I’m not sure how to transition to this, so I’m just gonna say it: in Exodus 24, 74 people sit down and literally have dinner with God.
So at this point, God has been a person walking in Eden, a wrestler with Jacob, a burning bush, a would-be assassin to Moses, a cloud and a pillar of flame, and an entire mountain on fire. Now God’s invited Moses, Aaron, and a lot of the elders of Israel go up a mountain and meet him there. They don’t describe God. We know what Zeus and Thor and every other religion’s super-beings look like. We have ancient statues and Renaissance paintings and modern cartoons for them. But the Abrahamic faiths are very clear not to describe God. (In Islam a lot of people do the same with Mohammed / Muhammad). If you draw someone, it can make them a caricature. They’d just be a drawing. People would dress up as them for Halloween. It wouldn’t be sacred, it’d be a concept people could toy with and make fun of and put words in His mouth. So no, as much as I’d like to know what they saw, it also doesn’t matter. God isn’t a human, so He could look like whatever He wants to. (In fact these commentators really go on about how they probably didn’t even see God in a human shape at all, probably just light and power and glory.)
But at least they describe what it looked like around Him. “and under His feet there appeared to be a pavement of sapphire, as clear as the sky itself.” (Exodus 24:10) So the ground looked like the sky… so was He just floating? Was the ground just reflecting the sky? Was the ground made of some tangible material sky-stuff? Not sure if it matters.
And apparently they all sat down to dinner. Nobody said what was served. Nobody said what they talked about. If you’re a Judeo-Christian mystic, that is the worst sort of tease. But I’m already getting used to those. They had 4,000 years to cover, they didn’t have space to write like Stephen King.
So THEN God gives Moses the Ten Commandments AGAIN. Moses goes the rest of the way up the mountain, into the cloud God covered the top in, because He wanted some privacy even though he just had almost 100 people over for dinner. And it takes a whole 40 days to carve these ten rules down… because God told him a lot of other things too.
You’ve heard of the Ark of the Covenant, right? Big gold box, melts peoples’ faces? Well I’m flattered that the Bible made it into Hollywood, but I’m way ahead of y’all at 2 Kings 24 and still haven’t seen that yet. But, sneak preview – when the Ark does get stolen and put in their god’s temple, the statue’s head falls off. Then everybody gets the plague.
It takes the next 7 Chapters, all the way up until the golden calf, for God to give the exact dimensions and materials of the Ark of the Covenant (some say the Ark of God) and the rest of his His temple, the Tabernacle. Now you can build your own! (Note: a cubit is 1.5 feet. Why the translators didn’t convert it to meters I’ll never know.)
I’ll mention something about this temple – it’s not just a symbolic building to show God you love Him. The Tabernacle was the literal dwelling-place of God. The Ark of the Covenant was brought to the back of the temple in a secret room. It was so sacred and separate that almost no one could ever go there. The Ark had two massive gold-covered angels sculpted above it. Between their wings, it was said, was where God would sometimes sit.
So then, since I covered the golden calf last week, next God tells them to pack up and move. They’re trekking to the Promised Land after all, which Abraham and his descendants have been talking about inheriting for over 500 years. It’s about time. The bad news, God says that land is filled with people. You can tell there’s lots of them because they all have different names: Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. (There may be more later, I lose track.) The good news is, God’s sending an angel ahead to subtly nudge them out of the land by the time the Israelites get there. And it’s a “land flowing with milk and honey,” so it should be worth it. (This had better be a metaphor. If there are just dairy springs and oases in the desert, I wouldn’t trust it. And honey without bees I wouldn’t think was honey, but honey with bees would mean an insane amount of bees.)
The bad news is, God’s ditching the Israelites. They’d been crammed in together on this road trip and they couldn’t stand each other. He even says so – “because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” Brrrrr. Is it cold in here? He even tells them to dress down and take off their “ornaments” out of humility. (i.e. their jewelry, unless this was a tacky Christmas sweater party and they were wearing baubles and Christmas lights. This was the desert and there was no Christmas. You knew I was kidding. I’m just saying in case you skimmed and missed that.) So they do, and the people mourn. This probably involved watching The Note-scroll and sending him drunk tablets at 2 in the morning. The Bible was a good enough friend not to talk about that in detail.
And onnn that note, they’re off!