Thoughts on Sunday School, 1/27/2013. Exodus 4:18-26 “Bloody Bridegroom” passage.

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***This is a long blog entry, just so you are aware. I won’t be offended if my few faithful readers skip over it entirely, but I felt the need to get the thoughts in my head written down, and if anyone has different or additional insights I would appreciate them!***

It was an interesting passage, one that has caused much theological scratching of heads. The teacher went through the passage not claiming to know all the answers and brought the insights of previous commentaries to bear as we puzzled out way through, and used scripture from other passages to shed further light on this confusing little story. After further reflection there are a couple of points that come to my mind.

One of the most puzzling-and annoying-traps that I feel like it’s VERY easy to fall into when reading scripture, especially the stories in the Old Testament, is falling into what I call the “Universal Character” application. In a nutshell, the people in the Bible-from Adam to Zechariah-are all these overarching illustrations of a “person” and we all relate to them. Every action, every reaction, every comment and conversation, is blurred into this “Person” who then has certain character flaws (cowardice, anger issues, lust issues, etc) and identical concepts are extracted to apply to all of us en masse. Characters in the Bible are no longer allowed to have personalities, and the fact that as humans they must’ve had personalities does not filter in to understanding their narratives. We’re repeatedly told we have a “personal” God who focuses on relationships, and yet we read scripture and the “relationship” God has with each person is kind of lumped into one general “thing.” No wonder people get so confused over the “freedom in Christ” passage in the New Testament.

The book “Quiet” by Susan Cain talks about introverts, and she even mentions Moses and Aaron as a great example of classic introvert/extrovert teamwork. But I never hear that when people delve into scripture. I hear a lot about where they are from, or what the extenuating circumstances are (which nation is in charge, who is fighting whom, what religions are popular at the time), but nothing about who the people are as individuals. For example, the burning bush scenario with Moses. People generally make the assumption that either Moses was a chicken scared of getting killed which is why he didn’t want to go back to Egypt, or that he doubted God. I’m not saying he wasn’t scared, but if you start with the premise that Moses was rather more of an introvert than an extrovert, his whole conversation with God was more of “Um, seriously God? Do you have any idea how screwed up I am? I’ve been thinking about me for a long time and I really care about the Hebrews but last time I tried to help I snapped, murdered an Egyptian, and then panicked. Plus, people laugh at me when I talk. I don’t ever know what to say, I am a complete failure at social gatherings. Even the sheep ignore me half the time. However, if you could provide an x-box I bet I could seriously throw down on Call of Duty.” Sorry, the gamer reference might of been a little much, but that’s sort of how I feel where Moses was coming from. And I don’t think God responded to him out of anger until the very end of the conversation because He KNEW Moses. He understood the way Moses thought and processed, and He knew that maybe it wasn’t that Moses didn’t believe in God, it was Moses completely and utterly doubting his own ability and struggling with his intense dislike of being in the spotlight. So God was very patient and showed Moses how He planned on bringing the Israelites out of Egypt. And God demonstrated all the miraculous signs He’d do, and I’m pretty sure Moses wasn’t doubting God’s ability to do those things (at least not consciously) I feel like maybe Moses was going. “Ok, throw the staff, it becomes a snake. Pick it up by the tail and it’ll turn back. But what if I accidentally step on it? What if I fumble and drop it when I pick it up? And in front of Pharaoh?! Good Lord, the Israelites are doomed to slavery forever.” By the end of the conversation, Moses sounds pretty darn panicky to me, and he starts grasping at ANYTHING to try and convince God to use someone else. God agrees to let Aaron come along and do the talking, but when Moses persists on trying to get out of it God puts His foot down and reminds Moses that since He is God He really does know what He’s doing.

I don’t know about other introverts out there, but I definitely need a kick in the pants to get started on some endeavors because I get so bogged down in how perfect I expect myself to be, because I have to be that way or someone will notice, that sometimes I don’t start things at all because I’ve already convinced myself I can’t. Careful planning is a great quality. Micromanaging how events have to occur in my head in order for success to happen while grossly inflating my own deficiencies is not a great quality. I’m pretty good at convincing myself I can’t do something, and I usually use half truth excuses very similar to Moses. For example: “I can’t plan that event because I’m super forgetful.” True. But more importantly, I hate calling people on the phone to arrange details, I hate having to write things down and send out invitations and keep track of RSVPs…really, I just hate planning events. But I use the super forgetful excuse because it’s true I’m forgetful and that gives me a way out. Moses used the “I suck at public speaking” excuse and God allowed him to have Aaron. In my example God would’ve given me my older sister.

Notice when Moses tells Aaron and shows Aaron all the miraculous signs Aaron is like, “Duuuuuuude that’s awesome! No problem, man, Pharaoh won’t know what hit him.” Ok, that’s pure conjecture on my part, but I think the fact that the conversation with God and Moses takes a whole chapter and a half and there is no recorded objection on Aaron’s part says something about Aaron’s response. Obviously, it didn’t take a whole lot to get Aaron on board with the idea. Under the “Universal Character” application, that would make Aaron more godly because he believed right away, unlike Moses that sniveling little whiner with the character flaws of cowardice and doubt. But later on, Aaron’s like, “crap. I am turning into one unpopular guy, all these people are super cranky. They keep asking for a golden calf, and yeah the Big Man might not like it much but seriously, Moses is still up on that mountain and this is turning into a mess.” More godly? Or maybe just more comfortable, excited even, about the idea of riling up Pharaoh, performing miraculous signs, and leading an entire nation out of slavery? That sounds like a great adventure, woohoo! Maybe Aaron is quite simply more of a man of action…dare I say it, an extrovert. I’m not saying Aaron WASN’T godly, and he most definitely was instrumental in bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, but I am saying that their personalities influenced their actions and consequently their understanding and relationship with God.

The Sunday School teacher brought out a passage later in Exodus where God is furious with the Israelites and is like, “Moses, I’m just gonna wipe these ingrates out and make you the new Abraham.” The teacher’s point was that if HE were Moses, he would’ve been like. “Sure! Go right ahead! They’ve been annoying the snot out of me, too.” And the fact that Moses DIDN’T do that testifies to Moses’ own brush with God’s judgment in the bloody bridegroom passage and so Moses was paying it forward so to speak. I’m not saying that’s not part of it, but goodness gracious, if I were Moses and God said He was going to make me the new Abraham I would be TERRIFIED! I would do ANYTHING to get out of that situation! Make me responsible for an entire nation, a leader, a legend, a target?! I’m not saying Moses didn’t care about the people of Israel or that he didn’t mean it when he pleaded on their behalf, I’m just saying he might’ve also been pleading on his OWN behalf. Moses doesn’t strike me as the type at any point in Exodus as someone who wanted to be MORE in the spotlight. Under that lens, under trying to filter in who Moses as a person was, there is more depth to his relationship with God. There is more depth evident in GOD!

Now I’m obviously stuck on this whole introvert/extrovert kick because of my recent reading, but there is more to our personalities than just that, God really did make us unique. So why do we constantly lump Bible characters as one archetypal person with a few character flaws designed to teach us a lesson? Scripture comes alive when you allow the people in scripture to be individuals. I get Moses. I do not “get” Samson. That guy was crazy. I’m not just talking about the strength thing, but the whole” rarrr grrr I’m the biggest baddest around and I’m not afraid to show it” mentality. He was a lot of action, a lot of facing life head on, and some delayed “whoops, should’ve thought about that first” moments. God used him for a purpose just like Moses, who was prone to a lot of delayed action because he thought too much. God had a relationship with Samson and Moses, and he used both of them despite their weaknesses, and He used them in a way that did take into consideration their strengths. But although I can relate to Moses’ reluctance to be in the limelight, I can’t relate at all to Samson’s boasting and gambling at his first wedding feast (which was a disaster) and then his insistence on marrying a prostitute. His life is full of action and adventure and maybe a bit of impulsivity and it boggles my mind. No, I don’t easily get how Samson applies to my life. I do not face conflict head on, even if I want revenge on someone the likelihood of me actually following through and doing something is pretty slim because that would mean conflict and I reeeeeallly would rather avoid that. It took me a solid two years of martial arts training before I could actually hit someone while sparring and I STILL had a bad habit of apologizing every time I made contact. I don’t understand Samson…but maybe someone else does. God comes alive when you remember that He made you-personality and all-and He wants a relationship with you-quirks and all-and how He interacts with you may be different than how He communicates with someone else because He knows you.

I think everybody who studies scripture has favorite passages that speak to them more than others, favorite books, favorite people in scripture. I love Ecclesiastes for instance. It’s probably my favorite book in the Bible. That doesn’t mean we can’t all learn something from different parts of scripture, it just means certain parts I’m going to really struggle with more than someone else with a different perspective and personality. For example, spiritual disciplines. I’ve heard a lot of sermons on solitude and meditation. I’ve got no problem with either of those. In fact, I happily use those to get out of other spiritual disciplines; like, ugh, fellowship. “You know, I just really needed to spend time in reflection and prayer yesterday, that’s why I missed service…” Mhmm. That’s an “O Holier Than Thou Cop-Out” and I know it. I probably did spend time in prayer and solitude, but I was also trying to blatantly ignore the Holy Spirit tapping it’s foot at me and telling me to get my butt in a pew. I bet Moses, on the mountainside surrounded by sheep and goats, had no problem with solitude and meditation either. I bet with his speech issues he wasn’t a big fan of fellowship. I can relate to Moses. However, I somehow don’t really think Samson spent a lot of time in quiet reflection, I have a lot harder time relating to him.

I digress. Back to the Bloody Bridegroom passage.

The other point that had me thinking was all this intense focus on Moses. What about his wife Zipporah? Story in a nutshell, Moses goes home to his father-in-law and makes an evasive comment that he wants to go check up on his homies in Egypt (no mention of the fact that he’s going to rescue them from slavery, or even that GOD is sending him to Egypt). His father-in-law is like, “Sure, Peace out.” So Moses takes his family and leaves, and they stop at an Inn and-this is where it gets weird-God meets Moses and goes to kill Moses. Most commentaries believe this is due to the fact that Moses has embarked on this journey to become the leader of the Israelites and he’s in violation of the only well established rule of the covenant at this point-all males in the household need to be circumcised. Moses’ son isn’t circumcised. So God is about to kill Moses, and Zipporah slices off her son’s foreskin and touches it to Moses feet and God goes away. This is where Zipporah, according to some translations, literally calls Moses a “bloody husband”. Bizarre, right?

Here’s what I find even stranger. Everyone focuses on Moses, and it’s true, as the head of the household he should’ve had his son circumcised. But the same commentaries state that maybe the reason Zipporah said to Moses, “You really are a bloody bridegroom to me now” because of the circumcision, is that she was strongly opposed to the idea of her son being circumcised in the first place. Sooooo, ummmm, isn’t Zipporah also kindof being taught a lesson here? Should we just ignore the fact that Zipporah just flippin’ met the one true God and realizing this she instantly completes the necessary step to remain in the Covenant? Furthermore, God is about to kill Moses, it is assumed that Moses is either too startled to act, or he’s struck with paralysis, or maybe struck ill. In other words, Moses is incapacitated. God doesn’t seem too fussed about this, almost like He planned it that way or something. But that doesn’t make any sense, why wouldn’t God just zap Moses instantly if he wanted him dead? It’s not like Moses can DO ANYTHING even if he’s now aware of the seriousness of his transgression. But Zipporah can……anyone else find that strangely coincidental?

Then some of the commentaries seem to overthink in my opinion, and are actually a little bit insulting. Asking the question, “Oh! But how would Zipporah know what to DO?! There must’ve been an Angel who told her what was going on or a serpent swallowed Moses’s legs up to his penis and she made the connection…” Really?! Ok. So daughter of a Midian Priest. Actually, one of the translations say “THE priest of Midian.” The one main distinguishing difference between the Israelite’s (of which her husband, Moses, is one) religion and all the others (and her dad is a priest) at this time period is circumcision. I mean, she’s had children with this guy, even if she had been walking around deaf and blind to religion she was bound to notice Moses was missing a piece, and she probably asked someone about it. Not only that, but to be opposed to circumcision she probably would’ve had to know what it was first. And the logical question from any concerned mother when her husband attempts to snip off a piece of her child’s flesh is “WHAT IN THE WORLD ARE YOU DOING AND WHY?!” The whole idea that Zipporah is somehow completely ignorant of the significance of circumcision to the point that she needs an Angel or a genital avoiding serpent to point out the solution to her husband’s transgression is, to me, a little bit ridiculous.

So, yeah. Maybe some of that passage was to get Moses’ head on straight and his household in order before he became the leader of Israel. Maybe part of that process was revealing the absolute power of God to Moses’ wife so she wasn’t constantly grumbling or opposed to the weird things her husband kept doing. Maybe God was both admonishing Moses for his conflict avoiding tendencies that left his son uncircumcised, and helping him out a bit by bringing Moses’ wife into the “know” so to speak. Maybe if Moses had been honest from the get go about why he was leaving to return to Egypt Zipporah would’ve believed him, realized the legitimacy of the one true God, had their son circumcised before they even left, and Moses would never have had his brush with death.

Honestly, I don’t really know. It’s a strange story in scripture and I’ve never studied it in the original Hebrew, I haven’t read every commentary on it (I seriously just Googled the passage on my phone and read three or four commentaries at random) but the more I thought about the passage the more of these thoughts kept growing and tumbling around in my head so I felt compelled to write them down.

By the way, yes, the teacher did ask for questions, comments, and insights throughout the class and no, I did not raise my hand. Yes, that is because I don’t like speaking up in a class full of people I don’t know. I was in a Sunday School for the first time in almost a decade. Fellowship baby steps.

 

****WOW, if you actually read all of that I feel like I should make a blog award or something for you. Thanks for putting up with the randomness of my blog 🙂 ******

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