Shemot – The Bible is filled with obscurities

                                                                    

                                                                  SHEMOT

                                                        (Chapters 1:1–6:1)

 

                                            The Bible is filled with obscurities

 

I am not going to explain a biblical section or supply answers this week as I usually do. Instead, I want to alert you to a biblical phenomenon: contrary to what most people think, the Bible is filled with obscure passages; we read events and haven’t the slightest idea what Scripture is talking about. This fact bothers many people who feel that the Bible must be clear. But it is a fact.

 

One famous example is right at the Bible’s beginning. Cain killed Abel, but the Bible doesn’t tell us why he did so. Additionally, Scripture writes that Cain said something to Abel just before killing him, but doesn’t give us a hint what he said.

 

The great Argentinean writer Jorge Borges (1899-1986) remarked that good literature has many ambiguities and obscurities so that two people write good books, the author and the reader. The Bible is superb literature, so it should be no surprise that it too contains many obscurities and ambiguities, such as the Cain and Abel episode.

 

The brief event in Exodus 4:24–26 is another example. It is one of the most difficult, if not impossible, to understand passages in the Bible. Moses and his family are traveling to Egypt and, in the JPS translation: “The Lord met him and sought to kill him.” Tziporah, Moses’ wife, takes “a flint and cuts off the foreskin of her son, and casts it at his feet; and she says: ‘Surely a bridegroom of blood art thou to me.’ So he leaves him alone. Then she says: ‘A bridegroom of blood in regard of the circumcision.’”

 

The passage raises many questions. We can only guess at their answers. Many commentators have offered solutions. However, as students of the Bible, we need to realize that the offered solutions are only speculations, for the text is obscure.

 

Who is “the Lord” who “met” Moses? (The Hebrew uses the Tetragrammaton, y-

h-v-h.)

Why did “the Lord” want to kill him?

Why did Moses’ wife try to rectify the situation; why didn’t Moses do something?

Why did she take a flint? This was the Bronze Age. She could have performed the

circumcision with a knife.

Which of the couple’s two children did she circumcise?

Why was the circumcision done at that time and not before the beginning of the

trip?

Why did she “cast” the flint?

At whose feet did she cast it, “the Lord’s” or Moses’ or her child’s?

Is the word “feet” a figure of speech for something else, and if so what?

What is a “bridegroom of the blood”? Does it refer to “the Lord,” Moses, or her

son?

What is the significance of the blood?

Who “let him alone”?

Why did she make a second exclamation? What does it mean?

Does it differ with her first statement?

Why is this story told at this point in the Exodus drama?

Are we expected to think that this event actually occurred?

Whether it occurred or not, what is it meant to teach us?

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