In Exodus 5:1-21, Moses brings his message of rest for the enslaved people of God. And this message ends up making the people stink in the sight of their oppressors. They blame Moses for worsening their predicament, and they ask the Lord to judge him for it. What will Moses do now?
Observation of Exodus 5:22-7:7
Moses does what any of us might do in his place: find someone else to blame. Israel’s elders blame him (Ex 5:20-21), so he turns to blame God (Ex 5:22-23). It’s as though Moses’ objections from his conversation with the burning bush are coming true, and he wants God to know it. What will the Lord do with this?
Let me comment on why I’m ignoring two chapter divisions in this section. That is, why did I select a chunk of text from Ex 5:22 all the way to Ex 7:7? This choice came from observing the structure:
A. Moses complains to the Lord – 5:22-23
B. The Lord communicates his plan to Moses – 6:1-9
C. God commands Moses, who complains of his uncircumcised lips – 6:10-13
D. Genealogy of Aaron’s line – 6:14-25
C’ God commands Moses, who complains of his uncircumcised lips – 6:26-30
B’ The Lord communicates his plan to Moses – 7:1-5
A’ Moses and Aaron obey, just as the Lord commanded them – 7:6-7
First, I noticed the almost exact repetition of Moses’ “uncircumcised lips” in Ex 6:12 and Ex 6:30. Then I saw that the passage begins with Moses’ dire complaint and ends with Moses’ complete obedience. In between those sections came speeches from the Lord about his plans, each speech about the same length. The goal stated in God’s first speech is that the Israelites will know this God is Yahweh (Ex 6:7); the goal stated in the second speech is that the Egyptians will know this God is Yahweh (Ex 7:5)—these purposes have obvious parallels. And I couldn’t make sense of why the genealogy was “stuck in” this passage until I saw how the other sections mirrored one another around it.
I could list more observations, but observation and interpretation are so intertwined for me in this study, I find it difficult to distinguish them.
Interpretation of Exodus 5:22-7:7
Some possible questions:
- Why is the genealogy of Ex 6:14-25 stuck in the middle of this passage?
- How does Moses turn things around so completely from despair to obedience?
My answers (numbers correspond to the questions):
- The structure of this passage takes the form of a “chiasm,” named after the Greek letter chi, shaped like an X. The outline above shows visually why the structure is reminiscent of the letter X. This literary form is common in ancient literature, including the Bible, and the form communicates some of the meaning of the passage. Usually, a narrator crafts a text in this form in order to highlight two things: 1) the change of affairs from the first part to the last part, and 2) the center of the structure as the crux or turning point to effect that change. In this case, Moses transforms from complaint to obedience. And the turning point for him is…a genealogy.
- The answer is closely connected to the genealogy. This genealogy at first seems to be a listing of the 12 sons of Israel, beginning with the firstborn Reuben (Ex 6:14) and proceeding to next-oldest Simeon (Ex 6:15) and Levi (Ex 6:16). But, instead of proceeding to Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, etc., the genealogy gets stuck at Levi and dives deeper. It follows the line down from Levi to his son Kohath (Ex 6:18), to his son Amram (Ex 6:20), to his son Aaron (Ex 6:23), to his son Eleazar and his son Phinehas (Ex 6:25). We also get a side branch in this family tree through Kohath’s son Izhar (Ex 6:21) to his son Korah (Ex 6:24). Interestingly, Moses is named as Aaron’s brother (Ex 6:20), but then he is ignored. The genealogist cares only about Aaron’s descendants, not Moses’.
What does that genealogy have to do with Moses’ turnaround from Ex 5:22 to Ex 7:6? Remember that when the book of Exodus was written and handed to the people, they were either camping at Mount Sinai or wandering in the wilderness. Either way, they would have immediately thought of Aaron, Eleazar, and Phinehas as the line of high priests. So at the center of this passage, the narrator reminds them of this high-priestly line as the turning point for Moses’ obedience. It is no coincidence that God’s speech right after the genealogy refers to Aaron as Moses’ prophet (Ex 7:1-2). In other words, Moses is not sufficient to carry out this deliverance from Pharaoh. Even he needs a high priest. Even he needs a prophet to speak on his behalf.
Train of thought:
- Moses—God’s appointed mediator—hits rock bottom when the elders of Israel accuse him of making them stink to Pharaoh.
- God counsels his mediator by reminding him of the promises and plans yet to be fulfilled.
- Then, at the drama’s turning point, God (narratively speaking) inserts a glorious reminder of our great high priest.
- Suddenly, Moses is like a new man, ready to obey completely.
- From this point to the end of Exodus, Moses will have no further relapses into doubt—even in the face of further resistance and accusation (Ex 14:11-14, 17:2, etc.). In fact, he will even remind God a few times to keep his promises (Ex 32:11-14, 33:12-16).
Main Point: Yahweh is a God who provides not only a powerful mediator but also a great high priest to deliver his people and proclaim he is God.
Connection to Christ: In Christ we have both a mediator more perfect than Moses and a high priest better than the line of Aaron.
Application of Exodus 5:22-7:7
I’ve suffered my fair share of criticism as a leader, minister, and missionary. I’ve had the very people I serve turn against me and accuse me of doing them wrong. I know what it feels like to want—no, to need—someone else to blame.
My greatest need in that moment, as in any and every moment of my walk with God, is for a great high priest who will intercede for me before the throne of grace. I don’t need public vindication. I don’t even need to be right or understood. I just need Jesus. And as an under-shepherd of God, rooted in Christ, I also just need to obey.
This is not easy. But this yoke is lighter than any other.
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