Saturday, June 22, 2013

Exodus: God the Interior Decorator

Good day, and welcome back!

When we last left off, Moses had just finished drenching his followers and an altar with gallons of blood. Did your Sunday school teach you about that scene? None of mine did.

Anyway, after that Moses follows God’s instruction to bring Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders up to the mountain to worship. Here’s the passage:

“Ex 24:9 Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11 And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank.”

So seventy-four men saw God. That is kind of an important point, since later the Bible claims nobody has ever seen him. I’ll point that out if/when we get to it.

Then God tells Moses to come up further so he can give him stone tablets containing the text of the covenant. Moses took his assistant Joshua with him, and left instructions to the elders that Aaron and Hur are in charge while he’s gone. Moses was up on the mountain for six days before God called him into the cloud that he was hanging out in that covered the top of the mountain. Moses then heads into the cloud, and he was up there getting additional marching orders for forty days.

The first thing God tells Moses is that he should take up a collection of valuables such as gold, silver, bronze, yarn, wood, etc., in order to make implements of worship. And the first of these he instructs Moses to have built is the famous Ark of the Covenant, which will contain the stone tablets God is about to give him. It’s basically a big wooden box covered in gold, with poles and rings to carry it. God is very specific about the construction, which includes instructions to sculpt two gold cherubim to go on the lid.

Say… remember these words? “You shall not make for yourself any carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” And remember elsewhere in God’s law where it specifically says not to make any gold or silver idols to use in his worship? Yeah… fuck that. God’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, even make a container for his law that directly violates said law. At least he has a good solid sense of irony.

God moves on to specifying the construction of a wood table overlaid in gold. Then he demands a golden lamp stand, also described in great detail. From there he moves on to the construction of a tabernacle – basically a portable temple for the Hebrews to haul around with them while they travel to Canaan. Again this goes on in great detail, specifying the size and shape of all the components, construction materials, what images to embroider on the curtains (more cherubim), how to make the tent that covers the tabernacle, how to make the frames to support the curtains and the tent, and where in the tabernacle the Ark, table, and lamp stand are supposed to be placed when it’s set up.

The next item up is a bronze altar. Again described in detail, and those details make it pretty clear that its purpose is to have sacrifices burned on it. This is followed by another detailed specification, this time for a courtyard outside the tabernacle bordered with fine linen and supported by bronze pillars. Finally, oil for the lamp is specified, and the lamp is required to be kept lit from evening to morning every night forever.

Once God is done with the interior decorating portion of the law, he moves on to fashion design. Specifically, he describes the holy clothes and jewelry Aaron and his sons (acting as his priests) should wear. It’s pretty elaborate, really. The funny part is near the end, when God states that Aaron’s robe should be ringed about the hem with golden bells.

“Ex 28:35 And it shall be on Aaron when he ministers, and its sound shall be heard when he goes into the Holy Place before Yahweh, and when he comes out, so that he does not die.”

What the fuck? So that he does not die? It sounds suspiciously like God is putting bells on his priest so he can hear him coming, and not accidentally kill him when he walks in on God playing with himself (or whatever it is that God does when hanging out alone in the Holy Place).

It’s also specified that Aaron and his sons must wear holy underwear whenever they come to the Holy Place, “lest they bear guilt and die.” God’s antipathy to naked penises in the Holy Place is also a statute forever, so I suppose he never anticipates coming to terms with his neuroses about being exposed to organs that he himself created.

Wanna pause there and think about it a bit? What the fuck is God’s issue with penises? I mean, he supposedly made them, after all. Yet apparently he dislikes the look of them so much that he makes his people surgically modify their Johnsons before he’ll consider hanging out with them, but even that’s not good enough to prevent him from flying into a killing rage if he ever actually sees one. That’s some pretty neurotic shit, right there.

Anyhow, now that God has established the holy wardrobe scheme, we move on to how he actually wants the ceremony consecrating Aaron and his sons as priests performed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it involves killing stuff – in this case a bull and a couple rams - and spreading their blood around. There are very specific instructions about what is to be done with the blood and body parts of each animal. Part of it involves sprinkling the blood of one of the rams over Aaron and his sons while they’re wearing the holy uniform. And if you know anything about how hard it can be to get out bloodstains even with modern laundry detergents, you pretty much realize that these guys will be presiding over every ceremony of their lives in blood-spattered garments. This makes them holy to God.

Also, a year old lamb is supposed to be sacrificed on the altar as a burnt offering every morning and every evening for all of eternity. Because burning flesh is a pleasing aroma to God. Seriously, it says that.

Once all this is laid out, God returns to his passion for interior decorating. He specifies the construction of an altar for burning incense, made of acacia wood covered in pure gold. Incense is to be burned every morning and every evening for all of time.

Then there’s a census tax. Every time a census is conducted, each person over twenty years old must pay a half a shekel. Supposedly this will prevent a plague? Wtf?

Then a bronze wash basin, followed by specifying recipes for various anointing oil and for incense that nobody is allowed to use for any other purpose. Toss off another reminder to keep the Sabbath (and add a decree that anyone who works on the Sabbath should be put to death), and finally God is done writing stuff on stone tablets.

For those keeping count, those tablets contain quite a lot more than just the Ten Commandments.

Anyway, it’s time for Moses to head back down the mountain and discover what the Israelites have been up to in his absence. It’s pretty fucking dumb, but we’ll get to that in the next installment. Until then, take care!

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