I just read Exodus 19. This is one of my favorite chapters in the bible. I just dig it.
Though, in reading it I come up with a question.
Here it is, with the question passage in bold highlighted:
At the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain.Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’
So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. The people all answered as one: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord. Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you and so trust you ever after.’
When Moses had told the words of the people to the Lord, the Lord said to Moses: ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and prepare for the third day, because on the third day the Lord will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set limits for the people all around, saying, “Be careful not to go up the mountain or to touch the edge of it. Any who touch the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch them, but they shall be stoned or shot with arrows; whether animal or human being, they shall not live.” When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they may go up on the mountain.’ So Moses went down from the mountain to the people. He consecrated the people, and they washed their clothes. And he said to the people, ‘Prepare for the third day; do not go near a woman.’
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. Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God. They took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because theLord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 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. 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. Even the priests who approach the Lord must consecrate themselves or the Lord will break out against them.’ 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.” ’ 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.’ So Moses went down to the people and told them.
There’s a lot of good stuff here. The question that I have is probably not a huge issue concerning what the author of Exodus is trying to do (let alone how God may be trying to transform us through the text), but I wanted to ask anyhow.
God never tells Moses anything about a woman. He says to have the people “consecrate” themselves. Where does Moses get his woman-related memo?
It honestly seems rather odd, first of all from a chronological standpoint within the text. They hadn’t received the law yet in Exodus. So, therein there wasn’t any explicit means of consecrating themselves in accordance to ritual purity laws. YHWH tells Moses to have everyone wash their clothes and not touch the mountain. Whereupon Moses adds the bit about not going near women…which incidentally cuts women off from receiving what God is saying. They’re third party to the conversation that according to Moses God is having with men, which is not what God says at all…An issue for another post.
Moses is not the first prophet to take artistic license with the word of the LORD (find it in the Old Testament for yourself, it’s fascinating), but that’s not the point I want to dig at right now.
The incredibly fascinating thing to me about this is that the author seems to assume that we’re familiar with Israelite ritual purity laws. If not for the explanation given about women in Leviticus and Deuteronomy we would be without context to understand why exactly Moses makes the prohibition he does about not going near women. It would result in ritual impurity for men who touch them if they’re on their period. I think there’s a bit about sex in there somewhere too.
Still though, think about that. Interesting! The text itself requires actions to be interpreted after the fact via laws shared in other books to be understood! The narratives offered within texts are not self-interpreting. They require the rest of the OT biblical cannon to even make a stab at grasping what Moses is saying. Texts don’t stand alone!
I’m sure you might not think that’s too terribly interesting. But then, think about what I’ve said regarding purity laws, menstrual cycle, Moses, and intertextuality and then read this passage from the Gospel of Mark (Mark 5:24-34, bold text added by me to contrast with Exodus):
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years.She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
This passage draws a strange development forward from Exodus. A ritually unclean woman touches the man who is God…and she is healed…by touching his cloak. Unlike the mountain of the Lord in Exodus where people are warned not to touch the mountain and to stay away from a woman I think it’s fair to hear the echoes from Exodus here. It’s important to see how they change in response to the presence of Jesus. The Holy One of Israel can now be touched.
What’s more, He’s corrected a possible Mosaic mis-interpretation. Women can touch God in their “unclean” state, be healed, and what’s more we find them spoken to directly by the Lord. They’re not left out of receiving a word from God.
Christ asks no distance from the afflicted and marginalized. He wants them to be bold and to draw near.
Therein they find healing.