Browsing the Bible in 2014

Facebook Lent

March17

I gave up Facebook for Lent. So this is my fourteenth day social media sober. I was going to write about it before but it didn’t turn out to be the Big Deal I thought it was going to be. I mean, it’s a real addiction for me. I rarely let my brain be quiet for a minute without filling it with bits of news from my charming friends. I rarely experience my family doing something remotely funny without desperately needing to post about it and get validated by the “likes.” So I thought I was going to have serious withdrawal…at least eventually…when I gave it up.

It hasn’t happened. I’ve barely noticed. I mean, the urge to type up every little thing that happens is still there:

-Hey, guys, I just found out my husband doesn’t know how to spell our daughter’s middle name! I understood when we were still in the hospital with her, but…she’s two, dude. –

But then I just make a note and try to figure out how to work it into the blog – smooth, huh? – which I also seem to be neglecting. Have I just stopped needing attention? Am I content with real life? That doesn’t sound like me.

-So Audrey has a small stuffed grizzly bear and a little sock monkey and she’s been making them kiss a lot lately. Just those two.-

Oh, if you’re wondering, I did stop posting about the Bible. It was making me cranky and it was no fun for anybody else to read either. I will keep reading, eventually, but I don’t feel like writing. It was hard for me to keep the big picture and easy to get caught in the ickier details. Anyway.

Back to Facebook. Without it, I do feel calmer. I read more books. I pay attention to my kid more. I find there’s a lot more time in my day than I thought. Maybe next Lent I’ll go whole Amish. ūüôā

-Andy LOVES to tell me that, by dictionary definition, it is totally valid to use the word “literally” hyperbolically. It really, really annoys me. And that’s why he tells me.-

Now let’s look at a cute picture.

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Aud wearing her baby in a sling. Who’s my good little Attachment Parent-in-training?

Thus endeth the rambling post of randomness.

 

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Oh…we’re going there

February24

I am falling behind on Bible reading. Shocker, right? It’s hard to know how to deal with this stuff. I feel my options are A) Wow, this God is brutal; B) What looks harsh is probably an improvement on where society was – the idea that God meets us where we are and moves us forward a little at a time; or C) People projected plenty of their own scary values onto God.

I would sure like it to be B, but it doesn’t help you feel any warm fuzzies while you’re reading it.

So let’s talk about a hard passage here in Numbers. This is how a man is to deal with an unfaithful wife. Well, let me rephrase that. This is how a jealous, controlling man is to deal with his own anxieties about his wife’s faithfulness, even if he has no evidence whatsoever that she cheated on him. He is actually supposed to inflict this on her in order to find out. (You’ll note, no one cares if a man is unfaithful to his wife at this time.) He takes her to the priest, who mixes holy water with dust from the Tabernacle floor and the woman has to drink it. If she is guilty, the bitter water will make her abdomen swell and her womb shrink, rendering her infertile, and causing a lot of pain. If she is innocent, it won’t affect her and she will still be able to have children.

Now, the implication here is that if she should dare to be knocked up by some other guy, this will absolutely induce abortion. God-ordained, priest-induced abortion. Let that swirl around in your mouth awhile. This passage, as weird as it is, is the closest the Bible ever comes to addressing abortion. No, seriously. (And yes, abortion was a known practice documented elsewhere in the ancient world.) Do with that what you will.

This calls to mind another bit in Exodus that I just did not know what to do with at the time, but I have to mention now. In the long list of who you are allowed to kill for what reasons, many oddly specific scenarios are given. Here’s one: If two dudes are fighting and they accidentally hit a pregnant woman, who then miscarries, whoever hit her has to pay whatever fine her husband demands. “But if there is further injury, the punishment must match the injury: a life for a life, and eye for an eye…” and so on. Now let THAT sit with you a moment. The death of the unborn child does NOT COUNT as a life that would need to be balanced with another life. It’s not morally okay to cause that miscarriage, but it’s not the taking of a straight-up innocent human life that is roundly condemned everywhere else, and requires the death of the murderer.

Look, I’m not morally neutral on abortion at all. I’m not pointing these things out to say it doesn’t really matter. But I do find it crazy interesting that you really can’t make a solid Biblical case against it either.

Thinking about all this stuff is why reading the Bible is hard for me. Also, probably good for me. But, oh, so hard.

Let’s balance this passage by remembering how Jesus treated a woman caught in adultery. That’s straight-up CAUGHT, not suspected. Oh, yeah: “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone…Yeah, that’s what I thought. Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”

Let’s Party Like It’s 1600 BC

February20

God wants to make sure you know how to have a good time. Really! Cause there’s got to be some reward when you can’t have sex with sheep or sacrifice your children to Molech. So here is when you party:

Passover – No working on the first and seventh days of this one.

First Harvest – I don’t know if there’s a modern corresponding holiday for this one or not. And it doesn’t so much look like a party. Mostly sacrifice.

Shavout – 50 days after the First Harvest. Some sacrifice, and a day off work.

Rosh HaShanah – The new year, with a day off and trumpet blowing.

Yom Kippur – The day of atonement. Take the day off, fast, sacrifice, make things right with God.

Sukkot – 5 days later. Spend seven days living in makeshift shelters, so you don’t forget how tough it was when you came out of Egypt. First and eighth days you get off work.

More rules: Keep the lampstand in the Tabernacle burning constantly on olive oil, don’t plant your fields every seventh year. We depart from the rules for a minute to tell a specific story about a dude who blasphemes against God while in a fight. He’s held in custody until God tells everyone to stone him to death.

There are some curious real estate laws here I can’t completely follow. Ever 50 years is Jubilee. Everyone is to return to the land of their clan and, I think, give up ownership of any land they had purchased in that time. In fact, anytime someone sells property, they have the right to buy it back when they feel like it. Exception: a house in a walled town, a year after sale. Exception to the exception: a Levite can buy it back anytime. I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t know why I’m typing this part up at all.

Slaves are set free during Jubilee. Don’t ever treat a fellow Israelite as a slave, but you can treat other people as slaves, and pass them on like an inheritance. But don’t allow foreigners to treat Israelites harshly.

God gets very specific on how good it will be for people if they obey the laws. God will make their crops grow, keep wild animals away, let them slaughter their enemies, and hang out with them and be theirs. Of course, the horrific opposite is true for disobedience, including things that start to sound like exactly what is going to happen: enemies will occupy the land and the Israelites will be scattered throughout the nations. God forsees repentance and renewal though. God’s not gonna give up on them.

Here’s a fun little tidbit: If you decide to dedicate a person to God, you can pay the value of that person instead. And here’s what you can get for your shekel:

50 shekels: Male, 20-60

30 shekels: Female, 20-60

20 shekels: Male, 5-20

15 shekels: Male, 60+

10 shekels: Female, 5-20 or 60+

5 shekels: Male, 1 mo.-5 yrs.

3 shekels: Female, 1 mo.-5 yrs.

 

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Yeah, It’s the Bible Again

February19

Okay, we’re almost through Leviticus. Keep on chugging, keep on chugging…

Here are some more rules for you from God! (No, not actually for you. So don’t worry. Paul will tell us again and again in the New Testament that this stuff does not apply to followers of Christ, Gentile or not. So chillax.)

Don’t sleep with anyone you’re related to, whether by marriage or biologically. God goes into specifics here, but if you have questions, just…don’t have sex with family members, mmkay?

Don’t marry a woman and her sister while both are living (Oops, Jacob!) Don’t have sex with your wife during her period or for seven days afterward. No sex with animals. Don’t consult mediums.

Don’t let your children be sacrificed to Molech, a local god who was into that sort of thing, I guess.

Dudes can’t get it on with other dudes. If you’re tempted to keep this one alive as opposed to all the others, you should note in this time and place there was no such thing as a mutually supportive, monogamous gay relationship. What did go on was a lot of pagan naughtiness, including boys being used as temple prostitutes, something no decent person, gay or straight, would consider okay.

Again God notes this is all stuff those wicked Canaanites do.

There’s some more about caring for the societally screwed: Leave some of your harvest for the poor, pay your workers on time, don’t trip blind people, judge fairly, don’t be a bullying bystander, treat immigrants like they’re natives.

Don’t mate two different animals, plant two kinds of seed in your field, or wear clothes made of two different fabrics. Hmmm, where do you think GMOs would fit here?

Okay, a lot of these are repeats. Sorry.

Then we have a list of the punishments for these things, from death, to being cut off from the community, to infertility.

God gives the priests a lofty set of standards to live by too. Of note, they can’t be the ones to offer food to God if they are “blind, lame, disfigured, deformed, [have] a broken arm or foot, or [are] hunchbacked or dwarfed, or has a defective eye, or skin sores or scabs, or damaged testicles.” Huh. Sounds like a list of people Jesus would have had dinner with. My, how times will eventually change.

Over and out.

 

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That’s Icky. Don’t Touch That.

February15

I know, I know, the Bible again. Is anybody actually reading these ramblings? Look, I can’t stop now. Writing about what I’m reading makes me absorb it in a way I just plain would not otherwise. Seriously, though, sorry if I’m boring you.

Ahem. We’ve sort of been in Numbers and Leviticus, if you’re wondering. Chronological Bible and all.

We do some priestly ordination. There’s some special slaughtering so that God will appear as a big blast o’ fire at the Tabernacle. A couple of Aaron’s sons burn the wrong kind of fire for some ritual and God just burns them up right there. Moses, ever so sensitively, says, hey, God said God’s glory would be displayed.

“And Aaron was silent.” No doubt.

More God rules. The priests can’t have alcohol before going into the Tabernacle. Bunches of animals aren’t okay to eat: shellfish, birds of prey, camels, hares, pigs, certain insects, lizards, rats, doggies and kitties. You really can’t touch their dead bodies either. It’s not what we’d call a sin, it just makes you ceremonially unclean. You are also unclean after childbirth, menstruation, having bodily discharges, having sex. Don’t even get me started on the skin diseases. There are a lot of complicated instructions on those, involving repeated examinations by priests to determine how dangerous it is, and how quarantined you have to be. I mean, they weren’t fooling around: skin diseases, bodily emissions, animals that scavenge, these ARE great ways to spread cooties. And since we know how dirty those pagans like to play, it’s a good way to be as different from them as possible too.

My favorite quote under the skin disease category: “If a man loses his hair and his head becomes bald, he is still ceremonially clean. And if he loses hair on his forehead, he simply has a bald forehead; he is still clean.” Good news, guys.

Then we have instructions for observing the Day of Atonement, which would be Yom Kippur, I’m assuming. It’s the usual sacrifice-fest, plus a scapegoat that gets driven out into the wilderness with the people’s sins on its head. Also, the people have to fast and not work.

Then a few admonitions about not sacrificing anything outside of the Tabernacle, so nobody gets too close to sacrificing to the wrong kind of deities. ¬†And no eating or drinking blood in any form, because it is life. It’s only for sacrifice, because that’s where it has meaning. This serious prohibition will be why people look at Jesus like he’s nuts when he tells them they have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. P.S. He never for a second describes it metaphorically, and lets disciples walk away in horror over the concept. Food for thought.

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Don’t Do That

February12

Well, it’s about to get exciting here, for those of you following my Bible journey. 14 ¬†pages of Tabernacle construction!

Actually, that’s my summary right there: 14 pages of Tabernacle construction. You’re welcome.

God both hangs out in the space between the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant and in the Tabernacle generally and over it like a cloud. When the cloud moves, the people pack up and follow. At night there’s a fire inside the cloud. Super cool.

The place is dedicated with lots o’ animal slaughtering.

They celebrate their second Passover (first after leaving Egypt).

God discusses the five different kinds of offerings to be made – burnt offering, grain offering, peace offering, sin offering, and guilt offering. Some of these are for thanksgiving or general worship, and some are for specific sins. When you do a naughty, a really nice, valuable animal has to die in your place, and make you right with God again. I imagine this to be quite helpful. We don’t all see immediate, tangible consequences of the things we do. I mean, it sucks for those sheep and goats and whatnot, but for people, physical things can be more helpful than abstractions. If you’re like me. Not that I want to kill a goat. I really don’t.

Sins listed here include not showing up to testify when you’re called to, touching unclean things, making foolish promises, cheating in business, and keeping lost property that isn’t yours, obtaining anything by lying. P.S. When you make restitution for anything you stole in this way, you have to tack on an additional 20%. Cause you suck. Too bad these laws aren’t in place in our business world, eh?

Next time: More stuff like this.

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Forget this huge, brilliant, fiery God and bring me a statue of a cow

February9

I’m back at the Bible, and I’m not too far behind!

Moses has been up on that mountain talking to God for a long time, and the people get antsy. They tell Aaron to make them some gods, for pete’s sake. So Aaron, not knowing God had designed him some jewel-encrusted priest robes, says, “Sure, why not.” He melts down the people’s gold jewelry and molds a calf. “Here’s your god! Let’s have some drunken pagan revelry!”

I don’t know how that little cow compares to the big thunder-lightning-fire show they got from God on the mountain, but the little cow let them do lots of fun, nasty things, so I guess you choose the easy way out.

God’s not thrilled and gets ready to slaughter the ingrates. Moses talks God out of offing the people so recently and heroically rescued (“Dude, it’ll make you look bad!”) but then the second Moses sees it for himself, he gets some of the people on his side and they brutally kill the others. Moses tells them it’s what God said to do. Maybe it’s so, but it ain’t in the text and we have to take Moses’ word here.

Moses has chucked the two stone tablets God wrote the terms of the covenant on but he goes back for replacements and forgiveness for the people. Moses gets to sort of see some aspect of God going by.

God self-describes as “The God of compassion and mercy…slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.” That’s nice.

Moses is up and down that mountain a lot and sometimes hanging with God in his special tent, and starts coming back all glowy after these sessions.

Next time: A lot more boring Tabernacle construction plans.

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Queer Eye for the Holy Guy

February5

I’ve been slacking on the Bible reading. So here’s what’s happening. God gives the Israelites in yon desert a bunch of laws. Here are some highlights:

Don’t go up steps to an altar, because someone might look up your tunic.

You can be put to death if you dishonor your parents, are a sorceress, or have sex with an animal.

It’s okay to beat your slaves as long as they recover in a day or two. If you knock out a tooth or blind an eye, though, you have to set them free. If they die, you are punished in some manner.

You CANNOT screw over poor people, immigrants, and the other vulnerable people in society.

Celebrate Passover, Shavout, and Succoth every year.

God promises that, if faithful, the people will have food and water, no miscarriages or infertility, long lives, and fearful enemies who will, bit by bit, be driven out of the promised land. Moses writes down God’s rules and Israel agrees to the covenant. A bunch of elders go up the mountain with Moses and see God. The only description is of the surface under God’s feet.

Then God has instructions for building a tabernacle – like a temple made out of tents – and all the furnishings and holy items (Ark of the Covenant) and the clothing for the priests (which will be Aaron and his descendants). The design for each of these things is more particular than anything you will see on HGTV. We’re talking nine pages in my Bible here. There’s also instructions for dedicating priests and they’re pretty bloody rituals for how nice those priest outfits sound.

Then God reiterates the importance of keeping the Sabbath. Important like: you desecrate it, you die. You work, you’re cut off from the community. God is serious about the Sabbath. I think it’s super nice that God is hardcore about people getting a break.

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Whining in the Desert

February1

Bible 2014! One month down, people! But I feel I’ve barely made a dent. This book is THICK. I have over 1100 pages to go till I even see Jesus and let me tell you, after reading a lot of this early stuff, you really get a hankering for some Jesus.

So. Moses leads his peeps out into the desert. There’s no good water. There’s no food. Shoot, Moses, why didn’t God just kill us in Egypt instead of bringing us out here to starve? But God shows Moses how to make water appear, and sends a bunch of quail to eat in the evening, and this weird flaky stuff called manna (literally “What is it?”) to eat in the morning.

The Israelites have to fight off some Amalekites, who apparently make their living raiding settlements. The Israelites, led by a dude named Joshua, are ahead whenever Moses holds up his staff on top of a hill. After a while, a couple dudes need to hold his arms up for him. Thus: Victory!

Moses’ father-in-law Jethro comes to visit, bringing Moses’ wife and two sons he had apparently sent home to Midian earlier. Moses has been doing a lot of judging of the disputes his people have, and Jethro takes him aside and teaches him how to delegate.

The Israelites move on and set up camp at the base of Mount Sinai. Here God dramatically (thunder! lightning! fire!) meets the people, but Moses has go meet God alone to get the messages, cause Dramatic God kinda freaks the people out. God starts off with the Ten Commandments:

1. I’m God. You can’t have others. (People were totally used to adding useful gods to their repertoire of worship but not ditching them all for one alone.)

2. Don’t make an idol or image of anything in heaven or earth or the sea. Don’t worship it. I get super jealous. (A big early Protestant thang was interpreting this as ANY representative art whatsoever, and therefore trashing a lot of gorgeous religious art. A better interpretation might be to not make an image of anything that you then worship, since in a few chapters, God’s going to specifically tell them to sculpt two cherubim for the top of the ark of the covenant. Gonna side with the Catholics on this one. Although, Protestants don’t seem to care anymore. Didn’t all of our childhood churches have that painting of a white Jesus with light brown hair looking off meaningfully?)

3. Don’t misuse God’s name. (Something I do ALL THE TIME. I need to stop, as I heard my kid spouting off “Oh, my God!” lately. Ack!)

4. Do your work for six days each week, but take a break on the Sabbath. You can’t do ANY WORK, since God made the whole world in six days and then took the seventh off. (Happy weekend, y’all. Oh, and at this point, we’re talking Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. That’s the Sabbath.)

5. Honor your parents. This is the only one that comes with a “reward:” it’s how you get a long, happy life in the promised land.

6. No murdering. (Don’t worry: you can still kill people for many, many, many justifiable and complex reasons that we’ll get to later. Just not for…no reason.)

7. No adultery. (Though at this point in society, I’m pretty sure that only applies when a woman who belongs to another man is involved.)

8. No stealing. (Unless it’s land God promised you. Okay, now I’m getting way snarky.)

9. No perjury.

10. Don’t envy any of your neighbor’s stuff.

Well, I’d better stop now. You know you’ve got a serious hubris problem when you sum up the ten commandments and offer your personal interpretation on each of them. It’s one of my biggest problems…ever…theologically…no matter where I have ever been spiritually, I can promise you that who God is in my mind always happens to align perfectly with what I believe. Marvelously convenient, no? ACK.

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Exodus

January29

Moses, continued. I’m going to bang this epic one out in one fell swoop.

Moses grows up. One day he goes out to visit his own people, and apparently for the first time, sees how hard they have it. He sees an overseer beating a Hebrew slave and, checking to make sure no one’s looking (which shows complete intention and awareness of what he’s doing), he kills the overseer. Everyone finds out what he did anyway, and Pharaoh tries to kill him.

So Moses runs off to Midian, which is a huge hike across the Sinai peninsula into Saudi Arabia. He hooks up with Zipporah, daughter of the local priest, Jethro (or Reuel, the text can’t decide), and just hangs out, tending sheep, for a long time. Which is a very different world from the cosmopolitan, herder-detesting culture he grew up in.

The Hebrews still ain’t having any fun. They call out to God and God decides it’s time for action. God appears to Moses in a burning bush and tells him he’s going back to Pharaoh to get his people out of Egypt. Moses isn’t thrilled and doesn’t think anyone will believe him about the whole God thing, so God gives him signs – his staff can now turn into a snake and his hand can go leprous and back. Fun! Also, God reveals God’s own name – YHWH, something like “I am who I am.”

Moses takes his wife and son (or sons, kinda unclear here) and heads out for Egypt. On the way, God tries to kill him. Cause – wait, whaa? Zipporah grabs a sharp piece of flint and circumcises their son right then and there and touches the foreskin to Moses’ wang. God backs off. I have no idea. Although this is a good example of how important the rules are going to be. If you’re not circumcised, you are out of the club. This isn’t a God of universal grace at this point, this is a God who is building a serious, sustainable national identity that has to resist any outside influences or the whole message might get lost. It’s gonna get hardcore.

Moses hooks up with his brother Aaron, who is going to do more of the talking. Moses is worried about some kind of speech impediment or maybe he’s just terrified of public speaking like a lot of us are, so an exasperated God offers this as a compromise. I imagine it’s super hard to take on a freaky scary mission from God. Anyway, they get their people on board with the plan, and they confront Pharaoh, quite possibly a new Pharaoh by now, and ask for an animal-sacrificing holiday in the wilderness. In fact, this is ALL they ever ask for. Not complete freedom from bondage. Course Pharaoh may not buy this, “We’ll take a trip and come right back” business anyway. Pharaoh, in fact, is a bit offended and the impertinence and makes the slaves’ labors freakishly harder. “Thanks, Moses!” say the Hebrews.

Moses and Aaron go back to Pharaoh and do the staff/snake trick. Pharaoh gets his magicians do to the same thing, although Aaron’s staff-snake swallows up the magicians’ staff-snakes. Pharaoh isn’t too impressed, so God unleashes a series of plagues on Egypt, through the prophets. Pharaoh is too proud and stubborn to relent, and even when he sees something that convinces him of God’s power and agrees to let the slaves go, he backtracks the second the plague ends. Over and over. At the same time, it also reads as though God is purposefully making Pharaoh “hard-hearted” in order to be a bigger show-off. Either way, this here is the formative event of the Hebrew people, so shit’s gonna get REAL. Here come the plagues:

1. The Nile turns to blood. This is the lifesource of the whole country, the thing that formed so much of their religion and philosophy, and that everyone depends on. So, a big deal. The Egyptian magicians are able to mimic this sign as well.

2. Frogs everywhere. Again, the magicians can do it. But at this point, Pharaoh does his first relent and backtrack.

3. Gnats.

4. Flies.

5. All Egyptian livestock sicken and die.

6. Boils on the skin of the Egyptians and their animals (assuming there’s any left).

7. Crop-destroying hail.

8. Locusts, to finish off any remaining plants.

9. Complete darkness.

10. And then there’s the killing of all the Egyptians’ firstborn boys. A disturbing turnabout from the story that opened this section, which was the killing of all the Hebrew baby boys. God uses a big, dramatic, ritualistic setup before the night this happens. It’s like all the Passover laws and traditions to come were retroactively inserted straight into the narrative. Or not. I can’t prove that. Anyway, the Hebrews are told in great detail to kill a lamb and smear its blood on their doorframes. That night, God comes to kill everyone’s firstborn sons, but passes over the houses with the blood. And thus, lives are redeemed with the blood of an innocent sacrifice. Ooooh! Theme to come! Anyway, it’s morbid and depressing when everyone in Egypt wakes up that night wailing.

Pharaoh kicks them out (although, curiously, still only speaking about letting them go to worship God like they asked), with the enthusiasm of all Egyptians behind him. Moses packs up Joseph’s bones. The Israelites ask their neighbors for gold and silver on the way out, and they get it. They pack up their unleavened bread, because they knew they had to be ready to go and not wait for any yeast to rise. In the future, anyone with yeast in their house during Passover will be cut off from the community. Also, any strangers who want to celebrate the meal with them will have to get circumcised first. (I’m gonna just say that other than the copious wine, the menu for a Passover seder does not make this seem worthwhile.) Also, the Hebrews’ firstborn sons belong to God know, but parents are instructed to buy them back. God’s just being symbolic.

God leads them all out of Egypt, but doesn’t take them directly to the promised land, as they don’t seem to be up for an immediate battle (cause, you know, there are already PEOPLE in the promised land and they’re going to feel about Israel the way Native Americans are going to feel about Pilgrims). God guides them as a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.

They camp by the Red Sea (or some other body of water called the “sea of reeds”). Pharaoh changes his mind about the whole thing, maybe because they still never talked about leaving¬†forever, and chases after his slaves. The Israelites are trapped, but God parts the waters of the sea with a strong wind until they are like two walls the people can pass through. When the Egyptians follow, the waters fall in on them and swallow them up. The people of Israel sing a happy song, the earliest portion of which may be the verse Moses’s sister Miriam sings at the end.

Thus concludes the most dramatic, important event in Israel’s history, and our first big taste of the salvation theme.

Next up: Whining in the Desert

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