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.

Ark of the Covenant

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.

Holy of Holies

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!


All right, deep breath, people.  This is where the Bible gets a little bit hairy.

*re-reads* what’s that?  Not for another few pages?  I got all psyched out too early and put off writing it for days because I didn’t know how people would take it and I could’ve just written this next part to get the ball rolling?

Those were rhetorical questions.  No need to respond.

So Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.  Into the desert.  There’s some talk of a… Promised Land… on the other side, which they don’t own, but somehow they’re gonna get it.  There are 600,000 guys, plus the ladies, plus their kids, plus their animals.  And given how little time it took for them for Jacob’s dozen kids to reach those numbers, they probably still had a lot of kids.  Can you imagine keeping them entertained for an interminable trek, mostly on foot, and having to carry them when they get tired?  My God, can you imagine how much childproofing stuff they’d need to bring today?

The Egyptians are taking this surprisingly well.  Their entire lower-class first flipped the entire natural world over, killed every bit of livestock (I fumbled through 4 probably-wrong ways of saying that and I’m still not so sure – is one animal “a livestock?”  “A lifestock”?  Well if God gave up on them so can I), destroyed all the crops and killed all the firstborn, even of the livestock who were all dead (I didn’t ask), and left, leaving the Egyptian people to build their own pyramids.  Naturally, this left the Egyptians ready to put the past behind them and accept th–

–nope, they’re gonna chase ’em with chariots.  I know it keeps saying that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but it didn’t really take the Lord to make him stubborn and bitter.  Really, God could’ve softened, conditioned and moisturized Pharaoh’s heart and he still would’ve been a totalitarian classist fascist racist with a literal God-complex.  But here’s the funny part – it says he came after those 2-million Israelites with a mighty legion of 600 chariots.  Remember how these people outnumbered that several thousand to one?  I dunno, maybe the rest of them were dead or grieving, understandably.  Or were afraid of the, you know, God.

Cairo Chariot

(Side note on MtG: the Enchantment Auras vs Artifact Equipment distinction has always felt a little weird to me.  I get that one’s an object and one’s a trait, but objects are automatically type-neutral and enchantments and everything almost never are?  I guess they’ve got globalization in Magic, but only for selling things.  Magic people don’t migrate.)

Oh speaking of which.  He was there.  Sorry, I started a sentence with Him so you couldn’t see He was capitalized.  There.  God spends the next several years literally visible to everyone, leading them through the desert, as a cloud by day, and as a pillar of smoke and fire by night.  Or it’s an angel doing this, in Exodus 13:20 it’s the Lord, in 14:19 it’s an angel – if I don’t have the answers here, sometimes it’s because no one included them.  Point is, He/it moves to the back and becomes this thick fog that lights up on the Israelites’ side but was dark on the other – and most importantly, the Egyptians may be on horseback but they still can’t catch up.

(The cloud-and-flame presence of God is gonna make a sweet Magic card one day – once I can decide what it would actually DO.  Feel free to comment your suggestions.)

So when the Israelites had made it almost all the way across, the Egyptians are right behind them.  And God lets the ocean go back to being an ocean, and – wait a second, the Pharaoh’s in one of those chariots.  Guys, I never noticed before, God just delivered a coup in Egypt right there.  Their king just died.

Part the Sea


Just kidding, guys, there’s more than 50 books of the Bible left.  We even cheated and skipped everything in Genesis before Abraham, which now I feel like I should backtrack and do someday.  I actually did whip up a bunch of cards for it yesterday – the words on the cards, anyway.  Bing Image Searching for pics is harder than I thought it would be.

So now the slaves are freed.  But they’re in the middle of the desert.  There are no crops.  They can not have packed that much matzo and lembas bread.  (I didn’t mention last week, the night they left they cooked as much unleavened flatbread as they could and left.  That’s when the Israelites invented Passover.  It’s when God / the angel of death passed over them and killed all the Egyptian firstborn.)  So they’re walking, and some of them riding, and it feels like they’re in Phoenix but they can’t hide indoors.

So naturally, people are unhappy.  Yes, they’re being led by the most powerful being in the universe, and his personal emissary on Earth whose wave of his hand can summon millions of vermin.  And there’s a promise of eventually inheriting a paradise somewhere east of here.  But there are no signs and maps, and they literally weren’t allowed to leave Egypt for a day since slavery, so they only sort of know where they’re going.  I can see both sides here.

Desert Wanderer

Naturally, they start grumbling (that’s literally the word the Bible uses for it) that it would’ve been better to have stayed and died in Egypt than to be out here.  At least they had bread and meat there.  So what does God say?  “Challenge Accepted.” (Paraphrased.)  So God tells Moses, who tells Aaron, who tells Everyone, that they will get their meat and their bread – but how they get it will be a test for them.  He sends in a wind that blows quails into the camp and they all die.  The quails, not the Israelites.  There’s the meat.  Get it while it’s fresh.

And the next one – all right, the next one’s a Magic the Gathering joke.  He feeds them mana.  You know, ’cause it’s – all right I gotta explain this to everyone else.  Mana is the word for the all-purpose energy source in the game.  You’ve got a couple land cards, and those are the energy you use for every other card you play.  The longer you play, the more of your cards you draw are land cards, the more energy you have to work with… there you go.  But they picked a word for a supernatural stuff that auto-generates on any landscape, and which has to be used that way or it goes bad.  I used to think it was a weird word to choose for it, but now it all makes sense…

Mana in the Barrens

Mana is describes as these thin, frosty flakes (they’re more than good) that appear on the ground after the morning dew dries.  I go between picturing it as snow and as fungus. My environmental science degree is looking for an explanation, even if it only worked on this scale by divine intervention.  There just isn’t enough info for me to work with here.  Whatever it was, they make it into bread, and that’s how two million people and their animals don’t starve to death in a desert.

Now here’s the test – just gather enough for one day at a time, says God (or God says, if you’re OCD about word order).  Didja grow up with the “Our Father” prayer?  “Give us this day, our daily bread”?  It wasn’t always a metaphor.  This is a trust exercise.  Keep in mind these people had the most literal, tangible evidence of God’s power to make things work out for them than anyone else in human history.  They could not have possibly been atheists.  (No offense to atheists; I was one for a good decade, and it’s a logical enough viewpoint, so I’ve got no bitter rant of straw-man arguments prepared to spew at them.)  So here, God’s seeing if doing absolutely everything is enough for people to trust He’ll do it again if He tells them He will.

And some people gather extra anyway and try to save it up.  It seems practical, if this were free money on the ground that would disappear by morning anyway, and if the one who left it there wasn’t… all-knowing.  That bread became wormy and foul.  (Where did the worms come from?  This is a desert, I figure worms wouldn’t do well there.  Maybe it was a God-thing, sticking them in there for illustrative purposes.)  Moses got angry at them.  Then for those who *did* want more-than-daily bread, on Friday people find and gather double the mana.  Moses tells them, this time the leftovers will stay good til tomorrow, and no mana will show up tomorrow so you’re gonna need it.  He even tells them, don’t bother going out to gather – this is the 20th-or-so thing Moses has prophesied so you’d think they’d believe him by now.  So God lets people save up, just like they wanted.  But again, some people go out looking anyway!  *sigh*… people.

Mana Sabbath

Then these people show up called the Amalekites, and just immediately declare war on them.  Or vice versa.  The Bible doesn’t point fingers here.  Granted, they probably had this territory staked out, and then a wave of two million people comes through, and even if they came through saying “we come in peace” it’s hard to take them at their word.  I did some digging to see if the Israelites had any beef with them traditionally.  As it turns out, when Jacob’s brother Esau had a kid with a hooker 500 years prior, she’d named him Amalek.  These were the angry rejected bastard stepchildren of the Israelites.  ‘course, the Amalekites could’ve seen it the other way around.

The Bible may have realized it explained things redundantly so far, so the explanation is quick – Moses sends out his soldiers and tells them he’ll be on top of a hill holding his hands up.  No backstory locker-room talk with God included this time.  As long as Moses held his hands up, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.  No pressure, Moses.  I’ve seen some guys in stadiums who do this like their shouting is gonna decide the game.  Moses ends up having Aaron and another guy hold his hands up for him so they can win.  This had some serious card material.

Man at Arms

Now, normally, when two countries have a feud going, it’s just people hating other people.  Here we see God takes a side.  Yes, He took a side in Egypt, but you’ll see Him encourage them to welcome Egyptians into the tribe a few decades from now.  But He officially – eternally – declares war on the Amalekites.  This isn’t human racism, or nationalism, in the traditional sense.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.”
“Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”” (Exodus 17:14-16)

Yep.  Making this a card.

Enemy Immemorial

But the chapters I’m writing about next week – well that’s one doozy of a read.  When people get into arguments about Christianity, when it’s not science or sex, it’s usually this next part.  On your marks, get upset, go!

We did it!  We finished Genesis. (I’ll have to go back and add everything before Noah later.)  Now to the book of Exodus.
Anybody here seen “Prince of Egypt”?  It may be the most visually beautiful gem of a movie in the history of cartoon.  It’s basically the Moses story you grew up with, but a lot more personal.
Eternal Lineage

Let’s tie this in to last post’s Joseph story first.  It’s been a few hundred years.  It’s been… 430 years.  Joseph and his siblings all moved to Egypt, because Joseph’s got connections.  These were the first Israelites / Hebrews (I’m just gonna use the words interchangeably based on which one sounds cooler). Now I don’t know what their sex education classes looked like, but in that time they managed to have so many babies that they outnumbered the Egyptians in Egypt. This is what every racist is afraid of immigrants doing today.  And its exactly what the Europeans did to colonize America and lead to the coup in Texas, so their descendants are probably afraid history will even out and…

…so back to Egypt.  The Egyptians feared an Israelite uprising, so they enslaved them.
This still didn’t make them feel safe- now the Egyptians knew they’d given the Israelites one more thing to rebel against!  So they became so racist (see how this becomes a vicious cycle?), they decided to kill all the newborn male children of Israel.  It’s hard to picture that level of massacre in the world today.  Once in a while, some spot of the world reminds us what humans are capable of.  Right now the Burmese military is under investigation for an ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya minority, Muslims in a Buddhist country.  Those days aren’t over yet.
Field Enforcer
But there is at least one survivor.  A woman puts her child in a basket and sets them on the Nile.  The basket drifts…to where the Pharaoh’s wife is bathing.  The guards must not have had the usual modern “its a bomb” fear (when were bombs invented anyway?), but someone looks in the basket and sees a baby.  Her husband wanted every one of them killed, but she decides to adopt this one.  I can only imagine the couple-fights that came out of that.  “How’s this gonna look when I run for re-election?” “Honey, you’re Pharaoh. You don’t even need people to like you, they just have to say they do or you kill them.”

Anyway. Luckily Moses’ birth-sister Miriam (who gets called a Prophet for one sentence when they all leave Egypt and says literally nothing else that she did) was following the basket. So she speaks up and offers to find a Hebrew woman to raise the baby, because apparently Pharaoh’s wife (Pharah?) wants to have a baby but not actually raise it, and Pharah offers to hire the woman. So Miriam brings her own mother to nurse and raise her own baby, until he’s old enough, and gets paid to do it!  If you’re a mother this should make you jealous, because motherhood should be paid and it isn’t.
Did I mention this baby is Moses?
Moses, Plague of Egypt
There’s a big gray “skip ahead” here where suddenly Moses is a young man going for a walk, he sees a Hebrew getting whipped by a slavemaster, Moses kills him, then runs away into the desert wait wait wait wait.  He was raised by Pharaoh. He’s the second-most powerful man on the planet.  We don’t get to see any of that?  All right, cue the movie:
In “Prince of Egypt,” Moses grows up side-by-side with Pharaoh’s son, as second-in-line for the throne. Their father is the same man who tried to kill every little boy, when Moses was supposed to be one of those little boys.  This actually didn’t get pointed out too much in the film.  He sort of finds out he’s a Hebrew when he’s going for a princely, suspiciously guard-less walk and comes across Miriam and their brother Aaron, and Aaron yells at him for not stopping racism.  Then Moses has a Loki-breakdown and kills that slavemaster and runs away in shame.

Now the stories line up again.  Moses wanders in the desert until he gets to a desert tribe, which takes him in.  He starts a new life, gets married, has a great musical number by her dad (sadly not in the bible but seriously I’ve got the DVD and we could do movie night), and becomes a shepherd.  That’s when he wanders into a cave….

….with a burning bush.

There’s a lot more detail here than the quick Sunday School version gave you.  First, it says the bush is burning because of the presence of an angel.  Then the voice of the Lord comes out of it.  Which is it?  Did the Lord travel with angel bodyguards?  Was the author not sure how to taxonomize the supernatural and tell which was which?

So at this point, Moses doesn’t know much about God.  His mom may have told him a few things when he was little, maybe.  And then he got raised by Egyptians who taught that his dad-in-law was a god too. But God has to introduce himself.  Which God is he? “I am the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.”  That’s an important distinction to make right now.

Then God tells him to go back and stop racism.  Free the slaves.  He’s asking a guy who was raised by slavemasters and then fled to live way away from all that, and whose only connection to them is the birth family he barely ever knew.  So Moses puts himself down saying he’s bad with people and no one would believe him anyway.  And God says, all right, let’s break out the miracles here.  He hasn’t event defied physics since making the universe (except for however he blew up Sodom), so, time for some transfiguration.

He shows him he can turn his staff into a snake.  He just….has to…grab the…tail to turn it back into a staff, which sounds difficult.  And if they dont believe that, he says, put your hand in your robe and pull it out.  He pulls it out and it looks pale, withered and dead.  A little warning would’ve been nice.  That’s not a miracle you want to use on yourself.  But God tells him to put it back and his hand’s fine again.
Last chance: take some water from the river and pour it on land and it’ll turn to blood.  One of those will convince people.
Serpent Staff
Moses still thinks someone else should be doing all this.  So, God sighs (probably) and says you know what, fine, your brother Aaron can split the job with you.   And thats the last time he let a prophet at all not do what he commanded them to do.

Now God fleshes out the plan a bit.  He won’t just ask politely for his dad-in-law to pass the 13th amendment.  God will go to war with him.  He’ll “smite Egypt with all His wonders” to prove that the greatest, most powerful, most terrible people in history can still lose, if they’re on the wrong side of history.  And all Moses had to do was speak truth to power.  The Israelites didn’t even need to lead a civil war themselves. They didn’t need to lose half a million lives fending them off, whether they stood their ground in Egypt or not.  God did it instead.  That contrast to the alternative helps, when you wonder how God could have killed all those people.  Most of those people were killers already.

Moses leaves the cave and tells his wife, who takes it surprisingly well.  They pack up their kids and head back to Egypt.  Something happens on the way that you’re welcome to scratch your heads over: when Moses is sleeping, God shows up in the middle of the night and tries to kill them.  Yep.  Mistranslation?  I’m less sure once it says this- Zipporah apparently knew what God wanted intuitively, so she hurried up and circumcised her son right then and there- and God leaves.  And her son probably cried the whole night and Moses woke up to that and Zipporah saying “its your turn to hold him! Yes he’s bleeding but don’t worry.  Oh and your friend God showed up. Can you two talk through this in the morning?”

God tells Aaron to meet him partway.  They barely knew each other, but that’s the one thing God said to Aaron.  Everything else, God said Moses should just tell Aaron himself.  Really everything Moses and Aaron say after this point is like that: God gives Moses step-by-step instructions, teaches him his lines, and Moses tells Aaron.  When they get to the Israelites, they do the 3 miracles, and tell them about the plan to free them, and everyone is loving it.  Everyone is on board.

Then Moses and Aaron talk to Pharaoh about it. It wasnt a closed-door session – it was in front of all Pharaoh’s favorite people.  Moses makes his staff a serpent in front of a room of Egyptian-God-believers.  And Pharaoh’s magicians – wise men or sorcerers or whatever your translation says – they make their rods (not staffs, just rods, I don’t even know what you do with a rod but I guess I know now-) they make their rods into snakes.  How?  Dark magic?  Other gods powers?  or just smoke and mirrors switching out a rod for a snake?  My take on it is that some translations say they did it “with their secret arts,” and I take that as being just theater magic.  After all, look at the entire Bible- when does any power but God do anything supernatural?  Scrape the bottom of the barrel and you’ll find a talking snake, one necromancer who could only bring back a spirit so they can talk to people, and…..and…some possessions in the New Testament.  Add to this list if you think of more.  Oh, end of scene: Moses’ *ahem* God’s snake eats the others.

I was waiting for Pharaoh to say something here.  As far as he cares, this isn’t a political statement or a holy war, this is a magic show.   So Moses has to come back later and talk to him.  God’s gone over the script – but it isn’t “let my people go.”  Moses isn’t even going to ask Pharaoh to liberate half its people.  He’s going to ask to let them take the weekend off.  He asks Pharaoh to let his people take a 3-day journey into the desert to make sacrifices to their God.  (This is not where Burning Man came from.  Nor was it a concert.)  Then if Pharaoh says no, He tells him to put his staff in the water and all the liquid water in Egypt will turn to blood.  But since God only goes over what to say, and the next thing we know Moses is striking the water, we don’t hear Pharaoh’s comeback.  Moses has just made the ultimate gift to vampires and fans of The Shining.
Plague of Water to Blood
There are nine more plagues after this.

Plague #2: frogs.  That really doesn’t sound so horrible.  That’s probably why it’s one of the first.  Granted, it says they were climbing on everyone.  This must have been when gumbo was invented out of desperation.  *googles* no, that’s shrimp and crab.  My apologies to New Orleans.  But really, this would have been terribly annoying.

So Pharaoh asks for Moses to stop the plague, agreeing to let them have their holiday weekend, and Moses (well technically God) calls off the frogs.  They die and get swept up in heaps and stink up the place.

And then Pharaoh decides to keep the slaves in Egypt anyway!

So, Plague #3.  Gnats.  Or lice.  Not sure how historians could have mixed that up, but it was one of those two and they got on everyone.  The magicians try to copy this – no luck.  They even tell Pharaoh this plague must be the finger of God.  No luck.

Plague #4: flies.  Probably won’t kill anyone, but too bad all the frogs are dead.  This time God specifies He sent them over all of Egypt except where the Israelites lived, in Goshen.  (Maybe that’s why people say Gosh instead of God.)  And Pharaoh does the same bait-and-switch again.

Plague #5: livestock.  And God rained livestock upon Egypt, and it was more terrible than any rain of cats and dogs that they had ever seen.  Nah, it’s a plague against livestock.  They got sick and died.  That one hits me right here (I’m indicating my heart – actually I’m typing to say that, but I was indicating my heart).  They were innocent victims in this.  I do have this to say about this plague, though – most of them were naturally-occurring things.  In other words, God or no God, plagues still happen.  You can try to blame God for targeting them at certain people, but if there’s no God, will people be just as angry about it?  They just don’t have someone to blame anymore.

Plague #6: boils.  As in blisters, not as in cooking in hot water.  Some people do that with meats, by the way.  If I wrote Leviticus I would’ve banned that in there and require it be grilled.  God half-agrees – in Leviticus he’s gonna ask for burnt offerings, not boiled ones.  The way they make this plague has some wild, sorcerous imagery too: “Take handfuls of soot from a furnace and have Moses toss it into the air in the presence of Pharaoh.  It will become fine dust over the whole land of Egypt, and festering boils will break out on people and animals throughout the land.”

Plague #7: a storm of hail, thunder, and… it’s translated as either lightning or fire.  Another important distinction I wish I knew which it was (but everything else said about it just talks about the hail, so I guess the rest is cosmetic).  God warns the people (though that really depends on how fast people spread the word) to get out of the fields, as everything in them will be beaten down and struck; the crops are flattened, and the trees are shattered.

Plague #8: locusts.  For some reason this is the one everyone talks about.  Probably because it’s distinctive.  They’e like grasshoppers.  And they ate everything.  Not human flesh.  Just everything edible by non-Willy-Wonka standards.
I’ll note that Moses and Pharaoh have gotten to haggling about how many of the Israelites can go to worship in the desert.  First Pharaoh says ‘only the men can go.’  By next plague it’s ‘only the people can go but not their livestock.’
Plague of Locusts

Plague #9: Darkness.  “Stretch your hand toward the sky and there will be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that one can feel.”  That’s edgy.  I don’t know if that’s more horror or more metal.  And I don’t just mean that in a ‘come on, kids, the Bible’s cool’ sort of way.  It says everyone outside of Goshen was caught in a blackness so thick they couldn’t see the person next to them.  They just huddled in terror in their homes until it passed over.  I don’t think that’s how the eclipse went.
Plague of Darkness

Plague #10: Death of the Firstborn.

This is the kind of moment that most people have a problem with.  That’s understandable.  No, it’s more than understandable.  If a human did this today, there would be outrage from every corner of the globe!  The firstborn of every family, even of every animal died that night.  It’s moments like this that make people call religion backwards and barbaric.  There are countless pacifist Christians, but they define themselves more by the New Testament than by moments like this.

But I should share the explanation I’ve heard.  When a person dies, especially someone as young and innocent as a child, where do they go?  They didn’t have a chance to fail God; they hadn’t matured enough, they couldn’t have made a decision about who they were going to be.  So they didn’t deserve Hell.  They could only have gone to Heaven.  This still made their families suffer… but this was a war to free half the nation.  And this ended the war.  With Pharaoh’s own son dead, he bade the Israelites to go.

So… where are they going?  To a place God promised he would give to Abraham’s descendants, 500+ years ago: the Promised Land.  That’s not what it’s called.  It’s called Canaan.  (The emphasis in on the “a” not the “aa,” so it’s CAY-nahn.  Just keeping you on your toes.)

Also the 10th Plague and the packing up to leave were when Passover was invented.  They make a very big deal about God saying this is the day and this is how you must celebr – actually it’s pretty sober-sounding.

Aaaand that brings us to the end of Exodus 12!  Stay tuned.  But not too tuned, I can’t decide if I work well under pressure.

(This post is part of an ongoing series on my making the Old Testament into Magic: the Gathering cards.  Best to start at the beginning, which is the Word…press link here.)

So you’ll remember Jacob just patched things up with his brother.  And he’s got that whole God-promise to fulfill of making Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars, which is either a lot of pressure or means God will take care of things.  This may happen, as he has a dozen kids by one mom… and one by his favorite wife Rachel.  That miracle-kid at the end there was Joseph.

These are already themes at this point – the favorite-wife drama, the favorite-kid drama, the backstabbing-brother drama, the divine-surprise-pregnancy (way before Mary only these kids had regular fathers)…

…and they’re about to give Judas the sell-out-everyone’s-favorite-for-money idea.

Joseph’s gift is prophesy via dream.  His dream, someone else’s dream – usually he can piece together that it means something, and that something comes true.  (Freud would’ve killed for that ability.)  Of course being the naive little golden-child snowflake, he doesn’t see the problem with telling his siblings the dream where they and the fields and the stars literally bow down to him.

Joseph, Dream Cipher

Joseph, Dream Cipher (2)(blue) 1/3: Human Mystic.  When Joseph enters play, he gains Pure (this creature’s Power & Toughness cannot be lowered. Pure removes Sin). While Pure, whenever an opponent views the top cards of their library, they must show all other players.
{t}: Target player looks at the top 7 cards of their library, and puts them back in that order.
“And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”” Genesis 41:15

So one day a brother talks the others into tossing him in a well to die.  Wait, that’s not what I said was gonna happen.  That’s because one of the other brothers with, you know, a conscience, sees some passing slave dealers and talks the brothers into selling Joseph away instead.  Phew!  Life saver.  So they tell their father that Joseph was eaten by wolves, his parents have a breakdown, and no one speaks of it again.

Traitor's Price

Traitor’s Price (s): (Instant) Target player with two or more creatures sacrifices one of its creatures, or Enslaves it to an opponent’s creature (your choice).  (Treat the abilities of an Enslaved creature as if it were controlled by the player whose creature it is enslaved to; it untaps on that player’s untap step.)   That player gains mana equal to the lost creature’s mana cost until the end of their next turn.  Another of the player’s creatures gains Sin.

Now here’s where Joseph’s story can get pretty Magic-heavy.  The cards, not the supernatural.

Welcome to the Business

Welcome to the Business {black} (Enchantment – Aura): Target sentient creature gains Slavemaster (when this creature would destroy a card, you may give it Enslaved instead and assign it to this creature. It remains your opponent’s, but treat its abilities as if it were yours; it untaps on your untap step). This creature’s Enslaved creatures gain “{t}: creature’s Slavemaster gains +1/+1 until its player’s next turn.”
“And they made their lives bitter with hard bondage, in mortar, and in brick, and in all kinds of work in the field, all their work which they made them do was with harshness.” Exodus 2:14

This is the first of many cards with this theme.  Most will be creatures with Slavemaster. Each card they enslave gains an ability that makes them benefit you or the Slavemaster, like “Add 1 to your mana pool,” or “Gain 1 life.”  In all cases they come with the sadistic theme that the more you subdue your enemies, the more powerful you become.  It can be more satisfying than destroying them.  (Note that you don’t control the enslaved creature during combat, but you do gain control of its abilities.  That means both its “static” ongoing abilities, and anything you can spend mana or tap to activate.)

So why not just write “gain control of that creature”?  Because the Egyptians didn’t brainwash the Hebrews.  They didn’t convince them to turn on each other.  They just told them to work.  It isn’t written how common slave uprisings were, but it’s doubtless that, like in all empires, the consequences for trying were dire.  Later on you’ll see what happens when Moses asks Pharaoh to give his people the weekend off; Pharaoh doubles their workload, and then they complain to Moses for bringing that on them.  But that’s centuries from now; right now, Joseph is implied to be the first Hebrew slave in Egypt.

Joseph gets sold to a man named Potiphar, the captain of the guard.  And since God is shaping Joseph’s life, Joseph schmoozes with Potiphar (yes that is how you spell it), and gets promoted until he’s second-in-command in his household.

Potiphar, Captain of the Guard

Potiphar, Captain of the Guard {3}{white}{black} 3/4: Human Soldier.  Slavemaster (when one of your creatures would destroy a sentient creature, you may give it Enslaved instead and assign it to Potiphar.  It remains your opponent’s, but treat its abilities as if it were yours; it untaps on your untap step.)  Each slave gains “{1}: this creature can block for their Slavemaster’s player until their next turn.”
“The Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.” Genesis 37:36

But that’s when you may want a trigger warning.  Potiphar’s wife wants to sleep with Joseph.  Now, we don’t know where this was between sexual harassment and attempted rape, only that she grabbed his coat and he ran off and left it.  Then she screams, saying he attacked her – don’t worry I’m definitely not gonna try to work this into a card – and Potiphar feels betrayed and throws Joseph in jail.  He may have been a second-in-command to a man who works for the Pharaoh, but legally, he has no more rights than any slave.  Actually, hold that thought – it says when he gets to prison, the guards like him so much they put him in charge of the other prisoners.  But he is still a slave who’s in jail, so, it’s still no dream job.

Joseph’s life has been a roller coaster so far.  Can’t things just go… realistically average for him?  Nope.  He finds himself imprisoned with two cellmates who keep having these dreams.  Up to this point, we’ve only seen Joseph interpret his own dreams; it turns out he’s been waiting to go all Freudian on somebody.  So he tells one the dream means he’ll be pardoned and will work for Pharaoh, and the other he tells will be executed.  And that’s what happens.

Some time later, the ex-con working for the Pharaoh (the one who was not executed?  Take a guess.) hears that the Pharaoh is having weird dreams himself.  Time and time again, he sees the same vivid, monstrous vision.  Seven beautiful, majestic stalks of wheat grow up – and seven foul, gaunt strains of wheat writhe up and devour them.  It’s a dream, and a metaphor, but too awesome to pass up a card….

[20 minutes later]
Can’t find any good enough pictures for this… I was really hoping the Joseph, King of Dreams monster-crops would be online somewhere.  All right; here’s the text I’ll use when I find it:

Gaunt Grains: Land: Gaunt Grains enters play tapped. {t}: add {p} to your mana pool.  {t}: tap {1} of your opponent’s mana.  “Then seven other heads of grain sprouted, thin and scorched by the desert wind…” Genesis 41:6-7

That’s when Joseph’s old cellmate, who works for the Pharaoh now, remembers Joseph.  So he tells the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh sends for Joseph.  He has the grain dream, and he has the same kind of dream but with 7 heavy metal cows eating 7 kid-friendly plush cows.  Nobody in the whole kingdom had been able to figure out that bad crops eating good crops… was a metaphor for bad crops and good crops!  7 years of plenty, followed by 7 years of famine.  Amateurs.

But AGAIN, Joseph gets promoted for it!  I swear, this kid becomes everyone’s favorite or makes people want to kill him.  There is no middle group.  So now he’s Vice Pharaoh of Egypt (don’t look that up I made it up).  He starts calling for grain to be put away in mills in the 7 good years to save up for the bad.  He starts calling for cows to be put away in – wait that’s not how cows work.  Grain it is.  If you had Celiac disease, you were out of luck.

And now we come full circle: when the famine hits, Joseph’s brothers come begging to Egypt.  He recognizes them, but they don’t recognize him – which makes you wonder what the Vice Pharaoh was doing watching every person in line at the food court to see when the showed up.  So he throws them a banquet, frames them with robbery, watches them grovel, and gets a smug moment where they’re at his knees, just like in the first dream he had.  Then he takes off his Clark Kent glasses and tells them it’s him.

And that’s every underdog’s fantasy, ladies and gents.  You are special and too good to work, people hate you just because they’re jealous, but that’s okay because the rest of your life people will just give you things.  Then you can bully your bullies right back and they’ll be sorry and love you like they should’ve.


Coat of Colors

*Coat of Colors: Equip (w)(u)(g): When equipped creature would be destroyed, Enslave it to an opponent’s creature instead (Coat of Colors’ creature remains yours, but your opponent treats this creature’s abilities as theirs. It untaps on their untap step).
Put a counter on Coat of Colors on each of your opponent’s turns, to a maximum of 7. Discard all counters: opponent gives control of X land to Coat of Colors’ player as long as Coat of Colors is in play.
“…and he made him a coat of many colors.”
Genesis 37:3

Abraham and a Lot of Others

September 11, 2017

(This post is part of an ongoing series on my making the Old Testament into Magic: the Gathering cards.  Best to start at the beginning, which is the Word…press link here.)

Let’s pick up the pace a bit.
Where were we?  Noah.  Right.  10 generations later, Noah’s 3 kids have had an amazing amount of babies and have repopulated the Earth.  “Go forth and multiply” were their only instructions, so they took it and ran with it.  Then we get to Abram.  (His name gets extended to Abraham later.)  He’s living in a pagan city, where his dad literally makes idols for a living.  God speaks to him, Abram is called to pack up and leave, and God promises him that He will make him the Father of Nations, children as plentiful as the dust, and as numerous as the stars.  He will, after all, officially start Judaism, which later add Christianity and (not genetically but by giving them source material) Islam.  So, naturally:

Abraham, Father of Nations

Abraham, Father of Nations {3}{W/G} 3/3 Creature – Human Cleric: {x}: summon X 1/1 Descendant tokens. When an ability targets Abraham, you may also have it target any number of Descendant tokens.
“I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies.” Genesis 22:17

I skipped the parts that were hard to make into a card- like how he goes to a city, and he’s so sure that people will kill him to take his wife that he tells her to pretend she’s his sister- and the King marries her. And Abram gets rich! But when the King finds out, he feels terrible about it, and lets him leave with everything he earned while the king’s brother-in-law.  A lot of people do morally-questionable stuff in the Bible, and some of them get called out by God and/or killed for it.  It’s a little Game-of-Thrones-y.

And then there’s his son Isaac. He’s in his 80’s, God tells them they’ll get pregnant, and they name him Isaac.  A few years later, God tells him, sacrifice him to me. Abram’s about to, when an angel shows up and tells him not to, because that was a test.  And Isaac never says a word about it again.  I can see the card text now: “Sacrifice a creature. Cancel that sacrifice.” Hindsight makes it a little less dramatic.

Wait a second. I almost forgot there’s this city called Sodom.

City of Sodom

City of Sodom {black}{black}: Enchantment: Target player’s creatures gain Sin. When their abilities would raise each other’s Power or Toughness or place +1/+1 counters on them, those abilities pick new targets if possible, and can now target opponents’ creatures, but now lowers Power and Toughness by the same amounts.
“Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony and laziness, and the poor suffered outside their doors.” Ezekiel 16:49

(I’ll explain Sin another day.  For now it’s just a label you stick on a card – and some other cards do worse things to cards with Sin.)

It’s actually a little less edgy than you’ve heard.  It turns out 95% of what’s ever written about them had nothing to do with being gay.  Sort of.  There are lots of verses, before and after it blows up, about how terrible these people are and how everything they do is a blight against God.  One of the few specific examples written is “Sodom’s sins were pride, gluttony and laziness, and the poor suffered outside their doors.” Ezekiel 16:49  (And for context, God describes Israel as acting worse than Sodom when His people are doing something terrible, like having temple prostitutes and sacrificing their children to bull-headed fire gods (Leviticus 20), which was very… MtG-black-card-ish.)

The other thing that happened is why the city got blown up.  God announced to Abraham that he was going to destroy it.  (Hold your horsemen, there’s gonna be a card for this.)  A pair of angels in disguise come to warn Lot, who takes them into his house.  And then this mob of rapists shows up – I’d repeat that, but just read it again and imagine it louder.  They demand he send out the men (the angels) for them to gang-bang (the one gay part of this encounter), like a hostage exchange.  Lot’s so desperate to bribe them and save everyone else that he offers them his adult daughters (who hear him say this, by the way).  Don’t you tell us who we can’t do, they say, “now we will treat you worse than them” – now they try to grab Lot and pull him out.  The angels start striking blind people – that came out wrong – striking people blind in the doorway, and warn Lot and his family to escape, because they’re about to destroy it.  Now you see why?

Agent to Sodom (1)

Agent to Sodom (4)(r): 4/4 (Creature – Angel Archer)
Hexproof, Indestructible.  Angels gain Pure and cannot lose it.  
Morph {3}{r}<i>(you may cast this card face-down as a 2/2 creature for {3}.  Turn it face-up at any time for its morph cost.)</i> When Agent of Sodom is turned face-up, all of target player’s tapped creatures gain Sin.  When Agent in Sodom attacks or blocks, put -1/-1 on all creatures with Sin.
“We are about to destroy this place, because their outcry has become so great before the LORD that the LORD has sent us to destroy it.” Genesis 19:13

So they do.  This is where we get the preacher phrase “fire and brimstone.”  Oh, and the angels said not to turn around and look at it, but Lot’s wife looks and turns into salt.  Not sure how to card that one yet.

Who’s next?  Isaac the almost-sacrificed, surprisingly, decided to have a kid anyway.  That was Jacob.  You probably didn’t hear about his brother, Esau.  Kind of a family secret.  Jacob had an older twin brother, but Jacob talked him into signing over his rights as firstborn son.  And when their father was half-blind and dying, Jacob’s own mother played favorites by getting Jacob to pretend to be Esau and have his father sign over the rest of his inheritance.  Then he runs away because he rightfully thinks his brother is gonna kill him for this.  (Jacob, if you’re reading this, you’re a much better brother than Jacob, Jacob.)

Jacob, Traitor Twin

Jacob, Traitor Twin (1)(i) 1/2 Creature – Human Nomad: When Jacob, Traitor Twin enters play, choose a creature. When target creature would be affected by a spell or ability, you may make it affect Jacob, Traitor Twin instead.
“But Jacob said “First swear that your birthright is mine!” So Esau swore an oath, thereby selling all his rights as a firstborn son to his twin, Jacob.” Genesis 25:33

But there’s a happy ending – decades later, Jacob’s made it rich as a shepherd (you’ll understand this if you play Settlers of Catan – it’s useless until everyone needs it).  He sends a message .  When he shows up, he sees Esau’s waiting for him, with an army of 400 people.  So he starts sending servants ahead with his animals as gifts.  Then he camps out a ways away, and hopes that sinks in.

That’s when – do you know the story of a guy in the Bible wrestling an angel?  The church simplified it a bit.  What happens is that in the dead of night, Jacob’s alone, probably remembering how terrible of a brother he was growing up… and a man comes right up to him and starts wrestling him.  No wings here.  Almost no angel is ever said to have wings.  I’m sure there was some context for this.  But then, given the army over the hill, it’s a little less unexpected to be attacked right now.  And they wrestle… the entire… night.  Total metaphorical undertones.  ‘Long, dark night of the soul,’ anyone?  Anyone?  It’s an expression, I’m actually not pretentious enough to quote whoever coined it.

Then it’s coming up on daybreak, and it says that the man knows he won’t win this wrestling match.  So the man touches Jacob’s hip and that knocks it out of place.  The man says, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”  Reading between the lines here – Jacob’s hip’s out of alignment, and he’s still wrestling?  Jacob is ballsy.  He says back to the man, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  More between-the-lines: I know people gave each other blessings back then, but I think Jacob may know this isn’t one of Esau’s soldiers.  The man asks (probably rhetorically) “What is your name?”  “Jacob,” answers Jacob.

And the man tells him, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”

Pause for dramatic effect.

That’s a riddle right there.  Yes, God’s all-powerful and can turn cities into pillars of fire, but you see these moments where He walks as a man.  And for Jacob to accept his challenge and not give up or dismiss it and run, that’s a symbolic gesture.  But here’s the taunt: Jacob asks him again, “Please tell me your name.”  And the man just asks him, “Why do you want to know my name?” and blesses him.  Even the scripture isn’t willing to say that was God.  So was it an angel?  Was it someone sent to play the part in Jacob’s life?  Was it a lucid dream?  No answer.  It says Jacob struggled with God and man, but this person could have been either one.  If this had been a new chapter in a young-adult fantasy series, the forums would be on fire when this came out.


Wrestle with God (2)

Wrestle with God {1}{p}: Tap and put a -1/-1 on target creature.  It gains Hexproof, Indestructible and Pure <i>(this creature’s Power & Toughness cannot be lowered.  Pure removes Sin.)</i>
<i>“And the man said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Genesis 32:28<i>

Well – that’s not the end of the Bible.  There’s actually a lot more.  An insanely lot more.  But let’s make it into blog-sized pieces.  Hint for next week: Jacob has kids.  You’ve heard of one of them.