Welcome back to another blog post where, me, an Atheist, reads the Bible and finds lots of weird and crazy things. Continuing where we left off, Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving laws from God on stone tablets. The laws are nothing special, nothing a tribal society couldn’t create by itself and not much relevance for modern day. Let’s continue the story.
Up until the now, the Bible has been moving along at a steady pace. While there has been a few boring parts, there’s been plenty of murder and sex to keep everyone entertained. However, the second half of Exodus is very dull. Chapters 25-31 describe the covenant in mind numbing detail, how it should look, what it should be made of, the materials used, the exact measurements etc. There are details of what the priests should wear (basically they should cover themselves in gold that could be better spent on the poor) and tedious details of how animals should be sacrificed to God. God is pretty obsessed with how he should be worshipped, with is pretty vain of him. It goes on and on. These chapters could be cut out without missing anything.
The only part worth mentioning is that God tells Moses that when he conducts a census, everyone must give a ransom for his life (Exodus 30:10-15). Woah, isn’t this extortion? God’s basically saying that the Israelites are his property and he demands tribute from them in exchange for the right to live. Why? When did God switch from loving and protecting his people to shaking them down for money? Furthermore, everyone must pay half a shekel, regardless of rich or poor they are. Even conservatives think this is regressive. Why should the burden fall as heavy on ex-slaves as it does on nobles? It’s basic politics that in order for society to function, it must be seen as fair. This is God’s first every go at running a society and he’s not making a good job of it. However, he will ensure that there is no plague among the Israelites during the census taking to make it easier to count the Israelites (if God can stop disease, why not permanently stop it?).
Before he finishes up, God tells Moses that above all, keeping the Sabbath is extremely important (even more than murder and theft?). In fact “whoever does any work on the Sabbath shall be put to death” (Exodus 31:15). That’s extreme. Why exactly was it necessary to kill someone in order to pay respect to God? I mean the Sabbath is supposed to be a day of rest not a day of living in fear of being killed for “working”, which can be something as simple as lighting a fire.
However, while Moses was gone, his brother Aaron set up a new religion in the form of a golden calf. Now this is very strange because Aaron was supposedly with Moses when the plagues were inflicted on the Egyptians and when the Red Sea parted for them. How could anyone doubt God after seeing that? Either the Israelites were complete idiots or perhaps the miracles weren’t as spectacular as the Bible claims. When God sees this, he wants to burn all the Israelites (32:10), which again seems like an overreaction. However, Moses gets him to change his mind and spare them. Does this mean that God can be wrong? That mere humans can question him?
Moses returns and in a fit of rage he melts the golden calf, sprinkles it into the water and forces the Israelites to drink it. He then gathers the Israelites still loyal to God (including Aaron who claims the Israelites forced him to make the new religion) and tells them to kill everyone else (32:27). Would he not try to reason with them? For all their faults, they are still his people, why is murder his first reaction? In fact he even orders his men to kill their own brothers, friends and neighbours. This is pretty horrific, forcing people to murder their own family and friends over mere religious differences. ISIS aren’t the only religious fanatics, it seems that Moses behaves in the same way (with God’s approval). According to the Bible, 3,000 men are killed. However, this is not enough because even after all the non-believers have been massacred, God sends a plague, which probably killed a lot of believers too (32:35).
God orders the Israelites to keep marching towards the promised land, but will not go with them in case he kills them all. I’ll be honest, I’m still not seeing the loving God, so far we’ve only seen a vengeful tyrant who murders everyone who gets too close to him. God talks to Moses a lot face to face as friends would, but in the very same chapter God says that no one can see his face or else he’ll die. The Bible can’t make up its mind on this issue as even within Exodus it keeps bouncing back and forth, one chapter says no one can see God, then the next Moses sees God, then Moses can’t see God, then everyone can see God, then no one and so on. Genesis was a mess like this too, with even Jacob wrestling with God while the best Joseph got was a dream.
As Moses had smashed his stone tablets when he saw the Golden Calf, he has to go back up the mountain to get new ones. What most people, including myself, didn’t realise was that God doesn’t give him the same commandments again; instead he makes new commandments for Moses! This was quite a surprise to me as I presumed the Ten Commandments were set in stone (pun intended). In fact first time around in chapter 20, the rules were never numbered or referred to as the Ten Commandments, this only happens this time.
God begins by praising himself claiming he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” which is nonsense because he just massacred thousands of people in the previous chapter and considered exterminating all the Jews. So far he’s shown hardly any mercy at all and has been extremely quick to anger, nor have we seen any love at all. He then gives the new Ten Commandments which are as follows (Exodus 34:11-26):
- Don’t make a covenant with the people of Canaan
- You shall not make for yourself any gods of cast metal.
- You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread
- The firstborn animal and son belong to God and must be redeemed
- Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest
- You shall observe the Feast of Weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end
- Three times in the year all your males must appear before God
- You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with anything leavened or let the feast of Passover
- The best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of God
- You shall not boil a young goat in its mother milk
I’ll be honest, as commandments go, this are pretty weak. It has almost nothing in common with the first commandments and little to do with morality. It’s basically a calendar with reminders of holy days mixed with a cooking instruction guide. Living your life according to these rules won’t make you a better person or really change your actions that much at all. They seem like a random collection of rules that accumulated behind the couch rather than the divine source of morality giving rules for all eternity. They’re not even numbered so I wasn’t even sure which were the rules. How did a rule about boiling goat get onto the list instead of literally anything else?
Moses comes back from his meeting with God and his face is shining really brightly for some reason. He then tells them how to build the Ark of the Covenant, which is really tedious and boring. Considering really important stories like the creation of the universe, Noah’s flood, the Tower of Babel etc get about two pages, why does unimportant stuff like the curtains on the Ark get pages and pages? Whoever was the editor of this book did a really bad job. If all the important stuff is rushed through, why is so long spent on this boring stuff? It goes on and on from chapter 35-39 and to be honest I barely read it.
In the last chapter God goes to live in the Ark (isn’t God supposed to be everywhere and immaterial?). God also makes Aaron head priest and all his sons and their descendant’s priests too. Surely the man who created the Golden Calf isn’t the best person to lead your religion? I mean he’s been completely disloyal so he gets rewarded while everyone who followed him gets murdered? Where’s the logic in that? Also shouldn’t something as important as the priesthood be based on talent and devotion, not who your father was? Isn’t that leaving room for abuse and laziness? God skips over this and Exodus ends with God taking the form of a cloud during the day and fire at night. Because he can.