Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Jesus saith unto them, I am (Exod 3)

Having just addressed the issue of the proper name of Moses' father-in-law in my previous post, I can turn to the big issue here that the SAB overlooked in this chapter: How the heck can a bush be burning and yet not consumed? That goes against the known laws of physics and chemistry! Pardon me, this should be a short post, so I thought I might as well throw in some sarcasm to point out that I'm never quite clear how Bible skeptics pick and choose which miracles to accept and which to doubt. For instance, as a peek ahead, I see in chapter 14 that parting the Red Sea is left without comment, but having the wheels fall off the Egyptian chariots is considered absurd. Perhaps Steve Wells is commenting on the Lord's great love of slapstick comedy? Actually, the SAB does comment on the burning bush, but merely to remark that it's absurd that God would speak through it. I'm not sure why this would be, aside from the fact that sometimes I think it absurd that God would bother to speak with us at all.

While there aren't a lot of notes in the SAB to respond to for this chapter, there are a number of notable things in this dialogue between Moses and God. For one thing, Moses is clearly not happy to be sent back to Egypt, and keeps coming up with excuses not to do it, but God convinces him to do it. The other notable thing is the exchange in verses 13 and following, in which God identifies Himself as "I AM". It's of course fairly widely believed that God's name in the Old Testament, which is rendered in the Hebrew something like "YHVH", is derived from a form of the phrase "I am", which is similar in form.

On verse 16, the SAB poses the question, "Has anyone ever seen God?" I responded to this in a previous post, and while I admit that answer may not be highly satisfying for many, it's about all I've got. Maybe I'll expand on it sometime. (Or maybe I already did in another post, and forgot since then?)

The final verse has a very interesting foreshadowing--well, actually, it's more than foreshadowing, isn't it? The verse says that essentially, the Hebrews are going to steal a lot of stuff on their way out of Egypt. Is this a right thing to do?

First of all, I'd like to examine the words used here, both "borrow" and "spoil". "Borrow" is a word both in English and the original Hebrew that indicates that whatever they take is going to be asked for first. These women are not going to simply go over to their neighbors and take stuff, they're going to ask. However, the sense of "borrow" that implies it will eventually be given back certainly does not apply. Whatever they take when they go, they're certainly keeping.

As for the word "spoil", I think the true meaning of this word in Hebrew will illustrate the real point of God's will here. While there is definitely a sense intended of "spoil" in the more usual fashion of taking by force and leaving in ruin (and indeed, even the NIV translates this word as "plunder"), I think it interesting that this word in no other place in the Bible (besides the two passages quoted in Exodus) is translated "spoil". It is far more likely to be translated as "deliver" or "recover", the implication being, in just about every case, that someone is taking something away because in reality, they have it coming to them.

The Israelites served the nation of Egypt as slaves for about 400 years, and this is just their way of getting "back pay" if you will. It's like the concept of "reparations" that's been discussed from time to time here in America, which I think is a good idea in theory, but at this time in our history, difficult to put into practice. For all those people in our nation's history who used the Bible to justify their right to own slaves, it's a damned shame that none of them seemed to pay much attention to Deuteronomy 15:12-14, in which it is made clear that a slave was only to be owned for six years, at the end of which he was not only to be released, but paid liberally for the six years of service you received from him. Most people seem to miss this vital aspect of Biblical slavery, which makes it very different from our modern understanding of the practice.

(Note: On the SAB page on slavery, I notice that Deut. 15:9-10 is quoted, but that particular verse is not actually about slavery, but about loaning money. In that context, the "year of release" while yes, also being the year of release from slavery, is actually the year of release from debt, and God is saying, "Don't think you'll get out of having to take care of the poor just because you suspect they'll never pay you back.")


Anonymous said...

If I am going to "borrow" something, I have an obligation to return it. If someone owes me something, don't I have an obligation to assert the claim forthrightly and not, in effect, recover the item by deception? Or do you contend that "the end justifies the means"?

Brucker said...

But there is no deception here. It's very clear that the Israelites are going and not coming back. The claim that I am making in this post is that neither "borrow" nor "spoil" is quite the right English word to express what's being talked about here, but then, I'm not sure what would be a better word, and I'm not sure that it's so much a bad translation either rather than an odd concept for which no appropriate term exists.

Besides, if you think about it, if it were a matter of deception, it would be a very poor deception. Imagine your neighbor came over to your house and said to you, "Hey, I was planning on taking a trip out of the country, and I was wondering if I could borrow all of your jewelry to take with me on the trip? I'm most likely not coming back, so if you could pack it up really neatly for me, that would be great!" Would you give them the goods?

I think this is more along the lines of "Hi, it's me? Your Hebrew neighbor? Um, I was just coming by to let you know that God says you owe me and my family 400 years of back payment for services rendered; would you like to pay for that now, or later?"