Liberation and a tent.

Written by Blue Pipe Thoughts

I started reading Exodus during the season of Passover, because it seemed an appropriate read. But the story of the escape of the Hebrew slaves from captivity in Egypt, which forms the Passover tradition, rather surprisingly doesn’t make up a big part of the book. Neither is there very much detail about the time in the wilderness, which the Christian tradition during the parallel(ish) season of Lent draws heavily on. The vast majority of this piece of writing is taken up with the creation of a rather fancy and important tent.

  1. The story starts with a stupid and cruel Egyptian Pharaoh and some clever Israelite enslaved women, who save a bonny baby boy called Moses
  2. We move rapidly to the early adventures of Moses; his running away from Egypt and marriage to Zipporah (daughter of a Midianite priest, possibly called Reuel)
  3. God speaks to Moses in the wilderness of his plans to free the people from Egyptian slavery
  4. God teaches Moses some tricks, to help him prepare to impress Pharaoh – and then gets cross and tries to kill him – but Zipporah (whose father now seems to be called Jethro) saves him, by circumcising their son
  5. On return to Egypt, Moses’ first talk with Pharaoh makes things much worse for the Israelites
  6. None of the Israelites want to listen to Moses, even though he and Aaron come from the right family tree
  7. Pharaoh’s magicians can do all of the tricks that God taught Moses, so Pharaoh is unimpressed by him
  8. In spite of frogs, lice and destructive bugs, Pharaoh continues to vacillate in his decision about whether or not to let the Israelites leave, he really doesn’t want to let them go
  9. More plagues rain down, and there’s the threat of worse to come but God promises that the Egyptians won’t be completely destroyed
  10. God knows Pharaoh will not relent, but the signs keep coming in order that everyone will remember God’s power forever
  11. The final threat is made against all firstborns (human and animal), which will forever break the Israelites from Egypt
  12. The night where death passes over the homes of the Israelites is breathlessly recounted, as it is simultaneously re-enacted in ritual
  13. A reminder from God that the Exodus story is to be passed on to children forever, remembering also that all firstborn belong to God
  14. The escape from Egypt scene; complete with impossible odds of success, high drama, and close shaves
  15. Safely across the sea, Miriam gets out her battle tambourine and everyone sings of God’s victory – until they get thirsty and the worrying about how they will survive in the wilderness begins…
  16. Wilderness food and Sabbath instruction for a people who just seem to be too afraid to trust God
  17. The Israelites demand water and fight another tribe, and once again God demonstrates power through Moses and his magical staff, providing both water and victory
  18. Helpful Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) pops by and tells Moses that he works too hard and that he should delegate some of the work
  19. After 3 months of journey, the people arrive at Mount Sinai and Moses gets them ready to see God appear, shielded by clouds, on the mountain top
  20. Through Moses, God gives the people ground rules for right living and right worship
  21. The law is laid out along lines of renumeration
  22. Harsh but logical guidance is given for justice in common disputes
  23. A few moral teachings and instructions for maintaining the ‘set apartness’ of Israel as they prepare themselves to move into the promised land which is currently occupied by others
  24. Moses gets ready for an audience with God on the mountain
  25. God gives instructions for a bling altar
  26. God gives instructions for a very fancy worship tent
  27. God gives instructions for a portable altar, extensive drapery and eternal flame lamps for outside of the worship tent
  28. God gives instructions for ornamental priestly robes for the line of Aaron, which includes the inscribing of the names of the twelve tribes on precious stones to be carried on their shoulders and over their hearts
  29. God gives instructions for priestly ordination rituals
  30. God gives instructions for holy smells and temple tithes
  31. A reminder from God that Sabbath observance marks out people as belonging to God
  32. Coming down from the mountain, Moses finds that slippery Aaron has encouraged idol worship – for which 3000 men pay with their lives
  33. While the people are in disgrace, Moses continues to meet with God everyday in a tent outside of camp, seeking to know God better
  34. After pleading their cause, Moses is able to reestablish the shakey covenant for Israel, and his face shines with the glory of God
  35. The whole community is now excited about making the worship tent according to God’s instructions, and everyone contributes generously
  36. Thanks to the abundant generosity of the people, there is enough material to make the tent exactly to the design ordained by God
  37. Bezalel, the craftsman, is in charge of making the ornamental material to the exacting requirements
  38. Construction continues and a careful record is kept of the materials gathered and used
  39. The long, elaborate and expensive project is completed – Moses is very happy!
  40. Finally, Moses sets up the tent and altars – and God moves in

I felt very conscious while reading Exodus, that it is not my story. This story is only of interest to me in that it would have been important for Jesus and his disciples, and because imagery from it is peppered throughout New Testament writing. So skimming through this epic book felt like a disconcertingly straightforward task. 

Two of the things I particularly enjoyed in Exodus were the prominent role of women in moving the action forward, and the steadfastness of Moses. One of the strongest themes I noticed is fear; God is scary and Pharaoh is scary. Freedom is scary and hardship is very scary. The big point about that tent (that takes up so much of the book) is that it signifies the presence of God with the people. Something tangible. Something accessible and beautiful in a world where death and fear are daily realities, which make it hard to believe and trust in God. I began to see why the tent (and the temples that followed) were such a big deal for the nation of Israel.