Bible study 90 – Exodus 40Posted: January 1, 2017
Moses is instructed by God to set up the tabernacle and all its furniture, and to anoint Aaron and his sons as priests “throughout all generations to come”. Inside the holy box he puts the “covenant”, by which is presumably meant the two stone tablets on which the alternative ten commandments are written. Whenever God in the shape of a cloud goes into the tabernacle tent, everyone has to set up camp; only when the cloud leaves the tent can the Israelites continue their journey.
This is the end of Exodus. But there is one thing I have wanted to mention for a long time, which I never found the right timing to. While the contents of the previous book, Genesis, is nowadays largely accepted as fiction by everyone but hardcore orthodox Christians, Exodus is often implied to be describing real, historical events. I remember, for example, having seen Discovery Channel programs searching for evidence of Moses’ parting of the Red Sea. More gravely, the history book I am currently reading largely assumes that the biblical narrative is a description of historical events. This is wrong; we are not yet in the realm of history. While the Bible is a treasure trove of historical information, these texts were written down long after the events they purport to describe, and (crucially) there is virtually no extra-biblical textual or archaeological evidence to support their historicity.
There may possibly have been a person called Noah (or something similar, or something else entirely) in the deep past, who did something that eventually gave birth to the myths of Genesis. Similarly, there may possibly have been some Hebrews (or someone related to Hebrews, or someone else entirely) that fled from oppression in Egypt sometime in the deep past, which eventually gave birth to the myth of Exodus. But it’s still a myth, and nothing I have described so far should be taken for historical fact. It’s a story, sometimes a really weird one, which gives insight into what Jews in 500 BC considered important, and which has profoundly affected later Jewish and Christian thinking and ideals.
For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey.