I recently finished reading Exodus aloud to others. The experience of moving slowly, and discussing the events with others, changes the experiene. It’s hard to read Exodus aloud without pausing for the evil that Moses does, and God’s grace to him. Moses is a murderer, a disobedient sinner, a liar, a great killer – and somoene God runs after.
Moses the Sinner
First, the slaying of the Egyptian:
Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong,
“Why are you striking your companion?”
Then he said,
“Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
So Moses feared and said,
“Surely this thing is known!”
Exodus 2: 11-14
Then, when God gives Moses specific directions for speaking to Pharoah, including enlisting the elders of Israel, Moses totally ignores the direction.
Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them,
‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying,
“I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”’
Then they will heed your voice; and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt; and you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now, please, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’
No Joseph-like wisdom from Joseph. No obedience. Moses promptly ignores all this, and instead issues a flat demand, leading to the most sympathetic question out of Pharoah in the entire narrative (for being in the same state of ignorance – not knowing the name of the LORD – that Moses was in just pages ago!)
Afterward Moses and Aaron went in and told Pharaoh,
“Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘Let My people go, that they may hold a feast to Me in the wilderness.’”
And Pharaoh said,
“Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”
And then, a grave error, clear from the literary type. Throughout Genesis and other biblical narratives, a clear pattern is the reliability of a witness is established by one character saying something, and another character repeating it. More reliable characters repeat more closely.
Yet, following the Golden Calf episode, Moses “reports” words from God that have no basis in the story, which Scripture does not imply God said, and orders an execution of Israelites that fulfills the words of the witnesses from early in the story, “Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”:
Now when Moses saw that the people were unrestrained (for Aaron had not restrained them, to their shame among their enemies), then Moses stood in the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is on the LORD’s side—come to me!”
And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together to him. And he said to them,
“Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘Let every man put his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and let every man kill his brother, every man his companion, and every man his neighbor.’”
So the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses. And about three thousand men of the people fell that day.
The Sons of Levi follow the word of Moses, not identified as the Word of God, and massacre their fellows.
Not surprisingly this scene is juxtaposed with Moses literally breaking the words of God:
So it was, as soon as he came near the camp, that he saw the calf and the dancing. So Moses’ anger became hot, and he cast the tablets out of his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain.