Thoughts on Exodus 19

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.


Preach it brother Robert!

A Desert Father

Since the Reformers, there has been an impulse within Western Christianity to erase particular marks of sacred time and space. The desire ranges from a fierce iconoclasm that sees idolatrous popery as the bane of true religion to a polite bourgeois discomfort with physicality or difference. In contemporary American religion there is also the particularity of our inherited discomfort with anything that resembles hierarchy or appears undemocratic.

Within the Episcopal Church we see these impulses in a variety of places. Watch the distrust of the House of Deputies for the bishops of the Church and you can see that democratic impulse alive and well. Read the justification for Holy Women, Holy Men – everybody is affirmed and the concept of sainthood is redefined as setting a good example. Listen to the debates over Communion and Baptism and you can also hear the discomfort with difference as there seems to be…

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Today’s Hymn from Oremus

Jesus, thy boundless love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare;
O knit my thankful heart to thee,
And reign without a rival there:
Thine wholly, thine alone, I am;
Be thou alone my constant flame.

From all eternity, with love
Unchangeable thou hast me viewed;
Ere knew this beating heart to move,
Thy tender mercies me pursued:
Ever with me thy love abide,
And close me in on every side.

O grant that nothing in my soul
May dwell, but thy pure love alone;
O may thy love possess me whole,
My joy, my treasure, and my crown:
Strange fires far from my heart remove;
My every act, word, thought, be love.

Still let thy love point out my way;
How wondrous things thy love has wrought!
Still lead me, lest I go astray;
Direct my word, inspire my thought;
And if I fall, soon may I hear
Thy voice, and know that love is near.

In suffering be thy love my peace,
In weakness my almighty power;
And when the storms of life shall cease,
Jesus, in that important hour,
In death as life be thou my guide,
And save me, who for me hast died.

Huh. Well….

It is an unpleasant reality that healing often involves choosing things we do not want to choose.

I’m learning that there is often no easy solution. No magic fix. No Jesusy whirlwind whereby we get to pass through life unscathed. God is not one to take away our suffering–not yet anyway.

In difficult times people like to say, “God has a plan.” Yes, I’m sure He does. I want to know that someone knows where we’re going, because I surely don’t.

All the same, I would prefer to hear that God is the One that suffers with us. That He is inexplicably present in the deepest places of suffering that we experience. That the valley of the shadow of death contains a shadow because of light that shines from the other side of death.

I would prefer to think of the choices Jesus made that were terribly difficult on the way to the cross. That He chose suffering because it meant healing for us.

Somehow that’s the quietly reassuring light from the smoldering wick in the dark room.

He did this first. Someone knows how to walk us down the path to healing.


Look, this is great, but I want more (for everyone).

I just finished reading a lengthy article from the Atlantic titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  It was written by an Anne-Marie Slaughter (abbreviated henceforth as AS) . Here’s the link:

Note: I’m a Christian man, writing about an article written by a woman about women in American society. However, if all human beings can’t be a part of the dialogue that AS has raised then we may as well give up on a realistic approach to feminism to begin with.

I was generally impressed with the scope of this article.  AS did a great job at debunking many of the myths that surround challenges that face women who desire upward mobility within the context of their careers. I was also greatly impressed by her honesty and her willingness to ask serious questions about the previous generations of feminists and their affect on women in professional careers. All of these things–and more–were necessary to bring up and thoughtful in the manner in which she did so.

As I finished the article though, I found that I wasn’t entirely pleased. I wanted more out of her. More for women, more for men, and more for an approach to life that is as honest as the way she engaged with some of the issues she raised.

First of all, I found AS’ goals for women to be too small.

From a Christian perspective, having a healthy family life AND a blossoming career is not enough. It’s not enough for anyone. No matter your gender, you were made for more. The liberation that Christ gives and calls us to is something beyond our small definitions of success. Yes, being excellent in a career is a good thing. Yes, having a healthy family is a good thing. Those things said, it seems deeply problematic to go hook, line, and sinker for AS’ worldview and methodology of creating the equal society she desires.

In so doing we would in many ways be liberating women (and men) to participate in new broadly shared form of oppression. That of a slightly modified American dream.

Think about these quotes from the article:

“We will properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.”

“Let us rediscover the pursuit of happiness, and let us start at home.”

I don’t know about you, but these quotes while lovely in theory don’t delve terribly deep with regard meaning. While I appreciate the declaration of independence, I do not think that it begins to suffice  as a mission statement for human fulfillment. Nor are the deep existential questions and needs which haunt human existence satisfied with mere happiness, health, or productivity.

Perhaps those things she mentioned seem like liberation to you, but they do not to me. When we speak of facilitating women to have equality with men I do not think of that strictly in terms of career and family. I think of participating in a society whose framework allows for women to participate in all spaces of life that lead to their flourishing as human beings before God. Yes to prosperous careers for women, Yes to healthy families with committed mothers, AND yes to these things in the broader context of a life whose end is not merely the achievement of American mediocrity wrapped in gender-neutral language and customs.

Furthermore, as I read this article I noted something else. AS engages part-time in a worldview that doesn’t allow for opportunity costs. Real life involves choices. Think about this quote from the article:

“You should be able to have a family if you want one—however and whenever your life circumstances allow—and still have the career you desire.”

This statement lacks the honesty with which AS talks about her life and the life of other women she knows. Choosing something necessarily means that there are things that you cannot choose as a result. This is the concept of opportunity costs. I cannot choose to get out of bed and not get out of bed at the same time. If I get up, it means that I’m not in bed anymore. Priorities must be set and lived out. I prioritize getting up for work at the opportunity cost of less sleep.

In my mind the same goes for what AS describes. While she makes the aforementioned statement, this doesn’t appear to be the reality she affirms in her experience given in the article. Choosing to be a committed parent means that there are things that you won’t be able to choose like a single person. This is life. Both for men and women, being a parent involves sacrifice.

While we can push for a world that requires less of that on the career front, I would make the claim that both parents need to own the reality that choices come with opportunity costs and that we must prioritize accordingly. By the end of her article AS seems to implicitly acknowledge this, but I don’t really see her putting this forward as straightforwardly as the task requires. It’s one thing to allow opportunity costs to happen, it’s another to suggest the hard reality that no human being may be able to have it all. At least not in the way she defines all, and certainly not for people outside her middle-upper class demographic.  The privileged nature of the discussion is an important emphasis to note.

In addition to setting the problems we’re faced with in AS’ world view regarding women and life in general, I also find–with significant indignation–that she has in many places left men out of key places in her argument.

Perhaps it wasn’t really the theme of her piece, but she let my gender receive just a mild “some of you are shaping up,” notice without any substantial call for men to shape up and equally participate in the realities of fatherhood, loving their spouses, and sacrificing for a family. She managed to note key examples of men stepping up without synthesizing any serious challenge to traditional masculine roles from the real world examples she knows and lives.

Look at these quotes:

“But the truth is, neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.”

“If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal.”

“We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.”

AS has more than this to offer men. She has seen it in her life and in the lives of many women talked about through her own piece. The struggle I feel is that in lieu of the blow to traditional forms of masculine involvement in family life that could be made…next to nothing is asked of men in this piece. It’s an article regarding female empowerment that offers no challenge to men in American society to release much of the power that has come to us through broken societal structures and flawed patriarchal gender roles.

Men are passively mentioned as standing beside women, our behavior and choices need to stop being default/ideal, and we don’t “have to” make trade-offs. The audience of this piece is decidedly directed towards women in a society whose power structures exist mainly in the hands of men. Our choices need to change yet…as a man reading her piece I am implicitly cut off from meaningful participation in this issue that affects all human beings. Oppression towards any human affects every human. Without masculine voices in the feminist dialogue the forward motion that is advocated by AS seems to run aground on the reef of narrow minded perspectives.

AS manages to articulate some alternatives to unhelpful lines of feminist rhetoric, but inevitably fails to make the challenge that men need to be feminists as well. It is equally our role to work  alongside women in the struggle against structures that leave women disenfranchised in society. This especially applies to Christian men: Christ calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. When Christians allow our neighbors to suffer oppression, we fall short of that call.

It’s our collective responsibility to make space for the Holy Spirit to lead us towards an environment in which we can all flourish as human beings before God. A space where continued oppression of women is seen as intimately connected with the continued oppression of humanity. A space where men are bold parts of a manifest theology that affirms the equality of women as those made in the image of God. An image that needs to thrive  in society, workplaces, and churches for us to know what it means to be human.

Her article was a nice start, but I want more than what AS was advocating. I think we all should.

Amen Indeed.

Lord, you trouble our peace,
you step upon our guarded shore
and confront our chaos:
may we who are divided and colonized
by the forces of death
learn from you to speak our own name
and proclaim your works of life;
through Jesus Christ,
the Life and Light of the world.