Thinking Out Loud

June 29, 2020

Gold in Exodus

Filed under: Christianity, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:36 am

Guest Post by Aaron Wilkinson

If you grew up in the church, you probably know the story of the escaped slaves ending up in the desert and making themselves an aureate bovine to worship while Moses is up on the mountain being told that making golden cows-idols is a bad idea. (As an aside, gold-leaf hamburgers are a real thing served at some ridiculous restaurants.)

This story was probably told to you as it was to me: a moral tale on the importance of obedience and the dangers of idolatry. The question I had never asked was this: how did escaped slaves have gold? I recently read Exodus from beginning to end without skipping sections (possibly for the first time) and the story of the gold itself, and its eventual intended purpose, is rather interesting.

During the Burning Bush account near the start of the story, we read the Lord saying this:

“…You will not leave empty handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house for silver and gold jeweler and clothing. You will put them on your sons and your daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.” – Exodus 3: 21b,22 (Tree of Life Version). See also 11:2 where this command is repeated, in case you missed it the first time.

Shortly after, we read that it happened just as God had promised.

“So [the sons of Israel] acted according to the word of Moses. They asked the Egyptians for articles of silver and gold, and for clothing. ADONAI gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians and let them have what they asked for. So they plundered the Egyptians.” – 12: 35,36

Two things stand out to me at this point: first that this seems to be a move of willing compassion on the part of the slaves’ wealthy neighbors rather than a move to pay the Israelites to leave. A divine-inspired compassion, but still far from an extortion. Second, I think the “plundering” language is meant to be somewhat ironic. The outcome is the same (Israelites have gold, Egyptians have less) but the means is rather different.

I’ll have to skip over the plagues, the Passover, and other pertinent details of the story, but I do want to mention that I had never before realized that the crossing of the Reed Sea takes place during the night and the Egyptians’ demise coincides with dawn. So imagine the starry night sky and the gold- and silver-bedecked Israelites passing down below in the sea bed. Someone should paint that.

Kids’ Book Illustrators: Take notes.

Then we get to Sinai and the delivering of the 10 Commandments. Afterwards, in the same speech, God tells Moses: “Do not make gods of silver alongside Me, and do not make gods of gold for yourselves.” – 20:23

Moses relates these instructions and the Israelites respond with a resounding ‘by golly, we’re in!” Moses goes back up the mountain and receives more instruction.

” ‘Tell [the sons of Israel] to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him… Gold, silver and bronze; blue, purple and scarlet cloth; fine linen and goat hair; ram skins dyed red, seal skins, acacia wood; oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; onyx stones and setting stones for the ephod and for the breastplate.” – 25:2-7

At this point, I think of my Minecraft world and how stoked I feel when I have stacks of materials to make into something awesome. You might think how it would feel if someone gave you a million dollars to make your dream home. The possibilities with what you can do with all these resources are limitless and God has a plan for all of it, which includes:

– The Ark of the Covenant, which has gold-covered wood sides, gold rings, gold-covered rods for carrying, and a solid gold cover!
– Gold statues of these Cherub creatures which are wildly amazing!
– This really awesome tree-shaped lampstand with floral details of blossoms and bulbs! (A burning bush, if you will. In art, the Chapter 3 bush is usually portrayed as leaf-less twigs, but what if it was actually covered in leaves and flowers?)
– All these ceremonial clothes with gold details and a cool tent made from all this flowing coloured cloth!

And lots more! This is going to be a monumental artistic masterpiece.

See? Twigs.

Leaving the gold aside for a moment, wrapping up all this instruction at 30:11 we read “Then ADONAI spoke to Moses…” Adonai has been speaking to Moses for like 5 chapters now, so why this phrase? Well, from here to the end of Chapter 31, this phrase appears 6 times. In these speeches, he promises to send his Spirit upon Bezalel and Oholiab, two artists who will make this all happen. And at the end, God calls Moses to remember the Sabbath “…for in six days ADONAI made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he ceased from work and rested.”

Six acts of speech. Two humans who will be intimately connected with God. Then finally the Sabbath. I do believe we are meant to see this story at mount Sinai as mirroring the Creation in Genesis. And if that’s the case then the next thing we should expect is a fall.

Imagine you just came home from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby or whatever your local art supply store is. You just had a great idea for a painting and you just bought the most expensive high-quality materials you could get your hands on. You put the shopping bag on the table, take a quick trip to the washroom, and when you come out you see your kid has gotten into the paints, spilled most of them on the floor, and finger-painted a pile of dung onto the wall.

Now imagine you just got the blueprints for this awesome tabernacle and all these rad liturgical symbols and tools, and you head down the mountain and find out your brother made… a cow.

Sup, Broses? Check out this neat cow!

The tragedy of the golden calf is more than just an act of disobedience and idolatry. Those are surely important aspects, perhaps even the most important aspects, but these are compounded by subverted artistic potential. The scope of God’s creative vision was vast and intricate, and Aaron made… a cow.

“Then [Moses] took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the surface of the water and made [the sons of Israel] drink it.”

I’m left with some questions. If this story is meant to evoke the Creation and Fall, can we infer backwards that the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would have eventually served a vast and intricate purpose? Would there have been a Knowledge of Good and Evil pie in making? Is Israel’s punishment here supposed to evoke the curse on the serpent in Genesis to eat dust? Was the tabernacle any less golden then it could have been for this waste of material? What is the “gold” in my life that God wants me to save for a special purpose? I’m sure I could ask more.

Now there’s Gold in the Garden of Eden, and there’s Gold in the New Jerusalem. There’s Gold everywhere in between. There’s entirely too much gold for me to consider all at once, but if I’m patient then I’m sure God will show me what to do with it.

° ° ° °

My fellow Tolkien fans may appreciate both the motifs of the Tree the gives Light (Menorah / Trees of Valinor), and the deliverance that comes at dawn (Reed Sea / Helm’s Deep.) Almost makes you wonder if Tolkien was some kinda Bible-reader.


Aaron Wilkinson graduated in English and Theatre from Redeemer University in Hamilton, Ontario and blogs occasionally at The Voice of One Whispering. He is a tea connoisseur, actor, student of Norse poetry, and Uncle to his roommate’s three chihuahuas. All three of his gig-economy jobs were completely shut down by the pandemic.

April 29, 2013

What if What Happened in Boston Was a Weekly Occurance?

Filed under: current events, media — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

Noah Beck writes at The Christian Post:

I genuinely empathize with the victims of the Boston bombing. They were killed, maimed, injured, and/or forever traumatized only because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. As they gathered to compete in or watch the marathon underway, they were – like all terrorism victims – the epitome of innocent.

But imagine if this happened again next week, at a pizzeria, killing 15 diners. And again, a week later, on a bus, killing 19 passengers. Then, at a discotheque, killing 21 teens. Then, at a church, killing 11 worshipers. And so on, with a new bombing terrorizing us almost every week.

Israelis don’t have to imagine. They just have to remember. Between 1995 and 2005, each year saw an average of 14 suicide bombings, murdering 66 victims. 2002 was the worst year, with 47 bombings that slaughtered 238 people. That’s almost one Boston bombing every week. Adjusted for population differences, Israel’s victims in 2002 amounted to the equivalent of three 9/11s in one year. And these bombing statistics don’t include all of the shootings, stabbings, and other violent attacks by Palestinian extremists during those years.

Most Americans (and Europeans), who enjoy lives of far greater security, can barely recall such attacks because they usually received only scant and perfunctory media coverage, if they were mentioned at all. A few particularly gruesome attacks (like the Netanya Passover bombing that killed 30 and injured 140) were prominently reported but most attacks were barely and inconspicuously noted, and many smaller but horrific attacks went entirely unreported…

Continue reading here

The article concludes:

With so many constant threats, it’s a miracle that Israelis can maintain any semblance of everyday sanity, much less win Nobel prizes and get more companies listed on the NASDAQ than any country after the USA and China. How do they do it? If you talk to Israelis, their approach seems to be a proud and stubborn refusal to let terrorism change their lives…

October 28, 2010

Shane Claiborne: Speaking of Love in a Time of War

Since the first day, I’ve been hooked on CNN’s Belief Blog; a mixture of news reports and guest columns related to various aspects of religion.   A number of Evangelical authors do guest columns, including Shane Claiborne, who was featured today.

Speaking of the middle east situation in general and his travels in particular.  Here are some random notes and quotes:

  • We met with Jewish folks committed to stopping the home demolitions of Palestinians, and we met with Israeli soldiers who refused orders they deemed unjust.
  • …[T]he central message of the cross is grace, love, and reconciliation. It is about God’s love being so big he died, even for his enemies, and now we are to join this revolution that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free of hatred and discrimination.
  • …[T]hese are urgent times when we need the Church to be the Church – and to remember that we are people of reconciliation and peace in a world infected with violence and prejudice.
  • …[I]f Jesus had tried to make his walk from Bethany to Jerusalem today, he wouldn’t be able to make it through the checkpoints.
  • One of the promises of Jesus in the Gospels is that the gates of hell will not prevail. I don’t think he was saying there is no hell but I do believe he was saying that there are hells today that hold people hostage. We should be storming the gates to rescue them.

Looking for more?  Check out the whole article here.

Shane Claiborne is an author and activist and one of the architects of a community in Philadelphia called The Simple Way. Shane worked in India alongside Mother Teresa and spent time in Iraq with the Christian Peacemaker Team during the recent war. His books include Jesus for President, Follow Me to Freedom, and the best-selling Irresistible Revolution. Check out more at: www.thesimpleway.org.

Here are some previous appearances on this blog by Shane:  from earlier this month, one on U.S. gun violence;  from the summer one one education;  and going much further back, a Spring 2008 review of Jesus for President.

July 2, 2010

Why I Haven’t Been To Israel and Why You Should Go

If I were to meet you in Toronto, I could show you the hospital I was born in, the houses that I lived in, the church I was dedicated in, and the school I attended.    They’re all still standing, though I’m a bit fuzzy on the second house I lived in, because I know it as number 21, but the municipality switched to four-digit house numbers on that street for reasons I can’t begin to fathom.

My kids situation is quite different, despite their obviously younger age.   They were born in different cities; one hospital was completely razed to make room for a new one, while the other was renovated into a seniors’ complex.  The school my oldest attended for kindergarten was torn down last summer and a new school, with a new name, was built at the other end of the property.

Sometimes you can go back, and sometimes you can’t.

There was a time many years back when it seemed like everyone I knew was taking a trip to the Holy Land.   There is no end of ministry organizations willing to take you there — including some whose ministry would seem to have little interest in Biblical history — and if you miss one trip, there’s usually another one leaving a few weeks later.

At the time, I came to the conclusion that it was becoming the Evangelical equivalent of taking a pilgrimage to Mecca; something that you must do before you die.

Don’t get me wrong:  I want to learn the backstory to those Biblical passages.   I’m a huge fan of Ray VanderLaan and his “Faith Lessons” series, and in fact have taken many of his “virtual” trips to Israel via DVD.    I just don’t want to see it “added” to the things that as a Christian you “must” do.

On the other hand, thinking out loud about my kids and their birthplaces, there is a value in these five little words:

“This is the spot where…”

Now I know they may not have it exact.   It may not be the precise piece of geography where Jesus turned water into wine, or preached the Sermon on the Mount.   But it’s the idea; the concept that our scriptures are not just a book of stories, but that all these things actually happened.   You can go back and look and say, “It happened here.”

Maybe you don’t look at the maps in the back of your Bible, and maybe — like me several years ago — you suppress a yawn as people share their Holy Land tour pictures.  Maybe — also like me — history, political science and current events weren’t your longsuit growing up.   Perhaps you still struggle with news stories — or even shut them out — when you hear words like Palestine, Jerusalem, West Bank, or even Middle East. Your frame of reference may be that’s all just heat and sand and men wearing tunics.

But it’s good to know your roots.   It’s good to know you have roots.

As the book of Acts reminds us (26:26), all these things didn’t take place “in a corner,” or “a long time ago in a galaxy far away.”

Compared to eternity, it all happened yesterday. Shalom.

October 19, 2009

Monday Lynx

Here’s some fresh lynx links to start the week:

  • Stuff Fundies LikeSo far we’ve linked to Stuff Christians Like, Stuff White Christians Like and Stuff Christian Culture Likes (see blogroll at side) but this week we’re most definitely adding a link to Stuff Fundies Like.   You may be a huge Jon Acuff fan, but let’s face it, Jon goes to Andy Stanley’s church, which puts SCL in a world that most bloggers can relate to.   Stuff Fundies Like goes directly to the heart of conservative Christianity (i.e. Fundamentalists) and the author, who goes only by Darrell, definitely nails it.   (Warning #1:  Unlike SCL, SWCL and SCCL, the people portrayed in this one don’t always have a sense of humor.)  (Warning #2:  Allow at least a half hour becuase you’re going to want to read the ENTIRE thing.) (Warning #3:  Be prepared to do more than leave a comment; you can also sign up for a forum!)    Here’s that link one more time.
  • Know someone who is 60 but has the ministry outlook of a 30-year-old?   Or how about someone who is 25 but seems to be going on 55 when it comes to their outlook on church and culture?   You might be dealing with someone who has a different MINISTRY AGE.   Now, thanks to Leadership Magazine, you can find out yours just by taking a simple survey.   (The scoring becomes rather obvious, but that just makes the whole thing more informative.)   Even if you’re not in vocational ministry, but serve on a board or teach a class:  Take the survey!  You may find that you’re a younger leader, pragmatic leader, or traditional leader.   Just 25 questions linked here.
  • As far as I know, this isn’t a Christian book per se, but I was mailed a link to Start Up Nation by Dan Senor and Saul Singer (Hachette, 2009) which begins with an interesting teaser:  “How is it that Israel– a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources– produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada and the UK?”  Click here for more details. [UPDATE: See new link in comments section.]
  • Jonathan Brink shares a link to a TED Talk by Karen Armstrong prolific author of over 30 books on religion including The Case for God (Knopf Publishing, September 2009).   Here she speaks on the history of “belief.”   This is heady stuff, but it’s worth viewing if you have 21:27 to spare.   Watch the video and read Jonathan’s comments here at the blog Misseo Dei.
  • As Christians, we tend to focus on events which are close to us or familiar to us; so we usually pick up on events that take place in the White House that are more Christian-friendly.   So it’s interesting to see U.S. President Barack Obama giving an inter-faith, inclusive message on the occasion of Diwali (2:02) and lighting the Diwali lamp (1:00) in the White House.

lynxWatch for the links lynx to appear any day any time !!  (Reminder to children:  Do NOT pet the lynx.)  Link suggestions are always welcomed.  Just call our link-tips hotline.

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