s name is not only to have an insight into the secrets of a very personal inner life, but – above all – to have some degree of power over the one whose name has become my property. According to an outstanding expert on Old Testament theology, prof. von Rad, the ancients were of course convinced that human life was mysteriously grasped and defined by divine powers, but this certainty was by no means comforting until man knew who the deity he was dealing with at any given time. that is, until he knew his name and could not turn to the deity to arouse his interest in himself and his affairs. Without knowing the name of the deity, worship, that is, communal relationship, between man and deity was impossible at all. (Theology of the Old Testament p. 149).
The Egyptian priests kept the names of the deities secret, they were known only to initiates, and not to the common people. The Israelis knew this and would surely take the revelation of the name of Yahweh as a guarantee of election or confirmation of election.
Moses receives the answer: I AM THAT I AM. This is what you will say to the sons of Israel – THE ONE WHO IS, the God of your fathers … has sent me to you. (3:14)
The answer that opens the crater of mystery.
I AM WHO I AM.
What does that mean?
There are many opinions on this subject and we probably will not discuss them, leaving the matter to specialists, and I refer the interested audience to the literature on the subject.
It is noteworthy that God Himself emphasizes the importance of the revealed name: I am Yahweh. I revealed myself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but I did not make my name known to them – Yahweh (6: 3). The reader of the Bible is therefore referred to the deep meaning of history, which can hardly be called otherwise than the history of salvation.
But what is the meaning of the name?
The Bible does not know philosophical deliberations, it is not a book intended for the wise. Its task is to preserve the memory of the Lord’s great deeds, a memory which is to be a sign of hope. When is hope alive? Then when there is a clear awareness that the One who was with the fathers is also with those who listen to him now. God’s name I AM means therefore I AM WITH YOU. It is not a name that reveals the nature of God, as it remains hidden from man, but a name – a promise. I have not left you alone while you are slaves in Egypt, I will never leave you. I AM means “I am with you and I will never leave you.”
But there is another puzzling circumstance: the ancient translation of the Bible into Greek makes a significant interpretation of this name by translating it into the language not only of the Hellenes, but also of philosophers – ego eimi ho on, I am a being. Everything that is outside of me is nothing, and if it is, it is because I created it, I called it into existence from nothing. I am the only one who is simply existence, everything else HAS only existence.
Indeed, as many believe, such a translation is an abuse and a distortion of the biblical meaning of the Divine Name? Moses is sent to his fellow countrymen who recognize the name of God the Fathers. But he is also sent to the Pharaoh, to whom the name of the God of one tribe says nothing. The revelation of the Name of Yahweh is the manifestation of the universal authority of the Lord, who is not only the Lord of one tribe, not only the God of Moses, but also the God of Pharaoh.
The translators of the Septuagint reasoned the same. Willing to bring the meaning of the biblical experience to the Greeks, they strove to universalize it. The God of Abraham, Isaac, the God of Jacob is the God of all, He is WHO IS, and whom all worship, though they do not know His name.
May they be free …
We left Moses in the desert as he prepared to return to Egypt. So let us follow in the footsteps of his footsteps leading from Midianite land to the land on the River. The Lord told him that he would be safe there, because those who were waiting for his life had died (4:19).
But someone else was looking for Moses. Here is one of the most mysterious passages in the Book of Exodus: On the way, in a stopover for the night, Yahweh pounced on Moses and wanted to kill him. Then Sephora took the sharp stone, cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched [Moses’ feet with it, saying, “You are my bridegroom of blood.” Then [Yahweh] departed from him (4: 24-26a).
The scene – commentators emphasize this – resembles a mysterious fight fought by Jakub at night at the ford of the Jabbok stream – God fights with man, testing his faithfulness. Each reader is struck by something different. The anthropomorphism of this description is very naive: Yahweh attacks Moses and wants to kill him. Anthropomorphism in religious language can mean two different things that need to be discussed separately.
First, it may be the use of language that attributes to God behavior and actions like humans – here Yahweh like some warrior “throws himself and wants to kill.” Secondly, anthropomorphism can also mean confusion in presenting the true causes of an event and directly ascribing to God the effects of secondary causes. Moses got sick, of course with God’s permission, but this was different than if God himself “caught up” him.
The case was about circumcision, which from the time of Abraham is a sign of the covenant between the chosen people and the Lord. However, it was not yet established when it was to be performed, only at a later end (Lev 12: 3) it was clearly commanded that the boy was to undergo this rite on the eighth day of his life (like Jesus – Lk 2:21). It is not known whether Moses himself was uncircumcised or, more likely, his son, because his mother, Midianite, followed the customs of her people, which required circumcision only before marriage. Moses must have all his affairs in order, because he sets out to fight for the life and death – for the spiritual freedom of his people.
Aaron meets Moses, as God commanded, and they both go to the Jewish elders to present the will of Yahweh who wants to lead his people out of slavery. Moses, destined to be a leader, has no predispositions for this – he had a difficult pronunciation and clumsy language (4:10). Yahweh wanted Aaron to speak to the Jewish elders in the name of Moses, as if he were his mouth (4:16).
The conversation with the elders began with the story of what God said to Moses – when the elders heard this, they bowed down and fell to the ground (4:31). We can imagine their state of mind. After all, the memory of what was the content of the promise to the Fathers lived among them. The prolonged and more and more unbearable slavery obscured the apparent memory, but did not completely break it. Now comes the time of final decisions.
Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh. His demand is tactically moderate – just enough for the ruler of Egypt to allow the Hebrews to go to the desert so that they can offer sacrifices to their God, Yahweh. Pharaoh’s answer is logical from his point of view: who is Yahweh? After all, in Egypt I am the god and the divine governor, so who then wants to rule?
The ruler is trying to penetrate the motives of the Hebrews – this wretched nation is not only overgrown, but also lazy, instead of exerting all its strength in working for the legal authority. The repressions must be intensified – they are to produce the same amount of bricks as envisaged so far by the camp norms, while all organizational facilitations will be abolished. For the production of bricks, apart from clay, also chaff was used, which until now was supplied to the Hebrews. Now they have to try to get the chaff themselves, which was not so easy and required a lot of effort.
Obviously, that attitude caused a decline in production (sorry, it’s not a biblical term). The bureaucratic machine set in motion – Egyptian officials beat Jewish writers demanding that their lists continue to show significant production.
It turns out that the Book of Exodus can be read as an excellent political science treatise, the awareness of various mechanisms of power and their operation is so high. The writers who collaborated with the Egyptians were convinced that the difficulties faced by the Hebrews were the result of some mechanisms operating at the lower levels of government – the pharaoh is just and always takes the side of the weaker, one can appeal to him over the heads of small officials. There is a hidden conviction of the Tsar’s goodness here, to which one should appeal against the heartlessness of agents. But in reality it was the tsar-pharaoh who tightened the regime, so collaborator writers are deeply disappointed.
Their aggression, however, is directed not against the Egyptians, but against Moses and Aaron – the radical wing that begins to guide the nation. They make violent accusations against them, accusing them of missing an opportunity to improve the lives of slaves – we tried to negotiate better conditions for the nation’s existence in Egypt, but your frivolous tactics led to the failure of the whole combination: you spoiled our good name with Pharaoh and his court by giving him the sword to a hand to murder us (5:21).
But Moses remains, because he knows that the Lord is with him.
Let me begin by telling you about a matter that apparently has little in common with the Book of Exodus. I recently spoke to a very learned psychologist who was researching the psychological aspect of Satanism as a youth subculture. She said that one case was striking to her. Namely, the worldview of these children is actually very naive – God made the world, but He is somewhere high in the sky. There is man and Satan on earth. God is good but powerless, Satan is evil, but he is near and he reigns over the whole earth along with all matters of human life. So you have to deal with Satan, not with God, because you have to arrange your affairs with real power.
This reveals one of the greatest dilemmas faced by a religious person: either God is good and all-powerful – then where does evil come from? or is he good but powerless, so where’s his omnipotence? Who is the man to keep with, who is stronger here?
The tradition of Moses has survived in the memory of the chosen people as a memory of God’s powerful action. Yahweh calls on Moses not to lose spirit and to be full of power: Pharaoh will not listen to you, but I will lay my hand on Egypt and by my judgments I will bring my hosts out of Egypt, my people, children of Israel. The Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh, who stretches out his hand over Egypt, and I will bring forth the children of Israel from among them (7: 4-5).
For the first time, God’s power would be revealed at the next meeting between Moses and Pharaoh. Just as the Lord had commanded him, Moses threw the rod on the ground, and it turned into a serpent. But the devil does not sleep – the Egyptian fortune-tellers did the same thanks to their mysterious arts (7, 11). This only strengthened the stubbornness of Pharaoh, who still refused to allow Israel to leave Egypt. And now, in the pages of the Book of Exodus we are telling, the description of the plagues that struck Egypt because of the hardness of the Pharaoh’s heart.
Many treatises have been written in which attempts were made to find out what the Egyptian plagues were and how many really were. The Psalms speak of seven (Ps 106:29) and the Book of Exodus mentions ten of them. Were the plagues the result of extraordinary divine intervention, or were they natural events? Many biblical scholars agree with the latter for several reasons. The floods of the Nile often brought brown reddish silt that made the river waters look like blood and made it impossible to draw drinking water from it; After all, frogs were nothing strange in a country so muddy, although their excessive growth could indeed be a scourge; similarly, mosquitoes, bitterns, plague of cattle, ulcers, hail, and locusts.
Even today, the colloquial language has retained the term “Egyptian darkness” – a testimony of reading the Bible, which tells how Moses stretched out his hand, which caused darkness throughout the country. Scholarly commentaries say that this darkness was caused by certain climatic and geographical peculiarities, causing the south wind to carry with it enormous amounts of fine sand dust. Arabs still know this wind, which causes the periodic blackout of sunlight, and call it chamsin (I remind all readers of the Desert and the Wilderness of this wind).
The story of each of these plagues has a peculiar literary structure – first there is a description of the action of the element, then Moses goes to Pharaoh to get the people free, he receives his consent on the condition that he pleads with Yahweh for the end of the plague. But when the threat is over, Pharaoh refuses to keep his promise. Thus, the story of the Egyptian plagues can be treated as an extensive parable, compiled by biblical authors on the basis of historical material; as a story whose purpose is to remember what God is doing in making His plans come true, despite human wickedness.
The last of the plagues is the most severe. Well, the angel of death was to pass through Egypt, killing all the firstborn: from cattle, through children, not only in poor families, but also in Pharaoh’s house.
Only this will bring the expected result – Pharaoh will even insist that the sons of Israel, with their wives and all their belongings, leave Egypt. The Lord is mighty in all He has ordained, He is not a passive old man petrified on a heavenly throne. The man of the Bible lives by the memory of the action of the Living God, who is more powerful than the power of darkness. Yes, sometimes the descriptions of this action are terrifying, but a deeper reading into the Book will also reveal to us the merciful face of this Power.
THE MIRACLE OF EXODUS
A careful reader of the Book of Exodus may feel lost when he reads the account of the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt. He is waiting for the story of what happened to the Israelites during their departure from Egypt, and here the next chapter begins with a description of the ritual of the Passover celebration, which is to commemorate this event in the history of Israel.
Now it is appropriate to mention the principle of interpretation that should accompany every lover of the Bible. The Bible is not only read, the Bible must be celebrated. Otherwise, only he can read the holy text, who can understand why it is a source of such joy for people that they shout with happiness, as when Moses and the sons of Israel sang a hymn to Yahweh:
I want to sing for Yahweh who is glorified
he threw the horse and rider into the sea!
Yahweh is my strength and joy, He has become my savior
He is my God, so I want to worship Him
This song is justified by the content of the historical message that follows:
For when Pharaoh’s horses, with their chariots and horsemen, entered the sea, Yahweh turned the waters of the sea on them; meanwhile the Israelites passed through the sea on dry ground. (15.19)
But let’s tell you how it was in order, then we’ll celebrate. On a certain day, the Angel of the Lord came out and passed through Egypt, killing all the firstborn in Egypt – but in the sons of Israel not even a dog howled at man or animal (11: 7). The doorposts of the houses of the sons of Israel were smeared with the blood of the lamb, and this blood saved them.
A Christian understands very well who the lamb means when he hears in the liturgy of the Lamb whose blood has brought salvation. These words sound especially strong during Holy Week, Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday. We sing and dance in honor of the Lord, who first ate the Passover supper with his disciples, and then, having donated his blood on the cross, led not only Israel, but all mankind – and not only across the Red Sea, but across the sea of death.
Terrified by the defeat, Pharaoh agreed to release the sons of Israel that very night, and those hastily, feverishly urged by the Egyptians (12:33) went on their way. They took the not yet acidified bread dough with them, carrying it in cloaked bowls. Again, this will be a model for the Passover banquet in which, in remembrance of the Exodus, it was necessary to serve unleavened bread, such as Christ ate with his disciples, and which Christians use at Mass.
I am talking now about the use of Scripture by the liturgy, that is, about dancing the sacred text before the Lord. But it also has mysterious places; we feel anxious when we bend over them. What are we to do with this fragment, which tells how, before leaving, the Israelites asked – on the advice of Moses – for silver and gold vessels, as well as garments, and instead of returning the borrowed things, they fled into the desert with them. And so they plundered the Egyptians (Ex 12:36).
The explanation I find in one of the comments is this: these peculiar “spoils” were compensation for the torments and exploitation carried out by the Egyptians. Donate, priests professor, but something is wrong for me – this is how a worker in the communist system explained himself by taking the powder out of the factory, for which he did not buy milk for the children, but himself vodka. Such a translation is, to put it mildly, naive. We have a different moral sensitivity and we would like the Scriptures to convey to us such evangelical sensitivity from the very beginning of their pages. But before we heard that the disciple of Christ was to turn the cheek for the second blow, we had to learn the law, that is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Yes, such a code is also a progress in the ethical awareness of humanity, because we spontaneously want heads for a tooth and someone else’s life for an eye. So is this plundering of the Egyptians an act of just compensation? Maybe so, but the anxiety remains. Besides, were not there any ex post attempts to add a theological sanction (the Lord inclined the hearts of the Egyptians to be kind to the people …) to ordinary plunder?
We have already talked about the fact that the operation of the First Cause (God) and the second Cause should be distinguished, and the oldest books do not know such a distinction. Hence the misunderstandings. And besides – the Jews did not come out of Egypt, they did not become the Chosen People because they were the most perfect and the most moral. They were simply chosen, although they were sinful as all, to become heirs of the hope of salvation for all. And the Bible talks about it honestly, without hiding also embarrassing passages from sacred history.
And the flavor of this story about the sacking of the Egyptians is added by the fact that the Israelites cast a golden calf in the desert out of this Egyptian gold, an idol in their image and likeness. Stolen only makes false gods.
WALK THROUGH THE DESERT
We left the Israelites just as they crossed the Red Sea. It was a strange procession – in the daytime Yahweh walked ahead of them in the pillar of cloud and showed them the way, and at night he shone for them in the pillar of fire, that they could go day and night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left the people (Ex 13: 21-22).
This Cloud and the mysterious pillar of Fire is Sheekina, the visible sign of God’s presence, which will accompany the nation all the way to the Promised Land, and then live in the temple in Jerusalem.
But the Bible is not a story in which the heroes’ stories always unfold in their favor, and they are by no means spotless. Led by the Cloud, they murmur.
They have just seen the great things that the Lord did for them, and they are already complaining to Moses – what will we drink and what will we eat? In Egypt we had pots full of meat and we were never short of bread, but now you have led us out into the desert – so that we may die? When they left the Red Sea behind, a task a hundred times more difficult began to draw before them. Now it is necessary to get out of Egypt, which they all carried with them, in their memory and in their lust …
However, God is understanding. When Moses, despairing at the murmur of the people, pleads with him for help, he receives the answer that in the evening they will get meat and in the morning they will eat bread until they are satisfied. And that’s how it happened. A great number of quails fell on the Israelite camp in the evening, and in the morning they found something fine, grainy like frost on the ground (16:14). They didn’t know what it was, so they asked each other what it was – man huh, what is it? And it is in this wording that the name of the food they received on the way to freedom is remembered – manna. They were blessed with this manna abundantly from heaven, and the distribution was just, that is, it was not equal – it was not disposing to those who had more, and it was not lacking to those who had less (16:18).
Manna was a peculiar food. Moses warned not to leave her until tomorrow, everything that was collected had to be eaten on the same day, trusting that the Lord would give food and the next day. However, not everyone was that trusting. There was an opportunity to make supplies – after all, you never know what will be tomorrow, what idea will come to Moses and other leaders, so you have to protect yourself and keep at least a small reserve for later. But what the surprise, and perhaps even the horror of all those hamster-wise men, must have been when they discovered that the manna kept overnight had swarmed with vermin and stank (16, 20).
It is not difficult to guess that this scene has been the subject of consideration by numerous commentators and preachers, because it appeals to the imagination and is a very vivid lesson of what the Bible understands by the concepts of obedience flowing from faith. To believe is to trust.
However, there was an important exception to the rule – manna was allowed to be stored only on Friday evening, so that harvesting the miraculous crop would not interfere with Saturday’s rest. Here we have the first mention of a celebration of this very day, except for the fundamental text in Genesis about the rest of the Lord and Creator on the seventh day of the week. Israel seems to anticipate here the order of celebration, which it receives as a commandment at Mount Sinai. But we have not reached this mountain yet, and many trials await the Chosen People on the way.
They go through the desert – and the desert is a problem of water shortage. And again there is the murmur of the people complaining about their fate, that is, about their calling. Moses cries out to the Lord, and the Lord tells him to take the staff that the Nile has struck and strike the rock with it – water will flow out of it and the people will drink (17: 6). And so it happened, a copious stream of water gushed out of the solid rock. The memory of this event remained for a long time, it was with Israel forever, although it was a bitter memory:
May you hear his voice today
Let not your hearts be hardened like in Meriba,
as in the wilderness on the day of Massa
Where your fathers tempted me
they tested me even though they saw my works (Ps 95).
And another significant episode crossed Israel’s path before they reached the foot of Mount Sinai. The desert only appeared to be an uninhabited wasteland, in fact it was inhabited by numerous nomadic tribes, constantly moving in search of food and water. One of such tribes was the Amalekites, according to the biblical genealogy (Genesis 14: 7) – descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, who did not receive a blessing from his father. Apparently, these wanderers felt threatened by the appearance of new arrivals in their area, so they decided to remove them by force. There is a fight during which Moses climbed the hill to cry out to the Lord for mercy for the people, with raised hands.
And the holy text says that when Moses had raised his hands, the warriors of Israel were victorious, but when his fainted hands fell, the victory tilted towards the Amalekites. Aaron and Hur, Moses’ closest associates, held up these hands, at last they put a stone under them to be raised in