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BibleProject Podcast
BibleProject Podcast
Exodus Scroll • Episode 12
Did God Try To Kill Moses?
73m • June 22, 2022
Why did God say he was going to kill Moses? What exactly was God’s test for Abraham on Mount Moriah and Israel on Mount Sinai? What’s the connection between the ten plagues and the ten commandments? In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to your questions about the Exodus scroll. Thanks to our audience for your incredible questions!
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QUOTE

The two exoduses from the land are parallel, but they’re contrast stories. When you have a king of the nations who blesses God’s blessed one, you get blessing. The good pharaoh at the end of Genesis has constantly been blessing the blessed one (Joseph and his family). What he got was Eden abundance in a time of famine. The pharaoh Moses encounters is a counterpart who fulfills what happens when someone curses God’s blessed ones. … It didn’t have to go this way. But because he hardened his heart, it went the way of curse and death.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Passing Yahweh’s tests comes from trusting his instructions—no matter how odd they may sound. By that logic, Abraham passes the test when he ascends Mount Moriah, and Israel fails the test by not ascending Mount Sinai.
  • The pharaohs in Genesis and Exodus are parallel yet contrasted. When a king of the nations responds favorably to Yahweh and his chosen people, he receives Eden blessings in a time of famine. The pharaoh from Exodus shows us what happens when you defy Yahweh.
  • Throughout the story of the Bible, a clear boundary has always existed between Heaven and Earth, but in the new creation, Heaven is open to Earth and its inhabitants.

What Was God’s Test for Abraham and Israel?

(00:00-31:57)

Tim and Jon follow up on a previous episode about the test in Exodus, “Testing at Mount Sinai.” In that conversation, Tim talked about how Israel failed a test from Yahweh by refusing to ascend Mount Sinai. But in our interview with Dr. Carmen Imes, she shared a different view of the same narrative, believing that Israel passed the test through their reverence for Yahweh.

Tim read two books that Carmen brought up in that conversation, one by scholar Michael Kibbe and the other by J. Richard Middleton, so that he could respond to Carmen’s perspective.

Kibbe states that Israel passed the test in Exodus 19 because their fear and reverence of Yahweh kept them at the foot of the mountain. While Kibbe and Tim agree that this story is patterned after the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah (Gen. 22), Tim sees this connection as an indicator of a failed test—Israel did not do what Yahweh said. Kibbe considers the two stories to be inversions of each other.

Middleton sees Genesis 22 differently. He argues that Abraham failed the test on Mount Moriah—he should not have obeyed God’s command to sacrifice his son and instead asked God to spare Isaac, like he did for Lot in Genesis 18. Middleton states that God would never demand the life of a firstborn son. However, Tim points out several places in the Bible where God does demand the life of a firstborn son (e.g., at the first Passover). But God always provides a substitute—at the Passover and with Abraham in Genesis 22.

Tim is not persuaded by Kibbe or Middleton’s perspectives on these stories because he doesn’t see how their work follows the Bible’s narrative patterning. Tim believes that Exodus 19 is patterned after Genesis 22, which is patterned after Genesis 3. This connection is seen through repeated language and imagery. And if Genesis 3 is the interpretive key for these later stories, the core principle is that passing Yahweh’s test means trusting his instructions. Tim suggests that we see Yahweh’s words not as trick questions but as genuine.

Biblical scholarship allows us to read the Bible in community and discuss nuanced details. The goal isn’t to reach the “right” view—it’s about growing in understanding over time. That’s not to say that Scripture can mean anything. Rather, we should hold our convictions with openness and humility. These scholars land in slightly different places, which allows us to think deeply and expand our understanding of the biblical story.

What Can We Learn From the Genesis and Exodus Pharaohs?

Terry from Georgia (31:57)

I have a question about the possible connection between the Exodus narrative and the story of Jacob’s burial in Genesis 50. In his book, The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, Rabbi David Fohrman highlights the similarities in language between these two stories and makes a case that the combined Israelite/Egyptian procession that is described in Jacob’s burial gives us a portrait of what the exodus could have looked like if Moses’ Pharaoh would not have been so defiant and unwilling to acknowledge Yahweh’s authority. Do you see a connection between these two stories? And if so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how Jacob’s burial should inform our reading of the Exodus narrative.

These stories are absolutely connected. In Genesis 50, Joseph goes to Pharaoh and asks if he can “go up” and leave the land of Egypt to bury his father. Moses repeatedly asks Pharaoh if Israel can leave the land (following Yahweh’s declaration that he will “bring up” Israel from Egypt).

The two stories are parallel but contrasting. The narrators of Genesis and Exodus are showing us the two different outcomes of two different responses. When a king of the nations responds favorably to Yahweh and his chosen people, he receives Eden blessings in a time of famine. The Exodus narrative didn’t have to go the way it did. If the pharaoh from that story had not challenged Moses, there would have been an entirely different outcome.

Did God Try to Kill Moses?

Jaena from Indiana (37:46)

My question is about Exodus 4:24-26. Moses is headed back to Egypt, and it says the Lord met him and was going to kill him. But then his wife circumcised his son and saved his life—I think. I'm just confused why God would say he's going to kill Moses when he's just told him to go back and save his people.

This story is confusing—and intentionally so. The Hebrew Bible is littered with short, dense stories that feel random and strange when we read them. But they force us to slow down and look to the surrounding narratives for greater understanding.

Throughout Exodus 1-6, Moses endures on an individual level what the nation of Israel is about to go through in Exodus 6-15. Moses is delivered out of the waters (Exod. 1). Moses encounters Yahweh on Mount Sinai and hides his face in fear. And Moses goes into the wilderness where God provides water for him.

In this story, we are meant to reflect on Moses’ complex identity: Is he a Hebrew, or is he an Egyptian? He’s both. The narrative in Hebrew is actually not clear on whether Yahweh intends to kill Moses or his uncircumcised firstborn son. However, Zipporah circumcises their son, not Moses. Exodus 4:24-26 is a pre-Passover event. The firstborn son of a man with Hebrew and Egyptian heritage is saved by an act of surrender to God’s will. Interestingly, God first gives the sign of circumcision to Abraham in Genesis 17 as a sign of God’s judgment of his sin against Hagar, the Egyptian slave, and as a sign of God’s mercy.

Zipporah then becomes another woman to save Moses’ life (like his mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter). She is also another non-Israelite who seems to grasp the terms of the covenant with Yahweh more than the Israelite.

Are There Other “Floods” Prevented by Intercessors?

Melissa from Ottawa (47:35)

I have a question about Exodus episode 5, “Israel Tests Yahweh.” In Exodus 15:25-26, Yahweh promises that if Israel listens to him, he will keep them away from all the diseases and illnesses he put on Egypt. Tim, you mentioned this might be connected to later testing stories. Since you focused so much on de-creation in the 10 plagues and how that parallels the flood, I was wondering if this story could be a parallel to the flood story also, with Moses' intercession paralleling Noah's sacrifice, and the promise to withhold the plagues paralleling Yahweh's promise to never again flood the earth (Genesis 9).

The chaos waters of the flood become an analogy to other destructive cycles throughout the story of the Bible, including human violence, illness, and plague. The verb “strike” is a key word in de-creation narratives. Humans strike one another, a plague strikes Israel, the firstborn sons are struck during Passover, etc.

The threat of disease and illness in Exodus 15:25-26 would fall under the same category of another flood, with a righteous intercessor standing in the gap—Moses, in this case, and Noah in Genesis 6.

What’s the Connection Between the Ten Plagues and Ten Commandments?

Jeremiah from Indiana (52:24)

I am seven years old. I like the patterns you are doing in your podcast, and I was wondering, is there a pattern between the ten plagues and ten commandments?

Ten plagues, ten commandments, and ten speeches of God—there's absolutely a connection here, but it starts with an earlier account of God speaking 10 times when he creates the cosmos (Gen. 1). In Genesis 1, God speaks 10 times to create. In Exodus 7-11, God speaks 10 times to de-create and bring judgment upon Egypt. The ten commandments are ways Israel is to live out their identity as images of God, creating and maintaining order within their communities (a micro way of mimicking God’s creative work that brought order from chaos in Genesis 1).

The Hebrew authors use the number 10 to talk about complete acts of God’s will to create or de-create.

How Important Is Ancient Culture To Understanding Biblical Law?

Mason from Florida (55:18)

I have often heard it said that the laws of the Torah were given to set Israel apart from the nations. However, it is also clear that some of these laws mimic those of other ancient Near Eastern societies. As we continue to read the laws, how should we discern between unique Israelite laws and adapted Near Eastern laws, and is it even necessary that we do so?

Because we are not ancient Israelites, we can’t follow all ancient Israelite laws. However, their laws are meant to provide wisdom for us. One way that we can unpack the wisdom of the law is just by reading the Hebrew Bible in its entirety (even without much knowledge of ancient Near Eastern society) because we can learn a lot just by paying attention to narrative patterning, biblical themes, and literary hyperlinks. Many of the biblical laws are worded intentionally in ways that recall earlier narratives.

When we do develop a familiarity with the laws and customs of Israel’s ancient neighbors, it enriches our study of Israel’s laws. The biblical authors weren’t necessarily mimicking other ancient customs. They were just speaking in a way that was familiar to their original audience. Similarly, Yahweh spoke to Israel in a way that was consistent with the language they understood. Their law doesn’t mimic ancient Near Eastern laws—it is ancient Near Eastern law.

Will We All Have Equal Access to God in the New Creation?

Breanna from Pennsylvania (1:01:46)

My question has to do with how you described both the garden of Eden and the tabernacle as a series of concentric circles with stratification of how close you get to God. My question is: To what extent will there also be this stratification of access in the new Heavens and the new Earth, or will we all have equal access to God?

The garden of Eden had a clear tiered geography. At the center is the tree of life, followed by the rest of the garden, the rest of Eden (of which the garden was just a part), and everywhere else. The construction of the tabernacle mimicked this layout, with the holy of holies at the very center of the structure, which was already in the center of Israel’s camp.

In Revelation, the Heavens are depicted as a city, the new Jerusalem, that comes down out of the skies. The tree of life sits in the center of the city, and all the gates are open so the nations can enter. While the city seems to have a concentric structure similar to the original garden, tabernacle, and temple, there’s a big difference—Heaven has come to Earth, and its gates are open. Throughout the story of the Bible, a clear boundary has always existed between Heaven and Earth, but in the new creation, Heaven is open to Earth and its inhabitants.

Following Up on the Test Involving Manna

(01:09:57)

Tim and Jon address a number of questions we received in regards to our conversation about the test with manna in Exodus 16. In the episode “Israel Tests Yahweh,” the guys mistakenly asserted that manna would fall from Heaven seven days a week, and the test was whether or not they would go collect it on the seventh day. However, the manna did not arrive on the seventh day, and the test was whether Israel would trust that Yahweh would use their gatherings from the sixth day to provide for them an extra day.

Referenced Resources

  • To Climb or Not To Climb? Israel's Ascent in Exodus 19:12–13 (SBL 2012), Michael Kibbe
  • Abraham's Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How To Talk Back to God, J. Richard Middleton
  • The Exodus You Almost Passed Over, Rabbi David Fohrman
  • The Lost World of the Torah: Law as Covenant and Wisdom in Ancient Context, John H. Walton and J. Harvey Walton
  • Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought, Joshua A. Berman
  • Interested in more? Check out Tim’s library here.
  • You can experience the literary themes and movements we’re tracing on the podcast in the BibleProject app, available for Android and iOS.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by TENTS

Show produced by Cooper Peltz. Edited by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.

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Exodus E1  –  1hr 6m
“God” Is Not a Name
1hr 6m
Exodus E2  –  1hr 6m
Yahweh and the Exodus
1hr 6m
Exodus E3  –  1hr 1m
Why Are There 10 Plagues?
1hr 1m
Exodus E4  –  1hr 3m
God Tests His Chosen Ones
1hr 3m
Exodus E5  –  1hr 12m
Israel Tests Yahweh
1hr 12m
Exodus E6  –  1hr 3m
Testing at Mount Sinai
1hr 3m
1hr 10m
1hr 17m
1hr 1m
Feat. Carmen Imes  –  1hr 2m
Two Takes on the Test at Mount Sinai
1hr 2m
Exodus Q+R  –  1hr 13m
Did God Try To Kill Moses?
1hr 13m
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