Monday, October 02, 2006

The Lord is a Warrior (Exodus 12-15)

A bizarre and so often overlooked incident happened shortly after Moses talked to God in the burning bush. The Lord encounters Moses’ son at a nearby inn and is about to kill him. Then Moses’ wife, Zipporah, quickly circumcises her son, touching Moses “feet” with the foreskin, saying “surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” So God leaves him alone.

I don’t really know what to make of this, but it is interesting that it follows right after God giving Moses his speech for Pharaoh:
Israel is my firstborn son…If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.
Moses’ own son is spared by circumcision, that is, by being identified with the promise of Abraham and Israel. It is a sign painted with blood.

So the people are given strict orders to eat the first Passover meal. It is a paradoxical celebration – the most lavish of all Jewish feasts is meant to be eaten quickly and on the run. They kill a spotless lamb and spread its blood on their doorposts, so that the disaster to come will see the mark and pass them by.

What is the connection here between circumcision and the Passover lamb? Why the importance of blood? It’s hard for me to put my finger on, but my mind inevitably goes back to Abraham and Isaac. Here a father gives his own firstborn son to God, only to find him redeemed with the life of a lamb. The mark, both of bloody circumcision and the blood of the lamb, signify that these people’s very lives have been bought with a price, and are chosen by God.

Against this claim stands Pharaoh with his vast Empire. His legacy is the casual drowning of Israel’s sons in the river. His policy is one of cruel slavery of those whom God had called to represent mankind. His attitude toward God is implacable defiance. And his horses and chariots, in their splendid armor, stand ready to slaughter this fledgling nation before it can even be born.

The Israelites are trapped against the Red sea, and begin to panic. But Pharaoh has underestimated his enemy. This is no mere tribal deity, this is no mere slave god. This is the creator of the world who brought the land up out of the sea on the third day. He parts the sea for the people of Israel and then brings it crashing down on Pharaoh’s great army – drowning the finest sons of Egypt in the river.

The people are astonished and praise the mighty warrior who came to their rescue:
I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father's God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a man of war;
the Lord is his name.
This is God’s grand entrance onto the world stage. He takes on the greatest army in the world and crushes it in battle. Egyptians and Israelites alike, now know that this is no petty ethereal spirit to be trifled with. This is the King of all the Earth, armed for judgment and for war.

I am a little embarassed to say that the reason I know this passage about Moses circumcising his son is b/c during a presbytery meeting someone used it as an argument about the dangers of not baptizing our children. *shiver*

I really don't know how to respond to that. On the one hand, I entierly understand the logic of his point. On the other hand, the implications of so uncritically bringing that part of the story into the present as if the stuff in-between hadn't happened... well... Wow.

I want to start reading this blog again, but I'm so far behind, I don't even know where to start...*sigh*

Oh dear! Well, I can't have one of my original faithful readers perplexed about how to catch up on my blog, now, can I?

Start by looking at the Genesis posts and see if there are any that you'd rather not miss. Don't feel like you have to read all of them - I don't know if they're all worth reading anyway! I highlight the ones that I think are more interesting.

Then read this post about what to do with all the difficult passages in Genesis. It's the framework I have in blogging Job.

Then check out Job. I also marked which post I thought more worth reading.

By the time you manage all that, (a couple months later) I should be almost done with Exodus. By the way, I respond to comments on old posts, so don't hesitate to contribute to any of the discussions! (Can you tell I like blogging perhaps a little more than is good for me...?)

Evidently somewhere along the way, perhaps during their time in Egypt, the Israelis had let go of the ordinance of circumcision. Later Jehovah tells Joshua to circumcise the Israeli men before passing back into the Promised Land. As you note, it (like the blood on the doorpost) marks this people as being different. On the other hand, while I can see the doorpost blood as a representation of the sacrificial blood of Christ, it is hard to see the bloody “sacrifice” of a foreskin as a type of Christ.

Yeah, I admit the circumcision connection is cloudy at best. The problem is that I don't entirely understand the symbolism and purpose of circumcision. I mean, sure it markes them as different, but I don't think it's ever just difference for difference's sake. There's always some meaning and purpose in there somewhere.

I am curious--I have always read this passage as God encountering Moses and wishing to kill Moses, not his son...

Also, concerning your question: "What is the connection here between circumcision and the Passover lamb? Why the importance of blood?" Jack Miles interestingly contends in his "God, A Biography" that circumcision is no arbitrary symbol, but rather that "Abraham's penis--and the penises, the sexual potency, of his descendants--is what the covenant is about. God is demanding that Abram concede, symbolically, that his fertility is not his own to exercise without divine let or hindrance (p.53)." (Definitely recalls Abraham's act of trust in offering his son as a sacrifice, an act that would seemingly invalidate God's promise)

So in the way that the bloody act of circumcision marks and identifies the people of God, a people whose future and fortune hinge not on their own power or prowess but on sheer promise, the blood of the Passover lamb provides a similar marker. God requires that the people of Israel be again marked by blood to distinguish and protect their firstborns (symbolic of their progeny/fertility/future) from the extinction around them.

Erika -

It's one of those tricky pronoun reference problems. It makes more logical sense to me having it refer to Moses son rather than Moses, and the pronoun still works, so that's what I assumed.

I like where you are going with your comment. Though I had an inkling of the symbolism of circumcision in my post on Abraham and Isaac, your post helps flesh out some stuff that is still somewhat elusive for me. Thanks!

Thanks! I will crack open my Hebrew text and take a look :)

Wow... I gotta remember that here in cyberspace there are people who actually know what they are talking about.

Hebrew Schmebrew...

or people who spent a lot of money to learn how rarely they do... :)

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