Exodus 21 – laws concerning slaves. This bit I don’t understand at all. It seems like God is saying that owning, in fact, mistreating, slaves is okay – as long as you don’t hit them so hard they die. This does not, in any way, reconcile with my understanding of the nature of God (which is why it’s so dangerous to read a snippet of the Bible and then say, “Ah, this proves such and such.” It probably doesn’t!) So, how to make sense of this bit? – I am open to suggestions. All I can think is either we just cannot, in our English version, thousands of years later, really understand what was originally meant by these words. Or, perhaps when they were written, the abuse of slaves was very extreme, and these words were a moderator, toning down the abuse, until such a time as society had progressed enough for everyone to be treated properly. Sometimes God allows people to progress slowly, and maybe society of those days wouldn’t have coped with being told “no slaves”. But I’m clutching at straws, really, I have no idea what this bit means. It seems especially ironic when you consider it was being given to people who, until very recently, had been slaves themselves.
Nor do I understand why they were told not to boil a young goat in its mother’s milk. I think this is the basis for Jews today not eating cheese and meat in the same dish, but I don’t know why it mattered.
Then we have the details of how to build the tabernacle, a special tent for God to ‘dwell in’. It’s very detailed – not especially thrilling to read. It does however raise some questions. The materials were costly and beautiful – why? God had better beauty in nature: flowers, sunsets, stars, seas. Why would he want a tent, even an expensive one? Obviously the point was that it was not ‘for’ God, it was for the people, so they had a special place to worship. I wonder if we’re missing that today. Perhaps having a place that is special, that’s our very best, is important. Maybe we physical beings need reminding that God is worthy of more than we can offer, and we should designate somewhere suitable to worship him. Yes, when we have no time, we can pray anywhere (when you have toddlers and babies, sometimes the only place you can think for a second is in the bathroom.) But when life is not so extreme, should we be making more effort? If we snatch times to pray when in bed, or at the kitchen table, are we missing something of the holiness of God? I wonder if other religions, such as Muslims who wash before prayer, have something to teach us here. Yes, we need to be careful that the ritual doesn’t become an end in itself, but I wonder if we have lost something by rejecting rituals so completely. Even our churches tend to be a bit shoddy. We have an attitude of “take the cheapest biscuits to have with coffee, it’s only church”. I think we should take more care to only bring the best, because it helps to remind us that the God who we claim to worship is worth our best. Always.
In Exodus 29 we have the consecration of Aaron and his sons. They are told to “…lay their hands on the head of a bull. Then you shall kill the bull…” We often have bulls in the fields near us. They are huge. These instructions are no simple thing. It also means the priests were in essence, butchers. They would smell like your local butchers shop – not especially pleasant. I wonder if they could wash the clothes they were told to wear?
Talking of smells, in Exodus 30 there is the recipe for a perfume. I read this weeks ago, right after I had visited Floris, the exclusive perfumery in London (see blog). So I was extremely interested that there was a special smell used for the place where people were to worship. The part of your brain that deals with smells is right next to the part that stores memory, which is why smells can evoke such strong memories. For me, one whiff of Old Spice aftershave in a supermarket, and I’m a little girl again, being hugged by my Dad. So, for people to have a smell that they associated with worship, would be very special. I guess that’s why they were forbidden to use the perfume anywhere else – it was only to be associated with God. Smells, memories, emotions, would all be intermingled when they came to their special place. I know some people light a candle when they pray. Maybe keeping a special scented one, not to be burnt at other times, would also be helpful. God never forgets we are physical beings, even if we like to sometimes. I’m not sure we should ignore all this as much as we do.
In fact, we tend to see gifts from God in mainly spiritual terms. But in Exodus 31, there’s a chap called Bezalel (unfortunate name) who is “filled with the Spirit of God” and is therefore intelligent, artistic, and a skilled craftsman.
I’ll post more of my notes next week. Thanks for reading. (If you sign up to follow my blog, you won’t miss the other things I discover.)