I’m not planning to write about the entire Bible, but the second book is just as bananas as the first. Compared to Genesis, which has tons of stars, co-stars, and even a few leading ladies (who have actual lines!), Exodus is a one-man show—all Moses, all the time. The god that seemed somewhat benevolent in Genesis becomes kind of a dick in Exodus.
Ok, so we all know the story of Moses, right? Placed in a basket on the river, abandoned by his mom in order to save his life, adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh? Yeah, but do you remember that Moses’s sister is chilling right by the river and when the Pharaoh’s daughter is like “hey, here’s a Jewish baby,” the sister says “Oh snap, you want me to find a Jewish nurse for it?” and runs and gets her mom, then Moses’s mom ends up nursing her own son into a young boy before handing him back to the Pharaoh’s daughter.
Moses’s name is apparently a play on words. (Thanks to my Biblical scholars here: The Egyptian form of the name was probably Mesu, which signifies “born, brought forth, child,” and is derived from a root meaning “to produce,” “draw forth.” Egyptian has many roots common to it with Hebrew, whereof this is one. The princess’s play upon words thus admitted of being literally rendered in the Hebrew – “he called his name Mosheh (drawn forth); because, she said, I drew him forth (meshithi-hu) from the water.”)
Despite the mostly turgid prose in this book, there are some elements of poetry, like 2:22: “for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land” and 28:34: “A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, on the hem of the robe round about.”
But back to Moses, since this entire book is about him. One day he’s chatting with god, as one does, and is like “How are the Egyptians going to believe that I mean business?” and god is like, “No worries, I’m gonna give you some magic tricks to play on them.” These include: the rod that turns into a serpent (nice touch that the Egyptian magicians also turn their rods into snakes but Moses’s eats theirs), turning water into blood, filling the land with frogs, turning dust to lice, filling the land with flies, killing all the cattle belonging to the Egyptians, festering boils on people, hail + fire, locusts, days of darkness, and then finally the night of Passover where god kills the firstborn of every house not protected by a smear of lamb’s blood.
Before all this happens, god almost kills Moses (4:24) for not circumcising his son (I cannot BELIEVE how big a deal circumcision is to this dude), but his wife “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 are you to me.”
Changing names continues to be a thing. In 6:3 god declares that his name is JEHOVAH. Compare this to 3:14 after Moses asks what his name is and god gets all huffy: “I AM THAT I AM.” And 34:14 has “the Lord, whose name is Jealous…”
Anyway, Moses is a bit shy so he has to rope in his older brother Aaron to be the spokesperson, and Aaron’s the one doing all the magic tricks (rod turning to snake, water turning into blood). I love that the Egyptian magicians clap back and turn their own rods into snakes and turn water into blood.
Long story short, the Pharaoh finally has enough of these shenanigans and says get the hell out of my land. But god has Pharaoh change his mind and he sends chariots after them, leading to the famous parting of the Red Sea scene (Ch 14). After this little victory, we have the first song in the Bible, Moses singing that the lord is his strength and song and salvation, the lord is a man of war. (Yikes!)
The people start to get restless after days and days wandering the wilderness but Moses keeps them fed with miraculous bread and water out of nowhere. Finally in Chapter 20 we get to the commandments. THERE ARE SO MANY! Way more than the famous ten that we all know (thou shalt not kill, commit adultery, steal, lie, covet, etc.). In fact, the entire section between Chapters 20-23 are injunctions on what to do and what not to do.
In this section is the bit about an eye for an eye, only it’s so much better than that: “thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Daaaaaamn. Tooth for tooth! Foot for foot!
Here’s another of the many more than 10 commandments: (22:18) “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” WTF! The next line calls for death to bestiality practicers: “Whosoever lieth with a beast shall surely be put to death.”
In Chapter 25 god starts to get greedy and REALLY specific about the dream house he wants built. This goes on for several chapters as he micromanages the exact dimensions and decorations of the ark of the covenant and its surrounding flourishes. Same thing happens with the details of the garments the priests must wear, and number of loops in a curtain (50), and colors of linen used, etc etc. If anyone is having a bad day and wants to kvetch about their terrible boss, I recommend they come read Chapters 25-30 and feel better about their work life.
At the end of Chapter 31, god sends Moses down the mountain with a to-go box packed with rules and regulations, the famous tablets (double-sided printing is specified!) “written with the finger of God.” (Shout out to the Biblical scholar who says: ” It is idle to speculate on the exact mode of the Divine operation.”)
But what will Moses find at the bottom of the mountain?! In his absence, good old Aaron has built a golden calf for the people to worship- uh oh! God sees what’s going on and starts calling these sinners “stiff-necked people” which comes up a lot (apparently meaning stubborn). Moses is like, wait dude I can fix them, slow your roll. Then comes my favorite verse yet (32:14): “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” Hell yeah, take that!
Moses sees the party going on and breaks the tablets in frustration. Then he called for teams– who’s with me, who’s against me, and his team swept through the camp and killed “about three thousand men.” These are his own people. Nice!
He has to go back up the mountain which probably makes him crabby, or maybe it was having to fast for another 40 days and nights, but then he gets a second copy of the tablets. The final chapters (35-40) are extremely boring since they repeat all the details of god’s micromanaged wish list from Ch 25-30, only by saying that they are following the orders and executing that punch list.