In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
There are two plausible translations of verse one. The one above and "When God began to create the heaven and earth." This one leaves creation much more open-ended.
The cartoon may bring to mind all sorts of theological questions - "Who was God's third grade teacher?" "Can God be taught?" "Wasn't God here before all else?" "Just why are toaster pastries so good?" This simply means you are forgetting that Cartoonist's privilege sometimes trumps theological concerns and you are taking this way too seriously! But good for you for thinking outside the bell jar. Now from a scientific perspective it has been pointed out the solar system would never align like this (the bell jar would fall over or we'd be sucked into Neptune), that Pluto is not a planet (preposterous) and the spacing is all wrong (but it lays out nicely). So, this brings up another aspect of cartoonist privilege - science is no sacred cow either.
However, while the cartoons will try to find some humor in these verses, most also attempt to show something of theological value. In this case, God is so awesome that perhaps creation of the universe might just be one of those things God did one day when bored. We are so humanity-centric that we can't help but think the universe revolves around us, but science and theology both tell us otherwise. Reading the whole first creation story (all of Genesis 1), can put you in awe of its insight into the ordering of the universe and its origin. You don't need to be a creationist to see God's hand in creation!
4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5 when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up--for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6 but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground-- 7 then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8 And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 Out of the ground the LORD God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
This is the second creation story. Humans, male and female, were created in Genesis 1 and it was very good. So for those with a "humans are basically good" understanding of the Bible, Genesis 1 is for them. For those looking for more of an anecdotal "how humans messed up" approach, they find more material in this second creation story. Here it all starts out innocently enough. Adam (which means earthling or earth creature) is created from the earth and put in a nice garden. As in Genesis 1 God creates and it is good. There's a nice garden, a couple interesting trees, probably a sunny day. What could go wrong!?
15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the LORD God commanded the man, "You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." 18 Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." 19 So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken." 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Most parents know if you put a young child in a room with a toy and say "you can do anything you want but don't play with that toy," they are going to play with that toy. However, all is still well. Adam's naming stuff, getting lots of company and God, not Adam, decides he needs a partner. Enter Eve. Adam is ecstatic, but I'm not so sure the other animals aren't just a little bit jealous. One assumes that all the creatures had partners too, but that really doesn't contribute to the story until Noah and the flood. Humans being made male and female from the start (Genesis 1) makes more sense from a creation point of view, but this does explain nicely how we seem to be short a rib and it also establishes that Adam and Eve are made for each other. Also of note - nakedness is no big deal. Adam and Eve aren't really any more self-aware than the other animals, although Adam and God are working on names together.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God say, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?" 2 The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.'" 4 But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
I'll get to the serpent in the next cartoon, but here I simply strayed from the story to imagine Adam and Eve's courtship just a bit. It shows just how lame the classic bar pick-up line really is. It didn't even impress Eve, even though Adam was the only guy on earth.
Back to the story, we see the crafty serpent working on Eve to eat the fruit. Even though a lot has been laid on Eve here, note that Adam just happened to be with her presumably for the whole time without saying anything. So they both get to share in the blame. Interestingly the things the serpent tells them are true and false at the same time. The fruit is good for eating, but it sort of kills them in the long run. It was good for knowledge, but it didn't make them like God. If anything they now lose their innocence and can make bad choices (as well as good) and become responsible for them. As animals, they were ignorant and amoral, now they are self-aware and can choose between bad and good and thus moral with the capacity to be immoral. While they had free will before the apple, now (because of their knowledge) they really are responsible for their decisions.
8 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" 10 He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." 11 He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" 12 The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate." 13 Then the LORD God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate." 14 The LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel." 16 To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." 17 And to the man he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,' cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Here we get to the bad choices and consequences. God blames Adam, who blames Eve, who blames the serpent. The results are manifold. The serpent loses its arm and legs and must crawl on the ground forevermore. This explains snakes and ties the snake to the earth. It also could explain why women hate snakes. The woman gets pain in childbirth and subjugated to the man. Interesting. The man gets to work the soil, which will not be too fertile, for the rest of his life. This ties man back to the earth until he dies where he will return to dust. Remember it was from the dust he was created.
20 The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21 And the LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them. 22 Then the LORD God said, "See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"-- 23 therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.
Even though God kicks them out of the garden, God makes them clothes. That's kind of thoughtful really. God still loves them, even though they are bone heads. However, they still have to move out of the house (garden) and get a job. Worse, they can't go back. This actually seems like a metaphor to family life from just about any period in time. However it appears poor choices have cost Adam and Eve a very close relationship with God and a nice environment to live in. Some will suggest that this also introduces death into the equation, but I see nothing that indicates that they had eternal life to start with, because the tree of life in the garden is never really explained. So here is a story that can be viewed as humanities fall from grace (as well as for serpents) or as God still caring for and loving his creation even though they can't seem to use their new-found reason or knowledge all that well.
9 These are the descendants of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God. 10 And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. 11 Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 And God saw that the earth was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth. 13 And God said to Noah, "I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. 14 Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. 15 This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. 16 Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks. 17 For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die. 18 But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. 19 And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. 20 Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. 21 Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them." 22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.
This cartoon is a tribute to Bill Cosby's brilliant comedy story of Noah's call from God to build an ark, with a nod to Morgan Freeman's movie portrayal of God in Bruce Almighty. Clearly Noah was called to do something quite extraordinary and neighbors as well as probably his own family thought he'd gone mad. Noah himself probably wondered as well, as the directions and shear size of an ark would be very hard to build. Granted God's "part" was much more difficult, but being God helps with the big stuff. No doubt Noah was overwhelmed. Of course Noah was selected for his righteousness, but one wonders if that was code for the only one that was crazy enough to do it.
Then the LORD said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation. 2 Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals, the male and its mate; and a pair of the animals that are not clean, the male and its mate; 3 and seven pairs of the birds of the air also, male and female, to keep their kind alive on the face of all the earth. 4 For in seven days I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights; and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground." 5 And Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him. 6 Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth. 7 And Noah with his sons and his wife and his sons' wives went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood. 8 Of clean animals, and of animals that are not clean, and of birds, and of everything that creeps on the ground, 9 two and two, male and female, went into the ark with Noah, as God had commanded Noah. 10 And after seven days the waters of the flood came on the earth. [...] 24 And the waters swelled on the earth for one hundred fifty days.
The two creation stories were preserved sequentially at the beginning of Genesis. Here there are actually two flood stories interwoven. The easiest sign of this is the discrepancy in the number of each kind of animal, seven pairs in one version and one pair in the other. There are other clues, but suffice it to say that one of the gems of the old testament is that it preserves more than just one point of view in many cases. Being oral tradition long before it was written down, it is amazing that they decided in some cases to keep complimentary stories (such as creation) and even different versions of the same story (flood). Rather than being in conflict, this often adds a richness to the texts that may have been lost otherwise. A new testament parallel would be if only one of the Gospels was included, much would be lost.
Notice we pick up Adam and Eve as marginal characters from here on out. It seems fitting that they should add their perspective to the events that followed. After all, they started it. In this case, I'd vote with Adam - based on clean-up and before that, boat size, I'd pick just a pair of each kind of animal.
8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9 "As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10 and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11 I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth." 12 God said, "This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16 When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth." 17 God said to Noah, "This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth."
Rounding out the flood story, God sets up a sign of the covenant with the people - the rainbow. This is a great way to take something occurring in nature and using it as a reminder about God. In the cartoon the rainbow seems to be there to remind God about the covenant, but it's doubtful God needs a reminder, but anything that gets people's minds back on God is a good symbol. This is even more fun since it appears in the sky (heavens), after a rain (flood), is awesome (like God) and on display for all the people to see. So the large, colorful sticky note is there for our benefit.
Now the whole earth had one language and the same words. 2 And as they migrated from the east, they came upon a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly." And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4 Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." 5 The LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which mortals had built. 6 And the LORD said, "Look, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech." 8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9 Therefore it was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
How did all of the different nations and languages arise? Genesis, again, preserves two traditions attempting to explain it. First, in chapter 10, all the nations come from Noah's sons as they disburse across the land. A second account is given here with the story of Babel. Here "the whole earth" is still together. They attempt to preserve this unity by building a city and a very tall tower to make a name for themselves. This name or identity would keep them together. However, their plan is not God's plan. God confuses their language and scatters them abroad, and that's the end of their unity (or the beginning of their diversity). Notice the emphasis (underlines added) on the word "one" and "scattered" in this passage. Repetition is often a clue as to what is being stressed in the text.
In verse 7 God uses "us" while speaking about the mortals as is also done within the first creation story (1:26). In both cases most scholars think this is a use of the "royal we" (aka majestic plural) or an address to a heavenly court. It's hard to imagine that God feels threatened by people working and staying together, but whatever the reason, God doesn't allow it. Viva la difference!
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." 4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. 5 Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. 8 From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. 9 And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
This is the real beginning for the nation of Israel and the Hebrew people. It is God's covenant with Abram that begins the journey to nationhood and as a people. The main thing here is that Abram receive's God's call and in a tremendous act of faith (at 75 years old) sets out to the land of Canaan. God's promise to give all of the land to Abram and Sarai's offspring immediately sets up the story for some tension, as they don't have any children and are really too old to have any - or so they thought.
After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." 2 But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" 3 And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." 4 But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." 5 He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." 6 And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7 Then he said to him, "I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess." 8 But he said, "O Lord GOD, how am I to know that I shall possess it?" 9 He said to him, "Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon." 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. [...] 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, "To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates [...]."
Here, again, is the first of two traditions regarding the covenant between God and Abram. In a traditional covenant, the animals are split in two and both parties walk in between the halves suggesting if either breaks the covenant, the fate of the animals would be their penalty as well. In this covenant, Abram falls asleep and only God walks between the halves. This shows it to be a unilateral covenant putting all the burden on God. That's pretty amazing when the more powerful party takes on the whole promise. There would normally be no incentive to do that.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous." 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 "As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. 8 And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God." 9 God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. 10 This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. [...] 15 God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her." 17 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said to himself, "Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?" 18 And Abraham said to God, "O that Ishmael might live in your sight!" 19 God said, "No, but your wife Sarah shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.
Here is the second story of the covenant. This promise emphasizes the promise of land and offspring, but there is an obligation on Abram's (or now Abraham's) part - circumcision. Circumcision is a very odd choice for a covenant, but it wasn't unique to Abraham's clan. It clearly requires a commitment on the part of adult males and, as the cartoon title suggests, it would be easy to hide but impossible to deny. I have to agree with cartoon Adam and Eve though.
The name play here is interesting as well. Abram or Abraham means "my father is exalted" or "father of a multitude," Sarai or Sarah means "princess" (as in mother of kings), and Isaac means "he laughs."
After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 2 He said, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you." 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, "Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you." 6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together. 7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, "Father!" And he said, "Here I am, my son." He said, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" 8 Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." So the two of them walked on together. 9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. 11 But the angel of the LORD called to him from heaven, and said, "Abraham, Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am." 12 He said, "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me." 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place "The LORD will provide"; as it is said to this day, "On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided." 15 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, "By myself I have sworn, says the LORD: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice."
In most English translations of the Bible "God" is used for various general words referring to God and "LORD" is reserved for when the original texts use "YHWH" or Yahweh, the most personal, special, holy name for the God the Abraham (or Israel). Here God (Elohim) tests Abraham's obedience with a horrible demand of human sacrifice, but the LORD (YHWH) stops him from going through with it. In fact the whole first half of the passage is God and the whole second half is LORD. Abraham passes the test and it seems clear the LORD is saying that human sacrifice is not to be done. This story is rich with other insights and ironies, but suffice it to say that there is no record of Isaac ever going camping with his Dad again.
[...]10 Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and departed, taking all kinds of choice gifts from his master; and he set out and went to Aram-naharaim, to the city of Nahor. 11 He made the camels kneel down outside the city by the well of water; it was toward evening, the time when women go out to draw water. 12 And he said, "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 I am standing here by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the girl to whom I shall say, 'Please offer your jar that I may drink,' and who shall say, 'Drink, and I will water your camels'--let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master." 15 Before he had finished speaking, there was Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, coming out with her water jar on her shoulder. 16 The girl was very fair to look upon, a virgin, whom no man had known. She went down to the spring, filled her jar, and came up. 17 Then the servant ran to meet her and said, "Please let me sip a little water from your jar." 18 "Drink, my lord," she said, and quickly lowered her jar upon her hand and gave him a drink. 19 When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, "I will draw for your camels also, until they have finished drinking." 20 So she quickly emptied her jar into the trough and ran again to the well to draw, and she drew for all his camels. 21 The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful. 22 When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose-ring weighing a half shekel, and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels, 23 and said, "Tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father's house for us to spend the night?" 24 She said to him, "I am the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor." [...] 29 Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban; and Laban ran out to the man, to the spring. 30 As soon as he had seen the nose-ring, and the bracelets on his sister's arms, and when he heard the words of his sister Rebekah, "Thus the man spoke to me," he went to the man; and there he was, standing by the camels at the spring. [...] 33 Then food was set before him to eat; but he said, "I will not eat until I have told my errand." He said, "Speak on." 34 So he said, "I am Abraham's servant. 35 The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys.
19 These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, 20 and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. 21 Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. 22 The children struggled together within her; and she said, "If it is to be this way, why do I live?" So she went to inquire of the LORD. 23 And the LORD said to her, "Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger." 24 When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. 27 When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. 28 Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. 29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. 30 Esau said to Jacob, "Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!" (Therefore he was called Edom.) 31 Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright." 32 Esau said, "I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?" 33 Jacob said, "Swear to me first." So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. 34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.
Jacob is a sneaky little guy. Esau must have been incredibly hungry and not too bright. The first-born son gets a greater share of the family inheritance and the main blessing of the father. In this case Jacob cons Esau out of his birthright and later Rebekah and Jacob will con Isaac out of the blessing as well. The momma's boy wins.
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the LORD stood beside him and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place--and I did not know it!" 17 And he was afraid, and said, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven."
Well Jacob's ladder gets all the glory, but Jacob's pillow is probably partly responsible for a bad night's sleep. It's a rock! It makes one wonder who was the first person to realize that even a wadded-up robe would be more comfortable. Oh and by-the-way, the covenant is re-stated by God for Jacob showing that God also recognizes that Jacob is the successor to Isaac. Of course, God knew that already, but that's beside the point.
22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, "Let me go, for the day is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." 27 So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." 28 Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed." 29 Then Jacob asked him, "Please tell me your name." But he said, "Why is it that you ask my name?" And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.
As we can see here, Jacob is really into getting blessed. It's interesting that Jacob, now called Israel, is afraid of Esau, but wrestled all night with God or an Angel of God. At the end the author throws in a little tidbit about a dietary practice resulting from Jacob's injury. A good excuse for not eating something that was probably pretty tough to begin with.
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. 5 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, "Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf." 8 His brothers said to him, "Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?" So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. 9 He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, "Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me." 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, "What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?" 11 So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
The story of Joseph is one of the longest stories of any one person in Genesis. It spans almost 10 chapters or about 1/4th of Genesis. It is technically "the story of the family of Jacob," thus intended to be broader that just Joseph. In fact, it is very much concerned with the ethnic and tribal issues of Jacob's offspring even though Joseph maintains the central role. What is seldom mentioned about Joseph is that he was probably a spoiled brat. Jacob shows preference to Joseph, Joseph provides bad reports of his brothers, and then tells his two dreams to them. It is likely that two similar dreams and their repetition is to emphasize the brothers' hatred. Jealousy motivates them to try to keep Joseph's dream from coming true or, at least, it annoyed them greatly. Jacob seems to understands the dream and he is upset with Joseph for telling it to the brothers, although Jacob "kept the matter in mind."
An interesting side note here is that the story of Joseph is also the longest story about one person in the Koran, even though his legacy is not import to the genealogy of the Muslims. Comparing the two versions is fascinating, but for another time and book (such as (shameless plug) Joseph: a Tale of Two Traditions).
12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, "Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them." He answered, "Here I am." 14 So he said to him, "Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me." So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, 15 and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, "What are you seeking?" 16 "I am seeking my brothers," he said; "tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock." 17 The man said, "They have gone away, for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams." 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life." 22 Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him"--that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. 29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, "The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?" 31 Then they took Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, "This we have found; see now whether it is your son's robe or not." 33 He recognized it, and said, "It is my son's robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces." 34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." Thus his father bewailed him. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard.
Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers, who weren't where they should have been (another bad report for Joseph to file), so when they see him coming they plot to kill him. Then it is likely that there is a blending of two Jewish stories, Reuben the protector and Judah the protector. The result is the same, Joseph is sold to a caravan headed to Egypt (Midianites in the Reuben tradition and Ishmaelites in the Judah tradition). After Joseph is sold, the brothers put goat's blood on Joseph's shirt and take it to Jacob. Jacob, not the brothers, interprets the evidence and concludes that Joseph was "without a doubt" torn to pieces by wild animals. Then Jacob goes into extreme mourning over the death of the son of his favorite wife, Rachel (more so than when she died after giving birth to Benjamin, 35:20), and he cannot be consoled. So the brothers' jealousy causes them to act out of haste and then they must now live with the consequence of their actions. This also sets-up Jacob to be extra protective of Benjamin, as he is his youngest son and all that is left of Rachel's progeny (or so he believes).
Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. 6 So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate. Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. 7 And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, "Lie with me." 8 But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" 10 And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. 11 One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, 12 she caught hold of his garment, saying, "Lie with me!" But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, 14 she called out to the members of her household and said to them, "See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; 15 and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside." 16 Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, "The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; 18 but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside." 19 When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, "This is the way your servant treated me," he became enraged. 20 And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. 21 But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. 22 The chief jailer committed to Joseph's care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph's care, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.
One thing you can't miss from this passage is that the LORD was with Joseph and made everything he touched prosper. What is harder to see is that Joseph is still an arrogant spoiled brat. He flaunts success in the household in the face of Mrs. Potiphar, which is her domain. He has supplanted her. Whether she was drawn to him or just wanted him out of the house is debatable but she did succeed in getting him out of the house. Potiphar was no dummy though: what Joseph could do for his household, maybe he could do for his business. He was right, the LORD made Joseph's work prosper there as well.
Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker offended their lord the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he waited on them; and they continued for some time in custody. 5 One night they both dreamed--the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison--each his own dream, and each dream with its own meaning. 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. 7 So he asked Pharaoh's officers, who were with him in custody in his master's house, "Why are your faces downcast today?" 8 They said to him, "We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them." And Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me." 9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, "In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh's cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand." 12 Then Joseph said to him, "This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days; 13 within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. 14 But remember me when it is well with you; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place. 15 For in fact I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon." 16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, "I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head." 18 And Joseph answered, "This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; 19 within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head--from you!--and hang you on a pole; and the birds will eat the flesh from you." 20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, he made a feast for all his servants, and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his cupbearing, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand; 22 but the chief baker he hanged, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
In this installment, Joseph interprets two prisoners' dreams and asks one of them to remember him to Pharaoh, but he forgets. Joseph says that all interpretations belong to God (that God was with him was largely attested to in the prior passage). He not only asks the cupbearer to remember him to Pharaoh, but explains that he is only asking this because he was wronged twice, once by his own people (Hebrews) and once by false accusation from the Egyptians. His arrogance seems to be fading.
37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find anyone else like this--one in whom is the spirit of God?" 39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you." 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." 42 Removing his signet ring from his hand, Pharaoh put it on Joseph's hand; he arrayed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had him ride in the chariot of his second-in-command; and they cried out in front of him, "Bow the knee!" Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt." 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, as his wife. Thus Joseph gained authority over the land of Egypt. 46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went through all the land of Egypt. 47 During the seven plenteous years the earth produced abundantly. 48 He gathered up all the food of the seven years when there was plenty in the land of Egypt, and stored up food in the cities; he stored up in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance--like the sand of the sea--that he stopped measuring it; it was beyond measure. 50 Before the years of famine came, Joseph had two sons, whom Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. 51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, "For," he said, "God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father's house." 52 The second he named Ephraim, "For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes." 53 The seven years of plenty that prevailed in the land of Egypt came to an end; 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do." 56 And since the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world.
Joseph is finally brought before Pharaoh and has a chance to again mention that it is God that brings the message, he is just the vehicle. Joseph has perhaps found some humility! This would appeal to a king, to think that God would be trying to give him a message. So in front of the whole court Joseph interprets the dreams. The significance of the two dreams is definitive (fixed by God or unchangeable). Then Joseph quite humbly lays out a plan of what the Pharaoh should do about the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine: he must find a discerning and wise man to oversee the land (hint: Joseph)! The Pharaoh himself pronounces that Joseph is the wisest and most discerning in the land, acknowledging God in the process. He gives Joseph his signet ring, an Egyptian name (Zaphenath-paneah meaning "God Speaks" or "He Lives" or "Creator of Life") and a wife. Joseph's skills at administration are demonstrated and the famine has begun.
When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, "Why do you keep looking at one another? 2 I have heard," he said, "that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die." 3 So ten of Joseph's brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Joseph's brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him. 5 Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan. 6 Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph's brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. 7 When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. "Where do you come from?" he said. They said, "From the land of Canaan, to buy food." 8 Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them. He said to them, "You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land!" 10 They said to him, "No, my lord; your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all sons of one man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies." 12 But he said to them, "No, you have come to see the nakedness of the land!" 13 They said, "We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more." 14 But Joseph said to them, "It is just as I have said to you; you are spies! 15 Here is how you shall be tested: as Pharaoh lives, you shall not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here! 16 Let one of you go and bring your brother, while the rest of you remain in prison, in order that your words may be tested, whether there is truth in you; or else, as Pharaoh lives, surely you are spies." 17 And he put them all together in prison for three days. 18 On the third day Joseph said to them, "Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die." And they agreed to do so. 21 They said to one another, "Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us." 22 Then Reuben answered them, "Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood." 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, since he spoke with them through an interpreter. 24 He turned away from them and wept; then he returned and spoke to them. And he picked out Simeon and had him bound before their eyes. 25 Joseph then gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to return every man's money to his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey. This was done for them.
Jacob is still in control of his family, and he sends the brothers to get grain. When Joseph sees them bow down before him, he remembers his dreams about the sheaves and the stars. He then takes the offensive: he accuses the brothers of being spies, devises a test and puts them all in jail. Later he releases all but Simeon and sends them back (with their money back in their sacks) on a mission to return with Benjamin if they want to prove their innocence. The brother's remember what they did to Joseph and Reuben scolds them. We also learn for the first time that Joseph pleaded with them, back at the pit, not to carry out their plan. Joseph overhears all of this discussion, so he has some feedback on how well his plan is going. The dreams' meaning becomes clear here: the stars and the moon dream point toward Joseph's status as royal vizier, and the sheaves to his role as provisioner. Joseph and the reader possibly get the first glimpse of the brothers' remorse. I believe it is also a fact that Joseph did use Groucho glasses - the perfect disguise.
Then he commanded the steward of his house, "Fill the men's sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man's money in the top of his sack. 2 Put my cup, the silver cup, in the top of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain." And he did as Joseph told him. 3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. 4 When they had gone only a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, "Go, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, 'Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup? 5 Is it not from this that my lord drinks? Does he not indeed use it for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.'" 6 When he overtook them, he repeated these words to them. 7 They said to him, "Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! 8 Look, the money that we found at the top of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; why then would we steal silver or gold from your lord's house? 9 Should it be found with any one of your servants, let him die; moreover the rest of us will become my lord's slaves." 10 He said, "Even so; in accordance with your words, let it be: he with whom it is found shall become my slave, but the rest of you shall go free." 11 Then each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. 12 He searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin's sack. 13 At this they tore their clothes. Then each one loaded his donkey, and they returned to the city. 14 Judah and his brothers came to Joseph's house while he was still there; and they fell to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, "What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that one such as I can practice divination?" 16 And Judah said, "What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; here we are then, my lord's slaves, both we and also the one in whose possession the cup has been found." 17 But he said, "Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the one in whose possession the cup was found shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father."
Here the story moves into dramatic high-gear. There is irony in identifying the stolen object as Joseph's divination cup. Joseph has twice denied that he divines at all (interpretation belongs to God alone), yet it is a plausible theft since he is the Pharaoh's vizier. The irony may simply be in the symbolism of Joseph's knowledge and the brothers' ignorance. However, there is a more important emphasis concerning Judah and his explanation of Jacob's perspective on the whole affair. In Judah's plea to take him instead of Benjamin, he provides a point-for-point undoing of the brothers' earlier wrongs. This is a true plea from the heart which even overlooks the unfairness of Jacob's preferential love of Benjamin and Joseph. It is possible that this is the climax of the story, since Judah's (and therefore the brothers') ignorance of their responsibility is lifted.
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Send everyone away from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there--since there are five more years of famine to come--so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.'
Judah's story causes Joseph to reveal his identity. The brothers have learned their lesson (although still not repentant). Joseph proceeds to enlighten them on the meaning of all that has happened to him, thus bringing them into an understanding of the truth. Basically it is time to go tell Jacob the good news and bring him to Egypt, so Joseph sent the brothers back with a regal caravan. It is possible that Joseph tells them not to argue on the way back, because they would likely have to explain their deed along with news that Joseph is alive (although the text does not provide it). So in a biblical sense, Joseph has just "punked" his brothers. It appears that he bears them no malice as, in a sense, it was as it had to be to fulfil God's original purpose and outlined in Joseph's dreams.
When Israel set out on his journey with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 God spoke to Israel in visions of the night, and said, "Jacob, Jacob." And he said, "Here I am." 3 Then he said, "I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there. 4 I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again; and Joseph's own hand shall close your eyes." 5 Then Jacob set out from Beer-sheba; and the sons of Israel carried their father Jacob, their little ones, and their wives, in the wagons that Pharaoh had sent to carry him. 6 They also took their livestock and the goods that they had acquired in the land of Canaan, and they came into Egypt, Jacob and all his offspring with him, 7 his sons, and his sons' sons with him, his daughters, and his sons' daughters; all his offspring he brought with him into Egypt. 8 Now these are the names of the Israelites, Jacob and his offspring, [...].
God speaks to Jacob at Beersheba to confirm that the move to Egypt is part of his plan, but also to foretell of their people's exodus to come. When God calls for Jacob (in his dream) he replies "Here I am," which is the same reply Joseph gives to Jacob at the beginning of the story when asked to go on a journey to check on his brothers. This is not the conclusion (after all this is the story of Jacob's family, not just Joseph), but it does provide a certain sense of closure to the main Joseph story line.
The Biblical account of course has more than what is selected here as its closing, because it is concluding not only the story of Jacob's family (the bulk of the text beyond chapter 45), but also the book of Genesis itself (to a lesser extent). Genesis begins with the creation of the universe and ends with the creation of the "chosen" race. The brothers do finally ask for forgiveness in an indirect sort of way, and it is clear that Joseph has forgiven them. Joseph's tribal legacy will live on through Ephraim and Manasseh (displacing Reuben) as the Bible story heads through the exodus and into Israel.
6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. 7 But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. 8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, "Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land." 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
This sets the stage for the Israelites to leave Egypt for their own land. Joseph and all his wisdom and prosperity has been forgotten. Because of this, the Israelites are considered a threat and worse, they are multiplying like bunnies. The more the king tries to oppress them, the more prolific they become, and the more he oppresses them, and so on (like shampoo - rinse and repeat). We aren't told whether the Israelite people remember Joseph and the covenant of God with Abraham and Jacob, but it seems that they would since their 12 tribes are established under Jacob and play a part in the rest of the history of Israel's formation and kingdom.
Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him. 5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, "This must be one of the Hebrews' children," she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh's daughter, "Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?" 8 Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Yes." So the girl went and called the child's mother. 9 Pharaoh's daughter said to her, "Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages." So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, "because," she said, "I drew him out of the water."
This is a pretty good gig for Moses' mother. She saves her son by setting him adrift to be discovered by Pharaoh's daughter, and then is actually paid to nurse (and probably raise) him. This story gives us a clever beginning, but is clearly not interested in Moses' childhood as can be gleaned from verse 9. The name Moses in Egyptian means "to be born" and in Hebrew might mean "to draw out." He is born to a Hebrew family, adopted son of Pharaoh's daughter, drawn out of the water and later draws his people out of Egypt. The name seems like a good fit.
11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, "Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?" 14 He answered, "Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" Then Moses was afraid and thought, "Surely the thing is known." 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. 16 The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father's flock. 17 But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. 18 When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, "How is it that you have come back so soon today?" 19 They said, "An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock." 20 He said to his daughters, "Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread." 21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. 22 She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, "I have been an alien residing in a foreign land." 23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
Clearly there was no press conference per se. It is used here to show how quickly news of, the now young adult, Moses' failed first attempt to help his people spread quickly. It's not clear in the Greek or Hebrew if Moses' intent was to kill the Egyptian, the word used indicates a very forceful beating, but regardless that was the result. Some scholars postulate this is the real reason Moses would not be allowed into the promised land. Note also that Moses is apparently aware of his heritage, identifying the Hebrews as kinfolk. There is clearly irony in the challenge to Moses about "who made you judge and ruler over us" since later it will be God that does so, yet for now he is a murderer trying to break up a fight, thus seen as hypocritical. However to Reuel's (aka Jethro) daughters he is a bit of a hero. It is also clear that he does not like injustice wherever he sees it ... Egyptians, Hebrews or Midianites. All this is likely preparing him for what is to come. Moses is destined to always be considered somewhat of an outcast. Here in this short passage Moses goes from privileged to outcast to homeless to foreigner.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." 4 When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." 5 Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6 He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." 11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 12 He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."
13 But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" 15 God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
Moses at the burning bush is perhaps one of the funniest scenes in the Old Testament. It was a widely held belief that knowing a deity's true name gave power over it (to invoke the deity to do one's own bidding). Moses wasn't necessarily going for that, but contrary to his excuse (the Israelites will need convincing) it was he who needed the reassurance (Moses never uses the "I AM" with the Israelites). God's answer was essentially "none of your business" ("I am that I am" or "I am what I will be"). YHWH (LORD) and God (Elohim) was good enough for the Hebrews and it was going to be good enough for Moses, and apparently it was after this discussion. Humor aside, there is not doubt that there is a sincere and complex struggle going on within Moses as he tries to come to grips with this mission. Moses' struggles aside, the mission itself is a very positive message: God is responding out of love to deliver the Hebrews from their affliction.
16 Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, 'The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.' 18 They will listen to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, 'The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days' journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.' 19 I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go. 21 I will bring this people into such favor with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed; 22 each woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman living in the neighbor's house for jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; and so you shall plunder the Egyptians."
The negotiations between Moses and God (as if you can negotiate with God) continue up through verse 4:18 (the lectionary stops at 3:20). God counters every excuse that Moses comes up with, including simply asking God to send someone else. God actually becomes angry, but Moses ends up going along with the plan and gets his brother Aaron as a spokes-person. This cartoon simply shows what may have been playing out in Moses' head as to how the "plan" would be received. It's understandable why he wasn't too confident about it.
The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.
The story takes a bit of a break between the 9th and 10th (final) plagues to provide the details of the Festival of the Passover and Unleaven Bread. The festival of the unleaven bread was probably originally a separate festival celebrating the barley harvest, but it fits well the passover. So it is that the passover commemorates the saving of their firstborn, or the passing over of the LORD, and the unleaven bread commemorates the exodus from slavery to their own land. It is likely that the Pharaoh, while disappointed he lost all his slave labor was pretty happy about not having to talk to Moses and Aaron any more.
19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night. 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh's horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, "Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt." 26 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers." 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.
This may one of the three best known scenes in the Old Testament, right up there with Adam and Eve in the Garden and Noah's Ark. Perhaps due in large part to Cecil B. De Mille's epic film, The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses. In fact, it's very hard to even cartoon Moses without it being somewhat of caricature of Heston! This is the biblical equivalent of a chase scene in modern movies, only the "chase" took a fair bit of time and some divine intervention assisting the good guys.
From a narrative point of view, the exodus begins with God parting the Reed (or Red) Sea and ends with God parting the waters of the Jordan for entry into the promised land.
The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger." 4 Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days." 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, "In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?" 8 And Moses said, "When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him--what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD." 9 Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'" 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. 11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said, 12 "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'" 13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, "What is it?" For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.
Well, the whining and complaining is probably to be expected of a large group that really just doesn't seem to get the big picture. It's not like they didn't witness the parting of the sea, 10 plagues and all of that, but the past is quickly forgotten when the present seems so miserable. However, they get a quail at night and bread in the mornings. Not exactly a bed and breakfast, but clearly they aren't starving either. Fortunately God is looking out for them. Unfortunately they seem to complain quickly and not follow directions all that well (if you read on into subsequent verses where they fail the test about keeping leftovers and gather for the Sabbath).
From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?" 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?" 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." 5 The LORD said to Moses, "Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink." Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
Names of places are often a clue to what has or will happen there. Rephidim means refresh or support and in this story it leads to refreshment and later support in war. Massah and Meribah mean trial and quarrel respectively and is also fitting. The type of quarrel they bring to Moses is more like a law suit challenging Moses (or God) to prove that God is with them. To this point God is testing the Israelites, but this is a bit of a push-back. So, God shows that God is with them by being present at the rock (a rock is symbolic of strength or might and permanence) and providing the water they have requested as proof. God probably regrets the whole free will thing here as in many other places in the Bible.
16 On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, as well as a thick cloud on the mountain, and a blast of a trumpet so loud that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the LORD had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. 19 As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 20 When the LORD descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the LORD summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down and warn the people not to break through to the LORD to look; otherwise many of them will perish. 22 Even the priests who approach the LORD must consecrate themselves or the LORD will break out against them." 23 Moses said to the LORD, "The people are not permitted to come up to Mount Sinai; for you yourself warned us, saying, 'Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy.'" 24 The LORD said to him, "Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you; but do not let either the priests or the people break through to come up to the LORD; otherwise he will break out against them."
Very little press seems to be given to this passage, but it is where the Israelites meet God pretty much up close and personal. It's not a private theophany like the appearance of God to Moses was at the burning bush, it is a full-out appearance to the entire group. It is believed the subject of discussion in verse 19 is none other than the 10 commandments, later put on tablets (twice) and kept in a place of honor (believed to be the contents of the Ark of the Covenant).
The Ten Commandments deserve their own commentary because there is just so much in them, so in the second and last shameless plug in this book, refer to the commentary The Cartoon Ten Commandments, for an in-depth look at them! History shows the Israelites were good caretakers of these rules, because these concepts have become the basis for most laws and legal systems throughout the world today.
Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. 7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work--you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. 12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." 20 Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin." 21 Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
The Israelite people have just fled from Egypt where they had been slaves for 400 years. Now they are free and looking for the promised land of their own, yet alone in the desert not really knowing where they are headed. It is at this time God gives the Israelites the Ten Commandments. What made the Israelites a nation even before they had a land of their own was their belief in one God and the way they were to live.
How would it feel to hear God speak directly? Awesome, amazing, frightening, special, dangerous? It is hard to imagine, but it does help to understand why Moses and the Israelite people felt that the Ten Commandments were very important indeed. It also isn't hard to understand their request in verse 19 - they will let Moses do the talking to God!
9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 God did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; also they beheld God, and they ate and drank. 12 The LORD said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction." 13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 To the elders he had said, "Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them." 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
This begins the story of the first set of tablets. The first part of the passage (verses 9-11) seems unusual in that one big priestly group of Israel had a rather casual meeting with God (in that they saw God and didn't die), Moses isn't singled out, and they ate and drank affirming the covenant. It is possible this is preserved from a different tradition. Soon it is more like the rest of the story with Moses and now Joshua having a special audience with God and working on the tablets recording the commandments. Meanwhile the rest of the Israelites are at the base of the mountain now under the care of Aaron and the priests. What could go wrong?
When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, "Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him." 2 Aaron said to them, "Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!" 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD." 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel. 7 The LORD said to Moses, "Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; 8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'" 9 The LORD said to Moses, "I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. 10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation." 11 But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, "O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, 'I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'" 14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
If the people were worried about why Moses was delayed you would think they'd organize a search party, instead they sought to replace him as a messenger of God with a golden calf. Some see this as idolatry but some think that the golden calf was not going to be worshipped as a god, but rather as a pedestal or intermediary in Moses' absence. Maybe it was just a good excuse to have an orgy (the work translated as "revel" has sexual connotations). Interestingly God tells Moses to go down at once to your people (as opposed to "my" people). God is pretty annoyed at them and while Moses talks God out of simply wiping them out, there will be consequences.
12 Moses said to the LORD, "See, you have said to me, 'Bring up this people'; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, 'I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.' 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people." 14 He said, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." 15 And he said to him, "If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth." 17 The LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." 18 Moses said, "Show me your glory, I pray." 19 And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, 'The LORD'; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But," he said, "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live." 21 And the LORD continued, "See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."
Here is Moses working on God to give him more insight into who YHWH is, similar to his exchange back at the burning bush. Here God grants Moses everything he asks for except, again, any further insight into his name. Instead of I AM (what I will be), he lets Moses know that God will be gracious to whom and when God wants. The name YHWH will have to do. Also, God will pass by but Moses will not see God's face, only God's back. This may mean that God's existence and nature will be make known by God's actions and deeds. God's presence will be with Moses and his people, but God will also remain mysterious.
In addition to the closer relationship Moses is having with the LORD, he successfully intercedes on the behalf of the Israelites. Essentially God wasn't going with them in the wilderness after the golden calf incident, but agrees to do so again. God shows mercy and grace and is willing to start over.
29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
Moses returns from Sinai with the second copy of the ten commandments, after yet another 40-day period. He has been talking with God so much that his face glows. Instead of sunglasses, depicted here, he uses a vale when not speaking to the people or God. This is the only place a vale is mentioned in this context, so it either wasn't a reoccurring problem or it may have been preserved from another tradition.