Monday, March 20, 2006

What profit is there of circumcision? (Exod 4:13-31)

After more than a bit of hemming and hawing, Moses finally agrees to his task, so long as God sends his brother Aaron to help him. After settling the matter, Moses returns to his father-in-law (whose naming inconsistencies I discussed a few posts back) and tells him he's going back to Egypt.

On his way to Egypt, God warns Moses that Pharaoh is going to be stubborn about the whole thing, and refuse to let the Israelites leave. This leads to one of the stranger issues of the Exodus story: Did God make Pharaoh's heart hard, and if so, why? The SAB points out both an apparent contradiction and an injustice here, but I think that it's the two put together that really explain what's going on. The thing is, it's actually a larger theme throughout the Bible that whatever a person wants to be, God will enable them to be that way. Pharaoh was the one who was stubborn, and since he was stubborn, God not only allowed him to stay stubborn, but gave further supernatural firmness to his resolve not to let the Israelites go. Was Pharaoh the one who hardened his heart, or did God do it? Both. Was this unfair? Maybe. It was what Pharaoh wanted anyway, so perhaps not unfair to him personally, but in the grander scheme of things, the question may still be up in the air.

Case in point, just a couple verses down we see that the end result is that Pharaoh's son will die. In fact later on, every firstborn male child of the Egyptians will die. Is this fair? Fair is a subjective thing in this world, and it makes it hard to answer the SAB's claims of injustice. (Somewhere back in the archives, I know there's a post where Steve Wells has many comments on the matter. Maybe I was thinking of this one?) A couple things come to mind in this case, however. First of all, Pharaoh is given plenty of warning that judgment is coming; probably more than any other individual in the Bible. "Hey Pharaoh, let us go or else your son will die. Just in case you think I'm kidding, here's nine plagues to help you mull it over." Second of all, remember that about eighty years back, the Egyptians had perpetrated acts of Genocide against the Israelites. Pharaoh killed all the sons of God's people, so God decides to kill a portion of their sons in retribution. Perhaps this is justice?

The last little story that needs to be addressed here is the story of verses 23-25. Frankly, it's a tough one to address. First and foremost, the SAB refers to it as absurd, and that's probably a good label for it. Moses has not circumcised his sons, for some reason this is a problem that gets him in trouble, and before you know it, foreskins are a-flyin'! What is going on here? Some scholars have suggested that Moses was unaware of the need for circumcising his kids until he met God on the mountain. After being made aware of the need for it, he didn't bother to take care of the matter, being worried that it would slow down his return to Egypt, perhaps making his sons unable to walk, or at least putting them at risk for infection. This would show a lack of faith on Moses' part, which would have to be dealt with. For some reason his wife takes care of it in the end, calling him a "bloody husband" because...?

Okay, for the most part I've been avoiding reading other people's commentaries on these matters before making my posts, but I'll admit that I read someone else's commentary on this very matter, and I liked what he said. Whatever the heck this passage means, it's pretty much incomprehensible to us today. There is something cultural going on here which was significant for Moses and Zipporah, but probably not so important to us. Maybe it meant something to the ancient Israelites as well. Probably. I'm letting this one go and moving on.


Brucker said...

For some discussion on the "bloody husband" story, see the comments on this post.

Anonymous said...

Galatians 5:1-6

Freedom in Christ

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 6:12-16

Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.

1 Corinthians 7:19

Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts.

Brucker said...

I'm familiar with those passages; can you tell me what you think they have to do with the above commentary on Exodus 4? After all, circumcision and uncircumcision wasn't nothing to Moses. It apparently saved his life! Anyway, in Moses' case, it *was* God's command.

Anonymous said...

"Pharaoh killed all the sons of God's people, so God decides to kill a portion of their sons in retribution. Perhaps this is justice?"

Killing person X because person Y killed person Z isn't justice, no matter how they were related, or even if God likes it. It's sick, wrong, and blatantly evil.

Applying this concept to the 'modern' history of religion is left as an exercise for the reader.

Brucker said...

Sounds like you're trying to make a case for an absolute morality that clearly is not based on the views of a deity. Any more interesting thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Hey mate- dunno if you have seen or said this in another forum but an interesting note to the pharoah issue. The hebrew word used when talking about the hardening of pharoahs heart was the word that i once read meant "challenged." Bascially meaning the mere fact that God said to a man who believed he was god was a challenge and in doing so stirred up the hardness of Pharoahs heart. Ultimately we know that pharoah who believed he was a god would never bow to God and therefore God didnt need to harden, only challenge pharoah as god.

Brucker said...

Interesting, if true. My resources on the Hebrew word don't seem to suggest that specific interpretation, but the word does seem to have a number of shades of meaning, so I suppose it's possible.

Brucker said...

All these "anonymous" comments are making for poor dialogue...