A Basket Full of Leftovers

Writing is often fun, but it can also be difficult. One reason for this is that, while the story is exciting in the mind of the author, the reader remains the final judge. There is an inescapable pull on the author to write for the audience, to write to be accepted by others rather than write as inspired from within. On the other hand, such is life for everyone.

Ascribing the authorship of Exodus to Moses poses some problems. Some claim that it is improbable that writing would have been common enough in that period, but that’s nonsense. Moses, having been raised in Pharaoh’s court was educated. If anyone could have had the necessary skills, it would have been him. But the problems with the text itself are not so easily dismissed.

For instance, chapter 6 of Exodus is chaotic. This chapter simply looks like a jumbled mess of story snippets. Because of this, it’s not easy to see how a writer of a narrative would narrate such a choppy story. Read the chapter for yourself, and see if you can follow the story through.

If you took a second to read the chapter, hopefully you were able to spot the breaks. If not, look at one example below:

Now the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Go, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the sons of Israel go out of his land.” But Moses spoke before the LORD, saying, “Behold, the sons of Israel have not listened to me; how then will Pharaoh listen to me, for I am unskilled in speech?” Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, and gave them a charge to the sons of Israel and to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt.

Exodus 6:10-13 NASB

Do you see it? How does the last sentence fit with the previous ones? Keep in mind that “then” doesn’t occur in Hebrew, but is the translator’s choice for a coordinating conjunction (“and”). It makes more sense in English, but isn’t what is written. So, basically, Moses complains, again, claiming he has uncircumcised lips, and God ignores him, speaking to Moses and Aaron charging them to bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt.

The thing is, it’s such an abrupt disconnect, it looks like it belongs somewhere else, rather than in response to Moses’ complaint. If you don’t agree, read 6:30 and continue to 7:2. That makes more sense as a response. Ironically, Moses’ protest in 6:30 is exactly the same as in 6:12, he has uncircumcised lips. So, later on in the same chapter we have the same protest but with a different response by Yahweh.

Here’s another issue, even if you don’t agree that 13 is disconnected from 10-12. Those verses still repeat, in a summary fashion, the entirety of chapter 3, and the first part of 4. To a lessor degree, to the extent Yahweh sends Moses to Israel, verses 2 through 9 also repeat chapters 3 through the first part of 4. For the record, verses 6:28 through 7:7 also repeat the call of Moses and his complaint.

As if all this repetition weren’t disruptive enough to the narrative flow, then we have the abbreviated genealogy stuffed in there. That belongs at the beginning, chapter 2 for instance would be a perfect place for it. But, right in between two repeats of previous material, we have a portion of the genealogy of Israel’s sons, at least the first 3, mostly the third.

These are the heads of their fathers’ households. The sons of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn: Hanoch and Pallu, Hezron and Carmi; these are the families of Reuben. The sons of Simeon: Jemuel and Jamin and Ohad and Jachin and Zohar and Shaul the son of a Canaanite woman; these are the families of Simeon. These are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations: Gershon and Kohath and Merari; and the length of Levi’s life was one hundred and thirty-seven years.

Exodus 6:14-16 NASB

This portion is fine, but the succeeding detail of Levi’s descendants deviates from the format here, and none of the other children of Israel are detailed in any fashion. It’s clear that this portion of the genealogy of Israel’s sons is to lead us to Moses and Aaron. It’s an introduction, but in the midst of their ongoing work for Yahweh, not at the beginning where we would expect. It’s weird. And it disrupts the flow of the narrative.

So, what’s going on? Why the breaks? Why the repetition? Why would an educated, intelligent writer write such a choppy, broken, confusingly repetitive story? No one knows why, at least no human alive now. A better question is, what’s the point of the condition it’s in now? Regardless of whether Moses sat down and wrote this in a single sitting, or whether he pieced together several versions of the story he told at different times, or whether someone later compiled the various accounts Moses left behind, what we have is inspired by the Spirit of our Creator. What we have is what our Savior wants us to know now.

So, what is Yahweh saying through what we have in this form we have it? What is the point of the repetition? What is the point of the genealogy in the middle rather than the beginning? What is the point contained in this jumbled mess of narrative bits and pieces?

To answer this question, you can take several different paths to analyze the chapter. The problem with any of them is that the chapter and verse breaks are in the wrong place to do this. Work through it some time, but ignore the chapter breaks, at least into chapter 7. When you do, hopefully you’ll be able to see a point emerge and clarify.

I found, after I sifted through the pieces, but kept their order, that Yahweh was working very patiently with both Moses and the sons of Israel. But I also saw that these people were normal people, with histories, families, weaknesses, and struggling under the confusion of the messages. Yahweh sends His message through some oddball and his brother, a message that this God who has ignored their plight for so long will now defeat the most powerful empire on earth. That’s not how it looked from the mud-brick work gangs. At the end of day, they had little or no energy to contemplate their deliverance or even the God who promised it.

And what about that oddball and his brother? How many times does he have to be given the same message? How often will Yahweh put up with the same complaint about his lips? A lot, it seems. How often will I fail, and be forgiven? How often will you fall on your face, and yet have your Savior lift you up? How long will our Savior allow us to “finally get it” before He wipes us out? It seems that He allows a lot. And yet He draws us to Himself. And He calls us to be a peculiar people, special to Him from among all the peoples of the world. And yet, we are still made up of those frustrating boneheaded people He called out of Egypt.

Consider the grace and mercies of God for a moment. This is the context of Paul’s point in Romans 9 through 11, this strange mercy of God that endures with such patience a rebellious people. And yet, in the midst of their rebellion, He also calls in those who were far off, you and I. He calls us and adopts us as well, all the while waiting patiently for His chosen ones to return to Him. We have been shown mercy apart from Israel, but that day will one day close, and the remnant of His own will return to Him.

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:1-2 NASB

This is our response as Gentiles, as outsiders grafted in while God works patiently with His wayward people. Because He works patiently with us as well. Even while we benefit from the rebelliousness of Israel, we also learn from God’s work with them how He works with us. The point of the strange basket of leftover narrative parts found in Exodus 6 is that our Savior is patient, He is gracious to rebellious and weak people. There’s hope for us, those to whom He must repeat lessons over and over. There’s room for us, those too tired to look up and pray, to raise our hands in praise, or kneel without falling asleep. We are all called to gather at the throne of Jesus.

So, calling all oddballs and their brothers. Calling all tired and weary ones, burdened with how far they are from their Creator. Calling all of those who fail to understand after the first 60 repeats of the same lesson. Our Savior calls, and who will answer? Let us be transformed. It is time.