Essay on the Period of Moses

Brevard S. Childs, Exodus,

Gerhard von Rad, Theology of the Old Testament, vol I, “Theology of the Hexateuch: the Deliverance From Egypt,” 1957.

Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, vol I, “V. The Name of the Covenant God,”  “VI. The Nature of the Covenant God: Affirmation About the Divine Being” and “Affirmation About Divine Activity,” “VIII The Instruments of the Covenant: A. The Charismatic Leaders: The founder of the religion,” 1933, 1959.


Moses and Liberation. 1

Moses. 2

Moses and the revelation of Yahweh. 17

Attributes of the covenant God. 18

Moses and the Exodus from Egypt 19

Moses, the new people of God, and the wilderness. 20

Moses and Law.. 21

Moses and after 21

Ten Commandments. 22

Book of the Covenant 25

Renewal of the Covenant 26

Holiness Code of Leviticus 17-26. 29

Human qualities of the Law.. 33

Deuteronomy and the Law.. 34

Old Testament morality: norms, goods, and motives. 35

Moses and Sacrificial System.. 36

Worship. 36

The Sacred. 37

Sacrifice. 39

Levites. 50

Hindu Beginnings. 51

Period of the Tribal Federation. 52

History. 53

Biblical Text 53

Ruth. 79

Psalms. 81

Theology. 82

Divine intention shown in Divine activity. 86

The underworld. 88

Solidarity. 88

Personal relation to God. 89


Moses and Liberation



The time of the bondage in Egypt and the exodus is the next identifiable period of Israel's history.  The bondage in Egypt occurred during the reign of the Hyksos in Egypt in 1720-1552 Bc, which was during the end of the Middle Bronze Age (2100-1500 BC). The period of the exodus was in the Late Bronze Age.  Egypt was weakening as a world power.

            It would appear that Egypt had to deal with certain "resident aliens" in their midst, largely because of migration and prisoners of war.  Because their number was getting so large, life became hard for them, especially with their use as slave labor.  There were also "sea peoples" who had settled along the coast and were creating a problem to Egypt.  They may have been peasants and artisans.  However, when the upper class tried to push them into the unclean or expendable class, they revolted.

            The revolution begins. The covenant established at this time is best understood as with the suzerain treaty.  The purpose of such a treaty was to distinguish between a group that must be dealt with by force and a group that could be dealt with according to what we consider as normal, orderly, peaceful procedures.  This may well account for the emphasis on the anger of God in the Old Testament, a feature that becomes a barrier to many people who read the Bible today.  Those who do not enter into covenant with the Lord are outside the possibility of peaceful relations and subject to the anger of God.  In the same way, the breaking of the covenant by Israel means it will be subject to that same anger, since to break it is to make it of no effect.  This became a point of reference beyond mere individual or social interests.  It was the awareness of covenant that led to the formation of the Hebrew community. Covenant is what held the community together as well, which became a radical conception of community.

            What happened at Sinai was the formation of a new unity where none had existed before.  The mixture of tribes, kinship ties, and political alliances that only had in common the reality of their deliverance from an intolerable political monopoly of force.  This message must have had an appeal to the Canaanite people as well.  The covenant established insisted upon an egalitarian society under the leadership of the Lord.  It was recognized that God could rule without kings.  Before, religion was little more than rituals designed to influence the supernatural world to do humanity's will.  Under the covenant system, religion became a matter of submitting to the will of God, which in turn was largely defined by ethical standards.  This religious and ethical revolution was begun with the establishment of covenant relationships at this time in the history of Israel.  The revolution did not have as the only objective a change in the political power structure.  The revolution had the objective a change in values based upon a covenant with God, with one another, and with the world.

            Moses stands at the beginning of the formation of a new people of God. The figure of Moses everywhere stands at the center of the historical events that formed the pre-history of Israel: exodus from Egypt, covenant at Sinai, and wandering in the wilderness. Ordinary categories do not contain him: king, military leader, tribal chieftain, priest, seer, and so on. He unites gifts not normally found in combination. He had a specific historical task thrust upon him. He conveyed a new understanding of God as Yahweh to a diverse tribal federation that needed to become a people. He wanted to form a people in whom Yahweh could establish sovereignty. Israelite religion breathes the spirit of its founder. He became the mediator of the presence of Yahweh for this new people of God. He shared the law of God so that the life of the people would conform to the mind of God and serve the personal will of God. The will of God became normative in all human relationships. The word of Yahweh expressed the will of Yahweh. The newly organized people were not an absolute, for they had their foundation in the will of Yahweh. Yet, Moses did not finally define the will of Yahweh, for the rest of the Old Testament shows continuing development and openness to the new things God wanted to do.

            Most studies of the Old Testament suggest that it is difficult to find the historical Moses. What we can do is describe the various traditions and their account of Moses.

            The J document has Moses appear in every event. Moses retires into the background. The narrator assigns a slight role to Moses in these events. Yahweh effects the miracles. They take place without any assistance from Moses. The leadership of Israel belongs to Yahweh. The commission of Yahweh was to announce the purpose of Yahweh. Moses intercedes for the people, in line with the old prophetic office. He was an inspired shepherd whom Yahweh used to make the will of Yahweh known to people.

            In 1:8-12, J describes the fear of Pharaoh over the increase of the Hebrews. Chapter 2 describes the birth of Moses, his discovery by the daughter of Pharaoh, the killing of an Egyptian by Moses, and his escape to Midian. J offers an account of the call of Moses.


Exodus 3:2-4a, 5 (NRSV)

2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush. 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

Exodus 3:7-8 (NRSV)

7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.

Exodus 3:16-22 (NRSV)

16 Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ 18 They will listen to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go. 21 I will bring this people into such favor with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed; 22 each woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman living in the neighbor’s house for jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; and so you shall plunder the Egyptians.”

Exodus 4:1-16 (NRSV)

 Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’ ” 2 The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 3 And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”—so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5 “so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

6 Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. 7 Then God said, “Put your hand back into your cloak”—so he put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored like the rest of his body— 8 “If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign. 9 If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.”

10 But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” 13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” 14 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. 15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. 16 He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him.


J continues the account of Moses in 4:18-6:1. Moses returns to Egypt and to Pharaoh. The rather strange incident occurred that, as Moses tried to circumcise his son, Yahweh tried to kill him in 4:24-26. He teams up with Aaron. Moses and Aaron meet with Pharaoh the first time. The result is increased harsh treatment of the Hebrews. The scribes of the Hebrews call upon Yahweh to judge the Moses and Aaron. Moses offers a prayer in which he says that Yahweh has done nothing about rescuing the people.

J offers an account of the first plague of water turning to blood.


Exodus 7:14-15a, 16-17a, 18, 21, 24-25 (NRSV)

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water;

16 Say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” But until now you have not listened. 17 Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord.”

18 The fish in the river shall die, the river itself shall stink, and the Egyptians shall be unable to drink water from the Nile.’ ”

21 and the fish in the river died.

24 And all the Egyptians had to dig along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the river.

25 Seven days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile.


J offers an account of the second plague of frogs.


Exodus 8:1-4, 8-14 (NRSV)

 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 2 If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. 3 The river shall swarm with frogs; they shall come up into your palace, into your bedchamber and your bed, and into the houses of your officials and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. 4 The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your officials.’ ”

8 Then Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron, and said, “Pray to the Lord to take away the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.” 9 Moses said to Pharaoh, “Kindly tell me when I am to pray for you and for your officials and for your people, that the frogs may be removed from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.” 10 And he said, “Tomorrow.” Moses said, “As you say! So that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God, 11 the frogs shall leave you and your houses and your officials and your people; they shall be left only in the Nile.” 12 Then Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh; and Moses cried out to the Lord concerning the frogs that he had brought upon Pharaoh. 13 And the Lord did as Moses requested: the frogs died in the houses, the courtyards, and the fields. 14 And they gathered them together in heaps, and the land stank.


J gives an account of the fourth plague of horseflies.


Exodus 8:20-32 (NRSV)

20 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 21 For if you will not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you, your officials, and your people, and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies; so also the land where they live. 22 But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people live, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I the Lord am in this land. 23 Thus I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign shall appear tomorrow.’ ” 24 The Lord did so, and great swarms of flies came into the house of Pharaoh and into his officials’ houses; in all of Egypt the land was ruined because of the flies.

25 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said, “Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.” 26 But Moses said, “It would not be right to do so; for the sacrifices that we offer to the Lord our God are offensive to the Egyptians. If we offer in the sight of the Egyptians sacrifices that are offensive to them, will they not stone us? 27 We must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as he commands us.” 28 So Pharaoh said, “I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness, provided you do not go very far away. Pray for me.” 29 Then Moses said, “As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord that the swarms of flies may depart tomorrow from Pharaoh, from his officials, and from his people; only do not let Pharaoh again deal falsely by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.”

30 So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 31 And the Lord did as Moses asked: he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his officials, and from his people; not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and would not let the people go.


J gives an account of the fifth plague of the death of livestock owned by the Egyptians.


Exodus 9:1-7 (NRSV)

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 2 For if you refuse to let them go and still hold them, 3 the hand of the Lord will strike with a deadly pestilence your livestock in the field: the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. 4 But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing shall die of all that belongs to the Israelites.’ ” 5 The Lord set a time, saying, “Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land.” 6 And on the next day the Lord did so; all the livestock of the Egyptians died, but of the livestock of the Israelites not one died. 7 Pharaoh inquired and found that not one of the livestock of the Israelites was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the people go.


J gives an account of the seventh plague of hail.


Exodus 9:13, 17-18, 23b, 24, 25b, 26-30, 33-34 (NRSV)

13 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Rise up early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews: Let my people go, so that they may worship me.17 You are still exalting yourself against my people, and will not let them go. 18 Tomorrow at this time I will cause the heaviest hail to fall that has ever fallen in Egypt from the day it was founded until now. 23 And the Lord rained hail on the land of Egypt; 24 there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, such heavy hail as had never fallen in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.

25 the hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree in the field.

26 Only in the land of Goshen, where the Israelites were, there was no hail.

27 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “This time I have sinned; the Lord is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong. 28 Pray to the Lord! Enough of God’s thunder and hail! I will let you go; you need stay no longer.” 29 Moses said to him, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. 30 But as for you and your officials, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God.”

33 So Moses left Pharaoh, went out of the city, and stretched out his hands to the Lord; then the thunder and the hail ceased, and the rain no longer poured down on the earth. 34 But when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunder had ceased, he sinned once more and hardened his heart, he and his officials.


J gives an account of eighth plague of locusts.


Exodus 10:1, 3-11, 13b, 14b, 15-19 (NRSV)

 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh; 3 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, the God of the Hebrews, ‘How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 4 For if you refuse to let my people go, tomorrow I will bring locusts into your country. 5 They shall cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land. They shall devour the last remnant left you after the hail, and they shall devour every tree of yours that grows in the field. 6 They shall fill your houses, and the houses of all your officials and of all the Egyptians—something that neither your parents nor your grandparents have seen, from the day they came on earth to this day.’ ” Then he turned and went out from Pharaoh.

7 Pharaoh’s officials said to him, “How long shall this fellow be a snare to us? Let the people go, so that they may worship the Lord their God; do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” 8 So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh, and he said to them, “Go, worship the Lord your God! But which ones are to go?” 9 Moses said, “We will go with our young and our old; we will go with our sons and daughters and with our flocks and herds, because we have the Lord’s festival to celebrate.” 10 He said to them, “The Lord indeed will be with you, if ever I let your little ones go with you! Plainly, you have some evil purpose in mind. 11 No, never! Your men may go and worship the Lord, for that is what you are asking.” And they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence.

13 when morning came, the east wind had brought the locusts. 14 such a dense swarm of locusts as had never been before, nor ever shall be again. 15 They covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was black; and they ate all the plants in the land and all the fruit of the trees that the hail had left; nothing green was left, no tree, no plant in the field, in all the land of Egypt. 16 Pharaoh hurriedly summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you. 17 Do forgive my sin just this once, and pray to the Lord your God that at the least he remove this deadly thing from me.” 18 So he went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. 19 The Lord changed the wind into a very strong west wind, which lifted the locusts and drove them into the Red Sea; not a single locust was left in all the country of Egypt.


J gives an account of the ninth plague of darkness.


Exodus 10:24-26, 28-29 (NRSV)

24 Then Pharaoh summoned Moses, and said, “Go, worship the Lord. Only your flocks and your herds shall remain behind. Even your children may go with you.” 25 But Moses said, “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings to sacrifice to the Lord our God. 26 Our livestock also must go with us; not a hoof shall be left behind, for we must choose some of them for the worship of the Lord our God, and we will not know what to use to worship the Lord until we arrive there.” 28 Then Pharaoh said to him, “Get away from me! Take care that you do not see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” 29 Moses said, “Just as you say! I will never see your face again.”


J gives an account of the announcement of the death of the first-born.


Exodus 11:4-8 (NRSV)

4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. 5 Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 6 Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. 7 But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites—not at people, not at animals—so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.


J also gives an account of the death of the first-born.


Exodus 12:29-34 (NRSV)

29 At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the Lord, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”

33 The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders.


J then says that Yahweh led the people on the way out of Egypt.


Exodus 13:21-22 (NRSV)

21 The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.


J gives an account of Moses leading the people through the Sea of Reeds.


Exodus 14:5b-6, 9a, 10-14, 19b, 21a, 24, 25b, 27b, 30-31 (NRSV)

5 and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” 6 So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him;

9 The Egyptians pursued them, 10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

19 and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea.

24 At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic.

25 The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

27 As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea.

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.


            The E document gives an account of the call of Moses in which it welds together the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob with Yahweh. The document pushes Moses into the foreground as the instrument of God in effecting deliverance. Moses is a miracle-worker almost to the point of magician. The document further enhances the importance of Moses by setting Aaron over against him. In the account of the golden calf, Aaron is practically the negative figure of contrast, and so it is too in the striking definition of the relationship of the two to each other. Moses is God for Aaron and Aaron the mouth for Moses. Moses was the creative initiator and Aaron only the executive speaker. The document views Moses as a prophet of action, taking an active hand in the events, and doing so by dramatic miracles. Finally, Moses excels all prophets. His charisma was so tremendous that a mere portion of it, even when it was further distributed over seventy elders, threw the recipients out of their normal psychic state and stimulated them to ecstasy. Intercession is present as well. In order to save Israel, Moses declares that he is ready himself to become anathema on their behalf.

            The E document gives an account of Egyptian mid-wives told to kill Hebrew male babies in 1: 15-20, 22. It offers an account of the call of Moses.


Exodus 3:1, 4b, 6, 9-12, 4:17(NRSV)

 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 4 “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.


The E document has an account of the first plague of water turning to blood.


Exodus 7:15b, 17b, 20b, 23 (NRSV)

15 and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake.

17 See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood.

20 In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood,

23 Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart.


The E document has an account of the seventh plague of hail.


Exodus 9:22-23a, 24a, 25b, 35a (NRSV)

22 The Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that hail may fall on the whole land of Egypt, on humans and animals and all the plants of the field in the land of Egypt.” 23 Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire came down on the earth.

24 there was hail with fire flashing continually in the midst of it, 

25 the hail also struck down all the plants of the field, and shattered every tree in the field.

35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go.


The E document gives an account of eighth plague of locusts.


Exodus 10:12-13a, 15a, 20 (NRSV)

12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt, so that the locusts may come upon it and eat every plant in the land, all that the hail has left.” 13 So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night.

15 They covered the surface of the whole land, so that the land was black.

20 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.


The E document gives an account of the ninth plague of darkness.


Exodus 10:21-23, 27 (NRSV)

21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. 23 People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were; but all the Israelites had light where they lived.

27 But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he was unwilling to let them go.


The E document announces the death of the first-born among Egyptians.


Exodus 11:1-3 (NRSV)

The Lord said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you away. 2 Tell the people that every man is to ask his neighbor and every woman is to ask her neighbor for objects of silver and gold.” 3 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people.


The E document says that the Egyptians were finally happy to be rid of the Hebrews, to the point where they willingly gave silver and gold to them. J then describes the departure of the Hebrews from Egypt.


Exodus 13:17-19, 14: 5a, 7, 19a, 25a (NRSV)

17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. 19 And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.”

5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people,

7 he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them.

19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them;

Exodus 14:25 (NRSV)

25 He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty.


            The P document has an account of Moses in Exodus. It gives a brief genealogy. It also refers to the suffering of the Hebrews, and that God remembers the people.


Exodus 2:23-25 (NRSV)

23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.


P gives an account of the call of Moses.


Exodus 6:2-13 (NRSV)

2 God also spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name ‘The Lord’I did not make myself known to them. 4 I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. 5 I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. 8 I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.’ ” 9 Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.

10 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, 11 “Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.” 12 But Moses spoke to the Lord, “The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?” 13 Thus the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them orders regarding the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, charging them to free the Israelites from the land of Egypt.

Exodus 6:28-30 (NRSV)

Moses and Aaron Obey God’s Commands

28 On the day when the Lord spoke to Moses in the land of Egypt, 29 he said to him, “I am the Lord; tell Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I am speaking to you.” 30 But Moses said in the Lord’s presence, “Since I am a poor speaker, why would Pharaoh listen to me?”

Exodus 7:1-7 (NRSV)

7 The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2 You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his land. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. 4 When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5 The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them.” 6 Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. 7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.


P continues with an account of the plagues upon Egypt. It offers an account of the staff of Moses and the first plague, the water turning to blood.


Exodus 7:8-13 (NRSV)

8 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a wonder,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake.’ ” 10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord had commanded; Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same by their secret arts. 12 Each one threw down his staff, and they became snakes; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up theirs. 13 Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

Exodus 7:19-20a, 21-22 (NRSV)

19 The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over its rivers, its canals, and its ponds, and all its pools of water—so that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout the whole land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’ ”

20 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. 21 and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. 22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.


P offers an account of a second plague with frogs.


Exodus 8:1-5 (NRSV)

 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. 2 If you refuse to let them go, I will plague your whole country with frogs. 3 The river shall swarm with frogs; they shall come up into your palace, into your bedchamber and your bed, and into the houses of your officials and of your people, and into your ovens and your kneading bowls. 4 The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your officials.’ ” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, the canals, and the pools, and make frogs come up on the land of Egypt.’ ”


P offers an account of the third plague with mosquitoes or gnats.


Exodus 8:16-19 (NRSV)

16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, so that it may become gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt.’ ” 17 And they did so; Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and gnats came on humans and animals alike; all the dust of the earth turned into gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, but they could not. There were gnats on both humans and animals. 19 And the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.


P offers an account of the sixth plague of boils.


Exodus 9:8-12 (NRSV)

8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Take handfuls of soot from the kiln, and let Moses throw it in the air in the sight of Pharaoh. 9 It shall become fine dust all over the land of Egypt, and shall cause festering boils on humans and animals throughout the whole land of Egypt.” 10 So they took soot from the kiln, and stood before Pharaoh, and Moses threw it in the air, and it caused festering boils on humans and animals. 11 The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils afflicted the magicians as well as all the Egyptians. 12 But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had spoken to Moses.


P makes it clear that Pharaoh hardened himself throughout these plagues.


Exodus 9:35 (NRSV)

35 So the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he would not let the Israelites go, just as the Lord had spoken through Moses.

Exodus 11:9-10 (NRSV)

9 The Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.


P goes on to offer an account of the Passover in 12:1-14 and of Unleavened Bread in 12:15-20, as well as other instructions. The Hebrews leave Egypt in 13:20. P goes on to describe the deliverance through the Sea of Reeds.


Exodus 14:1-4, 8, 9b, 15-18, 21b-23, 26, 27a, 28-29 (NRSV)

 Then the Lord said to Moses: 2 Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. 3 Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, ‘They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.’ 4 I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord. And they did so.

8 The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. 9 they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 16 But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. 17 Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

21 The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers.

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth.  28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.


            The journey through the desert is in Exodus 15:22-18:27. In the J document, the people complain because the water is bitter. God sends manna. The people again complain because they do not have water. Moses appeals for help to Yahweh, who then tells Moses to strike a rock. The Israelites test Yahweh through this encounter. J gives an account of the battle against the Amalekites. It recounts a meeting between Moses and the father-in-law of Moses, Jethro, the priest of Midian. It gives an appointment of judges that resembles the monarchical period. Both of these incidents establish a sense of the mosaic office in the J tradition. In the P document, the emphasis is that if the people obey the commands of the Lord, the diseases inflicted upon the Egyptians will not come to Israel. The people complain because they do not have food, so God sends manna and quail.

            Deuteronomy goes back to the 600’s BC, although it contains law material that is much earlier. In Deuteronomy, Moses is the chief of the prophets, the archetype and norm of all prophets, through whose coming Yahweh guaranteed the constant connection between himself and his people. His office was to pass on to Israel, in the form of a proclaimed word, the word of Yahweh that Yahweh addressed to him. Yahweh still speaks to Israel through Moses. This mediating office was simply derived from and given its warrant by a scriptural proof based upon Israel’s refusal on one occasion to listen to Yahweh speaking to her directly. The corpus of Deuteronomy is put into the form of words of Moses spoken to Israel. The prophetic movement caused this change in the conception of Moses. This concentration of all Israel’s communion with God upon him now had the result that Moses became the suffering mediator. After the people had sinned in the matter of the golden calf, Moses tries to ward off Yahweh’s anger. He lies prostrate before God forty days and forty nights, taking no food or drink. His long prayer of intercession is given word for word in chapter 9. The reception of the tables of the covenant also entailed a similar strict abstention from food and drink.

            In the P document, Moses is immersed in the revelation at Sinai. The document releases Moses from the tasks of older traditions assigned to him. The divine command in the matter comes to Moses. However, Moses passes it on to Aaron, and Aaron then engages in the trial of strength with the heathen magicians. Even in the cases of rebellion, Moses does not act. Moses is for P something beyond priest, worker of miracles, prophet, and so on. Moses becomes so taken up with Yahweh that he separates from people.

            Moses is the one to whom Yahweh reveals the name. In terms of the revelation of the divine name to Moses, the God who is revealed to Moses had already been made known to the fathers and will redeem Israel in the future.  Note that both Testaments reflect on God's nature as revealed, not discovered, and whose revelation is redemptive. 


Moses and the revelation of Yahweh

            As a continuation of revealing divine intention through divine activity, Yahweh had direct discourse with Moses, as the text indicates, face to face. This human form of revelation emphasizes the unique relationship Moses had with Yahweh. At his point, it becomes clear that among the many forms Yahweh revealed intentions, one of them was decidedly not an animal form.

            The revelation of the name Yahweh took place in the time of Moses. Exodus 3 communicates what was new in the revelation of Yahweh in terms of information about the divine name. It also shows how this new revelation was very closely linked with the history of the patriarchs. What happened with the revelation of the name of Yahweh was important for Israel, but it was not the beginning of revelation. Yahweh is identical with the God of the ancestors.

            The medieval period focused on ontology, attempting to turn the bible into Greek philosophical reflection. Recent discussion focuses on revelation as history. We need to exercise caution at this point. Yahweh is not a definition of the nature of God in the sense of a philosophical statement about the being of God, as a suggestion of absoluteness, aseity, and so on. There is no division between God's being and God’s activity. The whole narrative context leads to the expectation that Yahweh intends to impart something, but focusing on what Yahweh will show himself to be to Israel. However, while affirming that history is the arena in which the self-revelation of God takes place, we do not need to take the step of an over all philosophy of history rooted in those events.

            We might suggest that the name means something being present or being there in the sense of relative and efficacious, being there for you. This is a promise to people in a hopeless situation, and this promise employs the rhetorical device of playing freely with the derivation of a name, a thing well known to storytellers. The acts of God’s self-disclosure is joined with the call for commitment.  Revelation is not information about God, but an invitation to trust in the self-disclosure of God as a promise of future hope.

            According to ancient ideas, a name had a close and essential relationship between it and is subject. The subject is in the name, and because of the name carries with it a statement about the nature of its subject or at least about the power appertaining to it. People in antiquity had no doubt that human life was mysteriously surrounded and determined by divine powers. However, this conviction was not a comforting one. People did not know their names, invoking the name, and gaining divine interest in what interested the individual. Deity had to reveal the name, and cause the name to mind in people. Yahweh had given himself way in revealing the name, and Yahweh committed this name in trust to this newly formed people. In this name, they found the guarantee of Yahweh’s nearness and readiness to help. Through it, they had the assurance of being able at all times to reach the heart of Yahweh. They looked upon the name as holy. To hallow the name was to acknowledging the uniqueness and exclusiveness of the worship of this people. Wherever they opened their doors to another deity, they profaned the name of Yahweh. One hallowed the name by obedience to the commandments. While others gods had many names, Yahweh had one. Yahweh was in fact one. Even the highest terms of praise are always reserved for this one name. The people could not properly objectify and dispose of this name. The name never became an elevated mystery, but it was understood only in historical experience.

            This God is jealous, which accounts for the passionate striving for the dominion of Yahweh throughout the community. The nature gods are in sharp contrast to this personal God that acts in the history of this newly formed people. The temptation, however, was to make God into a projection of human characteristics. This newly formed people assumed the existence of other gods for other people. The passion of Moses was that these people devote themselves to Yahweh. It would take time before this affirmation went to the level of monotheism. Yahweh never had a female consort. The core experience here is that Moses ruled out all rival deities, that this belief became the responsibility of all persons, and that all periods of the history of Israel contain the shattering force of this core experience and belief.

Attributes of the covenant God

            This God of the covenant shows the people what this God is like through divine activity. I want to suggest certain arenas of activity that the Old Testament considered as revelatory of what this God of the covenant was like.

            First, they knew the power of God through warlike activity. Yahweh becomes a hero in war. Many scholars consider this as little more than a sinister and frightful being, easily provoked to anger. Yet, this expression of power was the operation of a personal God and a personal will. Yahweh is the divine lord of the people who exercises power on behalf of the people. This implies the life-giving and creative aspects of this power.

            Second, they knew the loving-kindness of Yahweh through the fellowship they experience in covenant. Yahweh shows constancy of this love. God is the father and shepherd of this people. The father and child relationship assumes loving-kindness as the conduct binding on its members. The shepherd king was a popular image that the people applied to Yahweh as well.

            Third, they knew God as righteous, as one who upholds what is right. Yahweh is the protector of the right against any perversion of justice.

            Fourth, they knew the love of God as an emotional force that binds Yahweh to the people. Yahweh had affection toward the people. Hosea is the prophet who clearly presents this vision of who God is. He provided a transition from the covenant to the marriage bond as an image of the relation between God and the people.

            Fifth, they knew the wrath of God, which has its source in the love of God for the people at a time when they commit offences against the covenant. Anger refers to any displeasure and the venting of that displeasure regardless of its particular causes. Yet, wrath was never a permanent attribute of divine activity. It is a footnote to the divine will for fellowship within the covenant. The activity of divine anger shows itself in temporary, specific acts. Loving-kindness and righteousness are permanent.

            Sixth, they experienced God as holy, a marvelous power, removed from common life, impersonal, and bound up with particular objects. It emphasizes the transcendence of God and uses the force of taboo to elevate our sense of God. It relates to the majesty of God. The relation of the holy to moral perfection awaited the influence of the prophets. Yahweh was by nature moral. In spite of the divine activity as a warrior hero, we find that this belief in the moral nature of God kept Israel from becoming a religion of the sword.

Moses and the Exodus from Egypt

            Moses is the leader of the exodus from Egypt. The exodus, with the crossing of the Red Sea at its center, became in Israel's religious memory and imagination, the paradigmatic act of Yahweh on behalf of this newly formed people. Moses is the catalyst for the wonderful elements of the deliverance.  “Yahweh delivered his people from Egypt” is confessional in character. It may have been the original confession of faith. The early chapters of Exodus represent the focus of theological reflection. Through the conscription of every available tradition, the simple theme has been theologically worked up into a sublime chorale. In the deliverance from Egypt Israel saw the guarantee for all the future, the absolute surety for the will of Yahweh to liberate, something like a warrior to which faith could appeal in times of trial. The creed in Dt 26:5ff and in Joshua 24:2ff suggest a turning point in history. In Deuteronomy, the text refers to signs and wonders that now become identified as a matter of warding off the Egyptian army, over against which the people were in a hopeless situation. This remembrance of a deed of Yahweh in war is the primary and oldest datum in the confession concerning the deliverance from Egypt. Yet, the direct intervention of God is pictured by natural events, such as the east wind, etc.  Thus, we should not separate the historical natural events from the theology supernatural events. The mythological language influenced the event. This occurred through the elements of the creation myth, the struggle with chaos welded onto the event. Yahweh rebuked the sea here, just as Yahweh rebuked the sea of chaos in creation, and it fled before the presence of Yahweh. The event took on primeval dimensions, though transferred to a historical setting. Such myth stands at the beginning of the existence of Israel. The language of the crossing of the Jordan influenced the event.  The new role of the Passover in their tradition colored the event. The way in which the account makes Israel stand passively apart, the way in which the glorification of Yahweh does not depend on any human cooperation, and the way in which it speaks so emphatically of the faith of Israel, already shows considerable amount of theological reflection upon the event.

            What occurred was not just a military event. This is the time when God truly brings a people into being.  There is a discontinuity with the patriarchal past. Yahweh had acquired or purchased a people. It also speaks of the redemption from Egypt, which later theological reflection made the focus. Redemption rests on two concepts, both of which originally belong to the realm of law. It refers to the redemption of what is one’s own, and therefore of the restoration of a former owner-relationship.

            The belief that Yahweh took Israel as a peculiar people is old, but the idea of election could not have existed early, for it presupposes a universalistic view of history. When Israel had learned to look at itself from outside, and when its existence among the nations had become a problem, it could speak about election.

            Israel could speak of this event as deliverance from Egypt, redemption, and election, showing that the act of Yahweh had more than one significance. 

Moses, the new people of God, and the wilderness

            Moses also led the people through the wilderness. Childs divides the murmuring motif into a Pattern I, 1) an initial need, 2) a complaint, 3) Moses, intercession, 4) God’s intervention, seen in Exodus 15:22-­23, 17: l-7, and Numbers 20:1-13.  Pattern II, 1) initial complaint, 2) God’s anger and punishment, 3) Moses’ intercession, 4) reprieve from punishment.  Pattern I is older.  Both are located in J, and only secondarily in E. See Numbers 11:1-3, 17:6-15, 21:4-10.  However, another tradition suggests a positive interpretation of the wilderness.  See Deuteronomy 37:10ff, Hosea 2:16, ll:lff, 13:4ff, Jeremiah 2:lff.  He believes that as Ezekiel heightened the negative, so did others highlight the positive.

            In the case of the wanderings, the old notion of the saving history did not report any striking event. It only told of Yahweh’s leading the people through the wilderness. What characterizes the wandering tradition is the exclusive concentration upon the action of God. Israel is a silent and passive object in what God does. This is due to the confessional style, which only recapitulates the saving facts, a style which still lives on in the Psalms. The people appeared as a special subject considered. During this period, how did things stand with this people, who became the subject of the divine leading in such singular circumstances? The texts suggest two different ways of viewing the matter.

            In the first, Jeremiah 2:1-3 suggests the wandering in the wilderness was the time when the relationship was the time of the first love of Yahweh and Israel. At that time, Israel was completely thrown upon Yahweh. P theologically interprets story of the manna as God giving to each according to their need. History is the dress for a truth that Israel arrived at from its relations with Yahweh. This daily sustenance by God demanded a surrender without security. In dealing with God, we live from minute to minute. Deuteronomy 8:3 spiritualizes the matter completely as intending to teach that people do not live by bread alone, but everything that proceeds form the mouth of Yahweh. Manna is taken as spiritual food. The idea is that a life in the wilderness became more and more incomprehensible to Israel after settlement in the arable land, when it had come to enjoy the blessings of that land. Yahweh’s leadership proved itself in this period by paradigmatic miracles.

            How did the people stand up to the tests of this period of its history? The answer becomes increasingly negative, culminating in Ezekiel 20. The defiance, the lack of faith, and the other sins, were the reactions of the people to saving work of Yahweh. Yahweh redeemed a faithless crowd. The chief sin consists in their provoking Yahweh by their lack of faith and discontent. The most appalling feature is that the period in the wilderness in Ezekiel 20 is a type of the coming judgment. Just as Yahweh judged the fathers, so will Yahweh lead this present generation into judgment in the wilderness of the nations. His picture stresses the divine acts of judgment, and sees in them a prefiguration of the imminent judgment that will come upon the people of his day. Ezekiel could base this view of the wilderness upon the murmuring tradition. However, this growth to such a pitch connects with general radical insights about Israel’s relationship to Yahweh and about the possibility of their existence in the light of this God, insights that the monarchical period consolidated. The recognition of the people’s insecurity and exposure, perhaps even its defeat, which so changed the picture of the wilderness. This age also heard the tidings that Yahweh would do a new thing in redeeming the people from exile in the same way Yahweh did at the beginning of their history.

            The text as we have it now balances Jeremiah 2 and Ezekiel 20. It indicates both the gracious control of history by Yahweh and the behavior of Israel. Yahweh’s relationship to the people sustained a blow with the golden calf incident, and its visible consequence was the refusal of Yahweh to lead them any further in person. Exodus 33 suggests offers parallel traditions involving the angel of Yahweh as guide, the holy tent that establishes a connection with Yahweh, and the lending of the presence or face of Yahweh.


Moses and Law

Gerhard von Rad, Theology of the Old Testament, vol I, “B. The Theology of the Hexateuch: IV The Divine Revelation at Sinai, 1-5,” 1957.

Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, vol I, “III The Covenant Statutes: A. The Secular Law,” 1933, 1959.


Moses and after

            The inauguration of the covenant between Yahweh and this newly formed people involved a fresh order of the legal side of their life. One cannot imagine entry into a special relationship with a god was inconceivable without the acceptance and binding recognition of specific ordinances. The people recognized it as a revelation at a particular moment in history, through which Yahweh offered the healing gift of life. The decisive factor in the coalescing and aggregation of the many traditions that attached to the revelation at Sinai was their common attachment to a place, Sinai, and to a person, Moses. The documents narrate a history with God. An element of the life work of Moses was to help weld these clans into a people. Consequently, we need to recognize the importance of Moses in this initial phase. Charisma or religious enthusiasm would not be enough to modify loyalty to the clan and bring them together as a people. A common law was an important part of that process, even if one recognizes that later, Israel freely expanded upon what Moses did at the beginning, so that the law had continuing relevance to each new generation. They rested on the revealed will of Yahweh, God of the covenant. In particular, apodictic sayings, these short, categorical commandments that follow a rhythmical form, appear to have some claim to early formation. The burning exclusiveness of the will of Yahweh formed the heart of the teaching of Moses. At Sinai, Yahweh revealed to this new people binding ordinances, on which the basis of which life with God and with each other became possible. The laws became part of the solemn event of the festival of the renewal of the covenant at Shechem. The people viewed this occasion at Sinai and with Moses as a momentous occasion. It had undiminished importance for each age.

            The account of the revelation at Sinai extends textually from Exodus 19:1 to Numbers 10:10. We find nowhere else such a huge presentation of traditions, made up of so many strands, and attached to one event. Kadesh traditions both precede it and follow it. This makes it appear that the Sinai tradition had and independent existence and was inserted into the account of the wanderings in the wilderness. The various creeds also give this impression, for they make no mention of the events at Sinai. These traditions only later in Israel’s history became associated with the founding saving history of the people. The JE account is in Exodus 19-24, 32-34 and the P account is in Exodus 25-31, 35-Numbers 10:10. The accounts have in common the tradition of a divine revelation at Sinai through which Yahweh proclaimed the basic regulations of the life of the people with each other and with Yahweh. The older traditions relate regulations for secular, everyday life.

            Priestly Law extends into the post-exilic period. The basic stratum of this law may go back to Moses, recognizing that he may have established a new form of worship life along with forming a new people. It received its shape in the 700’s and 600’s BC. This sacred law is not a rigid entity, fixed one for all. Rather, official leaders of the worship of Yahweh over time developed social and ritual ordinances that corresponded to actual historical situations and in which differing trends strive to prevail.

            What we might call secular law derives its validity from being a direct command of Yahweh. Any breach of it is an outrage or offense against Yahweh. The law acquires majesty. The mutual involvement of religion, law, and morality has vivid immediacy. The divine giver of law lays down the law, and the mediator of that law follows. These series of commandments presuppose considerable pastoral and theological reflection. They owe their existence to the endeavor to outline Yahweh’s whole will for people in the shortest possible form. Yahweh gave proof of loyalty to the community by revealing this law and word. The unconditional acceptance of these commandments was the decision confronting this people. Meeting with Yahweh meant a decision about life and death. Yahweh wanted obedience rather than unthinking obedience. A willing assent is what drove Yahweh. The people regarded the will of Yahweh as flexible and adaptive to each situation where there had been religious, political, or economic change.


Ten Commandments

            To begin with, the covenant and the Decalogue have a close relationship to liberation. We find these words at the beginning of the account.


Exodus 19:4-6 (NRSV)

4 You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6 but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”


After the appearance of Yahweh on Sinai, we find these words of the Decalogue.


Exodus 20:2-17 (NRSV)

2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me.

4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, 6 but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.

8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

13 You shall not murder.

14 You shall not commit adultery.

15 You shall not steal.

16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.


            What sort of divine will do we find expressed in this law? The Ten Commandments connect moral precepts with basic religious commands. The moral precepts are nothing new or extraordinary. In fact, one could argue that without the recognition of these values, social organization would be impossible: prohibition of murder, adultery, theft, respect for parents, against false witness toward the neighbor, and coveting what belongs to the neighbor, are all quite basic to life together. The first four commandments deal with the duties of the people toward God. In the second portion, the commandments deal with the duties of people toward each other. The law that has its source in the will of Yahweh is simple and clear. The implication is that fulfillment is easily possible. It gives few positive norms for the affairs of life. Rather, a few basic negations become signposts on the margins of a wide sphere of life to which the one who belongs to Yahweh needs to give heed. The negative shows what is displeasing to Yahweh. Inside the negatives is a wide range of possible behavior. Those who belong to Yahweh refrain from doing what displeases Yahweh. This shows that the recipients are the community of Yahweh. The confidence of this people in their law derives from the experience of a powerful moral will of Yahweh.

            The first commandment has a connection with zeal as an expression of holiness. The holiness of Yahweh, zeal, and the first commandment come together. The experience of the holy is a primeval religious datum. We cannot deduce the concept of the holy from other human standards of value. The holy is designated the great stranger in the human world, a datum of experience that can never really be coordinated into the world in which humanity is at home. The experience of the holy is that of the wholly other. These people knew the region of the holy. If Yahweh sanctifies an object, place, day, or person, people separate it and assign it to God, for God is the source of all that is holy. People experienced the holy as a power. It was something urgent and incalculable. The holiness of all that Yahweh sanctifies derives solely from people bringing it into contact with Yahweh. The term indicates a relationship. The attempt to regulate the holy through ritual action reflects concern not have this unpredictable power brings harm. The Old Testament expresses intensity and vehemence about holiness as it binds it directly to Yahweh. Yahweh’s holiness wants to penetrate the whole of the individual. Yahweh can receive glory in the acts of worship and in events within history. It presupposes the hidden action of Yahweh in history, though on special occasions this glory shows itself. The realm of the secular Yahweh takes up as an expression of holiness. When that happens, Yahweh’s holiness will have attained its utmost goal. Zeal suggests that God alone is worshipped, an equivalent of jealously. The intolerant claim to exclusive worship is something unique in the history of religion. Normally, worshippers had freedom to incorporate other gods into worship. The first commandment reflects the proof of saving history that Yahweh is the only God. These early stages reflect henotheism rather than monotheism. These people gained steady recognition of the one God through their history, culminating in the witness of II Isaiah.

            Images were only in the most exceptional cases actually identified with the deity concerned. Images made no claim to give an exhaustive representation of the being of the deity. The pagan religions know as well as Israel did that deity is invisible, that it transcends all human ability to comprehend it, and that human beings cannot capture it in a material object. This did not deter them from consecrating ritual images to it. The images reflects the means through which deity chooses to reveal himself or herself, for the image is the bearer of revelation. They felt divine powers close to them. The world is like a curtain that permits people to see the divine through it. Deity became present in the image. With the presence of the deity there was at the same time given the presence of its power, for it could now become effective for people. The official worship centers for the worship of Yahweh focused on the prohibition of images, even while local centers and private worship made use of images. In official worship centers, the focus was the bare word of God rather than a cultic image. The static divine presence in an image as an object of power at the disposal of people could not reconcile itself to the nature of the revelation of Yahweh. The image reduced the freedom of Yahweh to the image. Nature was not a mode of being for Yahweh, so in one sense the gods of other people confronted believers more directly than the people devoted to Yahweh did. The hidden action of Yahweh in history kept this people in suspense as to where the divine presence would become real.

Book of the Covenant

            This text appears to achieve its final shape around 1040 BC, but has elements that go back to 1224 BC. It goes from Exodus 20:22-23:33. It represents an early expression of the will of Yahweh as the people understood it in the earliest period. It contains laws concerning the altar, slaves, homicide, wounds delivered to others, theft of animals, offences requiring compensation, violation of a virgin, moral and religious laws, first fruits and first-born, duties toward enemies, the sabbatical year, the Sabbath, the great feasts, and what to do what they enter Canaan. The ratification of this Book of the Covenant occurs in chapter 24.

            Here are some laws related to guarding sexuality.


Exodus 22:16-17 (NRSV)

16 When a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married, and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price for her and make her his wife. 17 But if her father refuses to give her to him, he shall pay an amount equal to the bride-price for virgins.

Exodus 22:19 (NRSV)

19 Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death.


We find laws related to how one treats neighbors, enemies, and aliens.


Exodus 22:21-24 (NRSV)

21 You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. 22 You shall not abuse any widow or orphan. 23 If you do abuse them, when they cry out to me, I will surely heed their cry; 24 my wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall become widows and your children orphans.

Exodus 22:25-27 (NRSV)

25 If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them. 26 If you take your neighbor’s cloak in pawn, you shall restore it before the sun goes down; 27 for it may be your neighbor’s only clothing to use as cover; in what else shall that person sleep? And if your neighbor cries out to me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.

Exodus 23:9 (NRSV)

9 You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.


We also find laws regarding religious obligation.


Exodus 22:18 (NRSV)

18 You shall not permit a female sorcerer to live.

Exodus 22:20 (NRSV)

20 Whoever sacrifices to any god, other than the Lord alone, shall be devoted to destruction.

Exodus 22:28-31 (NRSV)

28 You shall not revile God, or curse a leader of your people.

29 You shall not delay to make offerings from the fullness of your harvest and from the outflow of your presses.

The firstborn of your sons you shall give to me. 30 You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall remain with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.

31 You shall be people consecrated to me; therefore you shall not eat any meat that is mangled by beasts in the field; you shall throw it to the dogs.

Exodus 23:10-13 (NRSV)

Sabbatical Year and Sabbath

10 For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; 11 but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard.

12 Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed. 13 Be attentive to all that I have said to you. Do not invoke the names of other gods; do not let them be heard on your lips.

Renewal of the Covenant

            The account in Exodus 32-34 has a close relationship with I Kings 12 and the account of Jeroboam I. Here is the J account of the Golden Calf and the Renewal of the Covenant.


Exodus 32:1-6 (NRSV)

 When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” 5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” 6 They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

Exodus 32:15-24 (NRSV)

15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. 16 The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. 17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” 18 But he said,

“It is not the sound made by victors,

or the sound made by losers;

it is the sound of revelers that I hear.”

19 As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.

21 Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?” 22 And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.’ 24 So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off’; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

Exodus 32:30-35 (NRSV)

30 On the next day Moses said to the people, “You have sinned a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” 31 So Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written.” 33 But the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. 34 But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; see, my angel shall go in front of you. Nevertheless, when the day comes for punishment, I will punish them for their sin.”

35 Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf—the one that Aaron made.

Exodus 34:1-35 (NRSV)

 The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai and present yourself there to me, on the top of the mountain. 3 No one shall come up with you, and do not let anyone be seen throughout all the mountain; and do not let flocks or herds graze in front of that mountain.” 4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the former ones; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tablets of stone. 5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.” 6 The Lord passed before him, and proclaimed,

“The Lord, the Lord,

a God merciful and gracious,

slow to anger,

and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,

7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,

forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,

yet by no means clearing the guilty,

but visiting the iniquity of the parents

upon the children

and the children’s children,

to the third and the fourth generation.”

8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. 9 He said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

10 He said: I hereby make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform marvels, such as have not been performed in all the earth or in any nation; and all the people among whom you live shall see the work of the Lord; for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

11 Observe what I command you today. See, I will drive out before you the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 12 Take care not to make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, or it will become a snare among you. 13 You shall tear down their altars, break their pillars, and cut down their sacred poles 14 (for you shall worship no other god, because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God). 15 You shall not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to their gods, someone among them will invite you, and you will eat of the sacrifice. 16 And you will take wives from among their daughters for your sons, and their daughters who prostitute themselves to their gods will make your sons also prostitute themselves to their gods.

17 You shall not make cast idols.

18 You shall keep the festival of unleavened bread. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month of Abib; for in the month of Abib you came out from Egypt.

19 All that first opens the womb is mine, all your male livestock, the firstborn of cow and sheep. 20 The firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem.

No one shall appear before me empty-handed.

21 Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest. 22 You shall observe the festival of weeks, the first fruits of wheat harvest, and the festival of ingathering at the turn of the year. 23 Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God, the God of Israel. 24 For I will cast out nations before you, and enlarge your borders; no one shall covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times in the year.

25 You shall not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven, and the sacrifice of the festival of the passover shall not be left until the morning.

26 The best of the first fruits of your ground you shall bring to the house of the Lord your God.

You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

27 The Lord said to Moses: Write these words; in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. 28 He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

Holiness Code of Leviticus 17-26

            This code derives from the end of the Monarchy period in Jerusalem.

            The code begins with offering with sacrifices. It makes it clear that since the life is in the blood, one ought not eat the blood. It has concern for sexuality in the context of the family, with members of one’s immediate family and with the extended family. Then it has an interesting paragraph:


Leviticus 18:19-23 (NRSV)

19 You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 20 You shall not have sexual relations with your kinsman’s wife, and defile yourself with her. 21 You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 23 You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.


The text goes on to suggest that everything just written is an abomination and pollutes the land of Israel. This concept of solidarity of individual and community is not one that our culture shares. We understand that individuals are responsible for their behavior. However, it underscores the seriousness of these forms of behavior to the author. I would suggest that, using discernment, many of these forms of behavior ought to remain concerns.

            The code goes on to command respect to parents, keeping Sabbath, nor worshipping idols, and not making images. They are to eat their whole sacrifice of well-being on the same day. They are to care for the poor by not harvesting the field to the edges so that the poor may gather some of the fruit of the land. They shall not stead, deal falsely, or lie. They shall not swear falsely or use the name of the Lord in a profane way. They shall not defraud or steal, and shall pay daily wages. They shall not treat the deaf or blind with contempt. They shall render just judgment and not favor the poor over the rich. They shall not slander others. They are not hate in their hearts a member of the family. They are to correct their neighbor when needed. They shall not love their neighbor as themselves. They are to breed their animals in the right way.

            The code comes back to sexuality, only this time between a man and his female slave. They are not to eat the fruit of the land for three years. They are not to practice augury or witchcraft. They shall cut their hair properly. They shall not mark their bodies. Back to sexuality, they shall not allow daughters to become prostitutes. They are not to turn to mediums or wizards. They are to respect the aged. They shall not oppress the foreigner. They shall not cheat in business. They shall not offer their children for sacrifice to God. Back to sexuality, they are not to commit adultery under penalty of death, a man is not to have sex with his mother or mother-in-law, or sister. Here is an interesting paragraph:


Leviticus 20:10-16 (NRSV)

10 If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death. 11 The man who lies with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. 12 If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall be put to death; they have committed perversion, their blood is upon them. 13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them. 14 If a man takes a wife and her mother also, it is depravity; they shall be burned to death, both he and they, that there may be no depravity among you. 15 If a man has sexual relations with an animal, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the animal. 16 If a woman approaches any animal and has sexual relations with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them.


The text continues with a description of the holiness of priests. It also prescribes what constitutes an acceptable offering, making it clear that the priest has the power to declare an offering acceptable or unacceptable. It describes festivals for the Sabbath, Passover, and Unleavened Bread. It describes offering of first fruits. It describes the festival of weeks and the festival of trumpets. It describes the Day of Atonement and the festival of booths. It describes various sacred objects: lamp and bread of the tabernacle. We also find an unusual story in which they took one who blasphemed Moses outside the camp and stoned him to death. It then added these brief laws:


Leviticus 24:17-21 (NRSV)

17 Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. 18 Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life. 19 Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: 20 fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. 21 One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death.


It institutes the sabbatical year, in which the law repealed debts garnered during the previous six. The Holiness Code concludes with a list of rewards and punishments for the nation, depending on whether they keep the commandments or disobey them.

            Most scholars agree that the statements “You shall not …” have a special place in the sense that their form suggests a boundary beyond which the people of the covenant are to cross. Here are such statements related to sexuality.


Chapter 18

None of you shall approach anyone near of kin to uncover nakedness: I am the Lord.

7 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness.

8 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is the nakedness of your father.

9 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born at home or born abroad.

10 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your son’s daughter or of your daughter’s daughter, for their nakedness is your own nakedness. 

11 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, begotten by your father, since she is your sister.

12 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s flesh. 

13 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister, for she is your mother’s flesh. 

14 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s brother, that is, you shall not approach his wife; she is your aunt. 

15 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law: she is your son’s wife; you shall not uncover her nakedness. 

16 You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother’s wife; it is your brother’s nakedness.

17 You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter, and you shall not take her son’s daughter or her daughter’s daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are your flesh; it is depravity. 

18 And you shall not take a woman as a rival to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.

19 You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness. 

20 You shall not have sexual relations with your kinsman’s wife, and defile yourself with her. 

22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. 

23 You shall not have sexual relations with any animal and defile yourself with it, nor shall any woman give herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it: it is perversion.

Chapter 19

29 Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, that the land not become prostituted and full of depravity.


My suspicion is that such boundaries beyond which the people of the covenant are not to cross contain commandments with which most of us are quite comfortable. They represent proper boundaries of sexual behavior. We have a problem with one, related to homosexual behavior, but we simply need to admit that this prohibition creates a problem. I do not think explaining it away is helpful to the biblical argument.

            In fact, I would consider the boundaries established by the other short, You shall not statements represent some good guidelines of behavior.


Chapter 19

4 Do not turn to idols or make cast images for yourselves: I am the Lord your God.

10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.

11 You shall not steal;

you shall not deal falsely;

and you shall not lie to one another. 

12 And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord.

13 You shall not defraud your neighbor;

you shall not steal;

and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. 

14 You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

15 You shall not render an unjust judgment;

you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. 

16 You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people,

and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

17 You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin;

18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

26 You shall not eat anything with its blood.

You shall not practice augury or witchcraft. 

27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard.

28 You shall not make any gashes in your flesh for the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.

35 You shall not cheat in measuring length, weight, or quantity.


I grant that verses 19:13c, 26a, 27, 28 appear to have a cultural context modern people no longer share. I would not imagine that we would have much problem with other prohibitions. The point is that this code attempts to recognize boundaries between the behavior of the people of the covenant and the behavior of neighbors. My further point is that many of these boundaries, and in particular with sexuality, remains quite proper. These prohibitions are not simply casuistic or legal. They are moral boundaries in our relationship with people. They express a portion of the covenant relationship people have with God and their covenant obligation toward each other.

            I realize that in some places of biblical interpretation, one simply needs to admit difference. What I would suggest, however, is that the boundaries of sexual practice in this code are part of the continuing dialogue within the bible about what is proper sexual expression within Israel and in the context of its covenant with God. I do not think that regulations regarding priests and sacrifices carry the same weight from the standpoint of the church. Further, I would suggest that penalties recommended go directly against the command of Jesus. However, this does not remove the priority that we need to give to the discussion the holiness code on moral behavior. I would suggest that recommendations for caring for the poor and for canceling debt call for far more attention than churches have given in the past. Consequently, I am sure you would agree that other regulations concerning sexual expression, such as not having sex with close family members or the spouse of one’s neighbor are abiding rules for the people of God. I am not convinced that the brief “you shall not” in reference to homosexual behavior should be isolated and treated in a different way when we consider what the biblical tradition teaches about homosexual practice.


Human qualities of the Law

            This law abolishes gross brutality in the punishment of the guilty, as is characteristic of other laws of the period. The value of each person as reflecting the image of God, even when guilty of crime, still guided the reflections of these people. This law rejects class distinction in the administration of justice, with no special law for priesthood or aristocracy. In terms of relations between male and female, this new people would live a largely peasant and agricultural life supported by the strength of family and clan. The divorce law of Deuteronomy 24 suggests willingness to limit the caprice of the husband by requiring him first to demonstrate the presence in his wife of a disgraceful or scandalous thing.

            One could hardly comprehend the settlement in Canaan unless this newly formed people had some conception of the will of Yahweh that formed its life together in such secular legislation. They needed some foundation for their social life as they entered a new cultural environment. The continuing development of law occurred at the centers of worship during the period of the tribal federation, which supports the thesis that law and religion connected at profound levels. The leaders of these centers of worship worked for a long time on the commandments before they become so universal and concise in form and content as to be capable of standing for an adequate outline of the whole of Yahweh for the people. The people addressed are the laity. The commandments address the people in their everyday affairs in terms of what happened after they went home from the pilgrimage to the worship center. The difficulty David had in establishing the monarchy suggests the continuing power of the law in the minds and hearts of the people. Flagrant breaches of national law on the part of the king brought severe internal crises. One might note that the Book of Deuteronomy is a book of legal instruction from the 700’s BC marked by a parenetic tone. Its language is that of heart and conscience. The authors of this book know that a national law can achieve its goal only if funded on the inward assent of the people.

            The Torah was a matter for theological instruction, and its situation in life now became more and more the heart of people. People are to keep these words in their hearts and they are to be present to them in every situation life. This revelation of the will of Yahweh is the subject of ceaseless mediation and ceaseless joy. The hope was that people busy themselves with the law alike in the sphere of their emotional lives and in their mental capacities. In the post-exilic community, the goal was that the law became an absolute quantity when people understood it as the saving ordinance of a special racial group linked to it by the facts of history, and when it stepped out of this function of service and became a dictate that imperiously called its own community. Deuteronomy 6:4 stands against the beginning of legalism through its reducing all the commandments to the one fundamental commandment to love God.

Deuteronomy and the Law


A classic statement is the Shema.


Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (NRSV)

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


            Deuteronomy is an exposition of the will of God for a particular era and an advanced one in history. The outward form is a unity, for the sequence of these parts reflects the liturgical movement of the renewal of the covenant at Shechem. This framework for such a major literary and theological work lets us see how hard it was for Israel to unfold theological concepts theoretically. The outward expression of this unity is part of its style. The style is parenetic, a wooing and imploring form of address. In form, Deuteronomy is one single farewell sermon of Moses to Israel. The whole bears one theological stamp throughout. Behind the text is intensive preaching activity, whose representatives come from the Levites. The book is an artistic mosaic made up of many sermons on a great variety of subjects. The Levites gathered the total expression of an extensive preaching activity. Traditions of the most varied kinds, such as history, ritual, and legal, unite in the hands of these preachers. They set this whole body of material into that great schematized general picture of the people of Israel that first springs to our minds too when we think of Israel in the wilderness. Deuteronomy understood itself as “this Torah,” which has special importance for this unification of the legal traditions in particular. The whole of he revelation of the will of Yahweh to Israel is something indivisible and whole, in which every part was coordinated with ever other and where no detail could be understood except in relation to the whole. This view of theological unity presupposes a considerable capacity for theological reflection. The term torah means the whole of the bestowals of the saving will of Yahweh. It intends itself as a totality of teaching.

            Moses speaks the sermon contained in Deuteronomy in the land of Moab, beyond Jordan, and is therefore the farewell discourse at the time when Israel was about to enter the land of Canaan. Israel stood in the interim period of the saving history between the completion of her election as the peculiar people of Yahweh and the fulfillment of the divine promise. The whole tenor of the parenesis is that Israel is in very great danger of missing the call of Yahweh. Deuteronomy still set even this Israel in the perspective of the situation between election and fulfillment. This idea of election is a creation of Deuteronomy, and is more than once expressed radically. Israel is the least of the peoples. The only reason for the election is the love of Yahweh. None of the older traditions of the making of the covenant by Yahweh had dared to disclose the motive in such an unguarded and extreme way. The line connecting Deuteronomy with Hosea at this point is clear.

            The land is not the real subject of the preaching of Deuteronomy. Since Yahweh has shown Israel such faithfulness in all these matters, and will continue so to do, it is your duty to love Yahweh in return, and to keep the statutes and judgments. The preaching is a summons to obedience. The context suggests that those who listen show signs of a perilous weakening in the tradition of the faith. Israel owes its life to the guidance of Yahweh. People who listen to this preaching appear close to forgetting Yahweh and the blessings of Yahweh. It is in the heart and the understanding of the people that belong to Yahweh happens. The text insists everywhere upon a unification of the tradition, and upon simplification of it giving it an inward reference.

            The law handed on in Deuteronomy receives the looser formulation that arises out of homiletics. They are already in the form of commandments subject to preaching. The text deals with commandments and an interpretation. The demand to offer sacrifice and worship only at the one place chosen by Yahweh has a twofold contrast. It sharply differentiates from the worship of the Canaanites. As a nature religion, it required many places and many symbols in order to pin down the numerous self-revelations of the nature deity. The demand also stands out from what Israel had practiced up to the time of Deuteronomy. Distributed over many sanctuaries, it accommodated to Canaanite ideas and degenerated to vague worship of Yahweh. Yahweh is one. The worship of Yahweh had to be presented in its unity. One revelation of Yahweh occurred at Sinai. Now, Israel needed one worship corresponding to the one revelation. The demand for centralization was the direct consequence of the important theological proposition that Yahweh is one.

Old Testament morality: norms, goods, and motives

            I want to suggest that norms of moral conduct can have independent validity for the control of conduct without the sanction of divine command. This suggests the importance of morality that arises out of the life of the community. The multiple interactions of individuals and groups form a complex web of rules and instructions that in its totality constitutes the basis of the community and the precondition of membership, binding upon individuals within the community. Such rules and instructions are obligatory upon all, derive power from conviction and authority, from the sheer givenness of the community, forming the foundation of life together. In the Old Testament, we note references to “folly in Israel” and “one ought not so to do.” However, we can also clear signs in divine commands of a tendency toward unification of ethical norms. The great, simple, fundamental outlines of moral conduct should be drawn from a few propositions engraved in stone. This tendency assumes the unspoken conviction of an essential unity behind all moral demands. The tendency also contains an implied critique of the mass of rules for living that the community had sanctioned. In the Book of the Covenant, we find respect for the rights of everything that has a human face. Such respect rests upon the nobility of humanity, recognized as a binding consideration for moral conduct. Even the rights of the lowliest foreigner are under the protection of God. To oppress the foreigner is like oppressing the widow and orphan. The implication is that God imposes commands as a ruler. When inward responsiveness is not present, then the people feel the command as the coercion of an alien law. Further, in the context of ritual and worship, one could keep on the right side of the Law precisely at the point where people wished to evade presenting the whole of themselves to God.

            Among the problems with this approach to Old Testament morality is that many areas of life seem outside of moral instruction, from the perspective of modern times. It is comforting that the Law requires masters to treat slaves in a humane way. It would have been nice if God would have included an eleventh commandment, “You shall not own slaves.” It is comforting that God said, “You shall not murder.” It would have been nice if God would have intervened, stopped the Hebrew people from killing every adult, child, and animal in a city, and said something like, “This is not what I meant.” It would have been nice if the Law would have treated women equally with men and would have regulated sexuality equally between the sexes.

            The goods or benefits toward which these norms direct people are toward those goods indispensable for the healthy life of the community. Peace, abundance of children, worldly possessions, long life, friendship, and love are important. Social values are wisdom, beauty, honor, and freedom. The fellowship with God granted in election and making covenant was the goal of moral action.

            The motives of moral conduct arise from awareness that of the conflict between the biological drives of human behavior on the one hand and the sense of what we owe each other on the other.

Moses and Sacrificial System

Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, vol I, “IV The Covenant Statutes. B. The Cultus,” 1933, 1959.

Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, vol I, “The Divine Revelation at Sinai: the Priestly Document,” 1957.



            There are two strands of tradition, one connected with the tabernacle and the other with the wilderness tent. This occurs in Exodus 25-31.

            The worship ritual of a people expresses religious experience in specific external actions performed within the religious community, preferably by officially appointed exponents and in set forms. It is a genuine expression of a living religion, seeking to penetrate the whole of human life. It makes the spiritual, personal, and physical side of life into an agent and medium of its activities. As such, the worship and ritual of a people helps religious experience gain external form true to its meaning. Such worship and ritual is the means by which divine presence and power presents itself to people for their participation. It implies social and material integration of religious feeling as the manifestation of divine activity. Divine activity seeks the individual through the community, through the present activity of worship and ritual. Humanity is not alone and human behavior is not accountable only to itself. The external form of worship and ritual never contains divine presence, but rather points the individual toward it. The shape of worship and ritual at one moment of time and space cannot contain the continuing movement of the human expression of worth and dignity or the divine activity as it continues to disclose itself to new generations of seekers. Divine activity is far more flexible over time, space, and culture than are the external forms of worship and ritual.

            The Priestly Document has traditions has traditions that belong to Judea and Jerusalem, completed in the post-exilic period. It is matter-of-fact and austere in way it presents its material. Its task was complete when it gathered, sifted, and classified it theologically. It presents the material with bare objectivity and with little interpretation. Yet, it is a genuine historical work. The coldness and stiffness of the presentation shows lack of interest in ordinary humanity, psychology, and the poetry of situations. It shows the growth of particular ritual institutions out of the history of patriarchs, the tribal federation, and the monarchy. We know little about the growth of these laws. It seriously presents the worship life of Israel as the goal of creation. It depicts Sinai as the event from which the worship life of Israel arose. We cannot understand the document apart from the worship life before the exile. The only place where one could elaborate worship life on such a broad basis and such a large scale was the sanctuary in Jerusalem.

            The service or worship of God does not have clear definition in the texts. One renders service “for Yahweh.” The community needed to make room for Yahweh to show the right and claim upon the people. The sphere in which that right of God had to be respected was not an ideal one. They demarcated a holy place, holy people, holy things, and holy seasons. Human life occurs within the two spheres of clean and unclean. Whether one could participate in the worship life of the community was always at risk. Uncleanness was as close as sexuality and death. As to the latter, the community rejected any cult of the dead, for Yahweh demands exclusive worship. The unclean always pushed itself forward, brings people under its power. Healing forces emanated from the sanctuary and from the worship life of the community and maintained wholeness of the community. The holiness of all these stand or fall with the belief in the real presence of Yahweh at the sanctuary. The Priestly Document does not give anything like a reasonably complete theology of worship life. Its interests are the means by which the various offices and rites receive legitimation. In particular, circumcision and Passover find their root in saving history and divine command. The status conferred upon Aaron and the Levites are elaborate. Even though the amount of material is vast, the theological picture is defective and lacks unity.

            Israel inherited its worship and ritual from its patriarchal past. Even in what one might call primitive expressions of worship and ritual, we find core religious experiences of worship, trust, gratitude, and submission.

The Sacred

            Sacred sites were important, for people offer worship in places where divine activity has shown itself. This view tends to localize god and place limit on the sphere of divine influence. However, Yahweh tended to show, but dwell, in such holy places. With the prophets, we find proclamation of the transcendence of God that helped to set this presence at the holy place in the perspective of an act of gracious condescension at a specific space and time.

            Sacred officials were important. This holy presence imposes upon people a quite definite behavior, and this behavior was one that God subjected to particular rules and regulations demanding careful observance. Worship life brings the community to the remembrance of Yahweh. None of the sacred offices has such a long history as that of the priesthood. The office started in the time of Moses and ended when the troops of Titus destroyed Herod’s Temple in 70 AD. Although the priesthood underwent changes, Israel never formed powerful hierarchies. The conditions necessary for wider political activity were not present. In early times, it was already a prerogative of the Levites. The demands made upon sacred officials were great enough that only one whom parents raised in the continuity of the tribal and family traditions could adequately meet all its varied requirements. It required great intellectual achievement to master the sacred traditions and their application. The priests’ office included mediating any divine decision, the giving of torah, questions involving sacred law, as well as present sacrifices. They designed the great festivals. In cases where dispute irrupted, they decided where people were members of the covenant community or not. Priests required knowledge in sacred medicine. Their decisions were final because they functioned as the mouth of Yahweh. What was decisive was whether the sacrifices pleased Yahweh, and the priest determined this publicly through proclamation. The notion of their divine appointment ran into trouble in the time of Solomon, when he appointed the Zadokites. The disappearance of the monarchy in Judah meant the increase of the priestly office in Jerusalem. Many of the functions of the king passed into the hands of the high priest. The priests represented the community to Yahweh, and Yahweh required their existence to deal with the community. The rigid demarcation of the Levites took place during the time of the centralization of worship life during the time of Josiah.

            Sacred objects also concerned Israel. The Ark, the Tent of Meeting, the rod of God, the oracle of the sacred lot, the sacred lot of Urim and Thummim and the closely related ephod, were all significant parts of early worship. Canaanite religion also had sacred objects: the massebah, the Ashera, and the bull image. The Tent and Ark were two sacred objects existing independently of each other early and were the focus of two distinct groups. The Tent was simply the point of meeting between Yahweh and Moses. They took place when the people wanted to get definite directions. They sought oracles and the word of Yahweh. The Tent and the camp could not exist apart from each other. After the settlement in Canaan, the Tent disappears from history. The Tent is a theology of manifestation. The Ark adapts to different phases of the history of tradition. The traditions associated with it are fluid for that reason. It was the throne of Yahweh. Wherever the Ark is, Yahweh is present. The Ark is a theology of presence. Solomon’s Temple, with the Ark in the Holy of Holies, was a place where Yahweh was present in person. In Deuteronomy, the Ark is the thing that contains the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and nothing more. The glory of the Yahweh fills creation, but is also experienced in history as incomparable power. This glory is the form of manifestation that Yahweh employed in order to reveal particular decisions of the will of Yahweh, the settling of matters of importance, and so on. The Priestly Document recounts a series of divine revelations, connecting Noah, Abraham, and Moses. At Sinai, the revelation of Yahweh is in this glory, and places Yahweh at the disposal of this people.

            Sacred seasons became part of Israelite worship. Nature festivals emphasized the natural context of human life in terms of generation and abundance, growth and maturation. In particular, the Passover and the Festival of Booths or Tabernacles represent such incorporation of Canaanite practices into the worship and ritual of Israel. Israel also incorporates the Enthronement Festival for the king. The Day of Atonement incorporates an ancient ceremony of expiation, by which the ritual transgressions of the congregation received forgiveness through the rite of the scapegoat and the sprinkling of blood before the altar. The keeping of Sabbath reminds Israel that God is the Lord of time. No business activity should keep people from regularly seeking fellowship with Yahweh. The joyful character of the day of rest brings home to the worshipper that God is a kindly master, who does not lie on people a yoke to heavy to bear.

            Sacred actions became part of the worship and ritual of Israel. We see this in consecration and purity rites, in which we find regular concern for potential defilement. Circumcision was an act of dedication witnessing to the fact that the person belonged to Yahweh. The ban in war, meaning the annihilation of the enemy, including women, children, cattle, possessions, is part of the discipline laid on the warrior, by which he renounces something in thanksgiving to the deity present in the camp. The enemy belongs to God, and thus unavailable for human use.


            We find several passages that seem significant for the sacrificial system. We find a description of the basic offerings.


Leviticus 1-4 (NRSV)

The Burnt Offering

1 The Lord summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When any of you bring an offering of livestock to the Lord, you shall bring your offering from the herd or from the flock.

3 If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, you shall offer a male without blemish; you shall bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, for acceptance in your behalf before the Lord. 4 You shall lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be acceptable in your behalf as atonement for you. 5 The bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall offer the blood, dashing the blood against all sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 6 The burnt offering shall be flayed and cut up into its parts. 7 The sons of the priest Aaron shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the parts, with the head and the suet, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 9 but its entrails and its legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall turn the whole into smoke on the altar as a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.

10 If your gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, your offering shall be a male without blemish. 11 It shall be slaughtered on the north side of the altar before the Lord, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar. 12 It shall be cut up into its parts, with its head and its suet, and the priest shall arrange them on the wood that is on the fire on the altar; 13 but the entrails and the legs shall be washed with water. Then the priest shall offer the whole and turn it into smoke on the altar; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.

14 If your offering to the Lord is a burnt offering of birds, you shall choose your offering from turtledoves or pigeons. 15 The priest shall bring it to the altar and wring off its head, and turn it into smoke on the altar; and its blood shall be drained out against the side of the altar. 16 He shall remove its crop with its contents and throw it at the east side of the altar, in the place for ashes. 17 He shall tear it open by its wings without severing it. Then the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire; it is a burnt offering, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.

Grain Offerings

2 When anyone presents a grain offering to the Lord, the offering shall be of choice flour; the worshiper shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it, 2 and bring it to Aaron’s sons the priests. After taking from it a handful of the choice flour and oil, with all its frankincense, the priest shall turn this token portion into smoke on the altar, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. 3 And what is left of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons, a most holy part of the offerings by fire to the Lord.

4 When you present a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be of choice flour: unleavened cakes mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers spread with oil. 5 If your offering is grain prepared on a griddle, it shall be of choice flour mixed with oil, unleavened; 6 break it in pieces, and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering. 7 If your offering is grain prepared in a pan, it shall be made of choice flour in oil. 8 You shall bring to the Lord the grain offering that is prepared in any of these ways; and when it is presented to the priest, he shall take it to the altar. 9 The priest shall remove from the grain offering its token portion and turn this into smoke on the altar, an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord. 10 And what is left of the grain offering shall be for Aaron and his sons; it is a most holy part of the offerings by fire to the Lord.

11 No grain offering that you bring to the Lord shall be made with leaven, for you must not turn any leaven or honey into smoke as an offering by fire to the Lord. 12 You may bring them to the Lord as an offering of choice products, but they shall not be offered on the altar for a pleasing odor. 13 You shall not omit from your grain offerings the salt of the covenant with your God; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

14 If you bring a grain offering of first fruits to the Lord, you shall bring as the grain offering of your first fruits coarse new grain from fresh ears, parched with fire. 15 You shall add oil to it and lay frankincense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 And the priest shall turn a token portion of it into smoke—some of the coarse grain and oil with all its frankincense; it is an offering by fire to the Lord.

Offerings of Well-Being

3 If the offering is a sacrifice of well-being, if you offer an animal of the herd, whether male or female, you shall offer one without blemish before the Lord. 2 You shall lay your hand on the head of the offering and slaughter it at the entrance of the tent of meeting; and Aaron’s sons the priests shall dash the blood against all sides of the altar. 3 You shall offer from the sacrifice of well-being, as an offering by fire to the Lord, the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is around the entrails; 4 the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys. 5 Then Aaron’s sons shall turn these into smoke on the altar, with the burnt offering that is on the wood on the fire, as an offering by fire of pleasing odor to the Lord.

6 If your offering for a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord is from the flock, male or female, you shall offer one without blemish. 7 If you present a sheep as your offering, you shall bring it before the Lord 8 and lay your hand on the head of the offering. It shall be slaughtered before the tent of meeting, and Aaron’s sons shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar. 9 You shall present its fat from the sacrifice of well-being, as an offering by fire to the Lord: the whole broad tail, which shall be removed close to the backbone, the fat that covers the entrails, and all the fat that is around the entrails; 10 the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, which you shall remove with the kidneys. 11 Then the priest shall turn these into smoke on the altar as a food offering by fire to the Lord.

12 If your offering is a goat, you shall bring it before the Lord 13 and lay your hand on its head; it shall be slaughtered before the tent of meeting; and the sons of Aaron shall dash its blood against all sides of the altar. 14 You shall present as your offering from it, as an offering by fire to the Lord, the fat that covers the entrails, and all the fat that is around the entrails; 15 the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins, and the appendage of the liver, which you shall remove with the kidneys. 16 Then the priest shall turn these into smoke on the altar as a food offering by fire for a pleasing odor.

All fat is the Lord’s. 17 It shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations, in all your settlements: you must not eat any fat or any blood.

Sin Offerings

4 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: When anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them:

3 If it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull of the herd without blemish as a sin offering to the Lord. 4 He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord and lay his hand on the head of the bull; the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord. 5 The anointed priest shall take some of the blood of the bull and bring it into the tent of meeting. 6 The priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Lord in front of the curtain of the sanctuary. 7 The priest shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar of fragrant incense that is in the tent of meeting before the Lord; and the rest of the blood of the bull he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering, which is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 8 He shall remove all the fat from the bull of sin offering: the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is around the entrails; 9 the two kidneys with the fat that is on them at the loins; and the appendage of the liver, which he shall remove with the kidneys, 10 just as these are removed from the ox of the sacrifice of well-being. The priest shall turn them into smoke upon the altar of burnt offering. 11 But the skin of the bull and all its flesh, as well as its head, its legs, its entrails, and its dung— 12 all the rest of the bull—he shall carry out to a clean place outside the camp, to the ash heap, and shall burn it on a wood fire; at the ash heap it shall be burned.

13 If the whole congregation of Israel errs unintentionally and the matter escapes the notice of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done and incur guilt; 14 when the sin that they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull of the herd for a sin offering and bring it before the tent of meeting. 15 The elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the Lord, and the bull shall be slaughtered before the Lord. 16 The anointed priest shall bring some of the blood of the bull into the tent of meeting, 17 and the priest shall dip his finger in the blood and sprinkle it seven times before the Lord, in front of the curtain. 18 He shall put some of the blood on the horns of the altar that is before the Lord in the tent of meeting; and the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the altar of burnt offering that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 19 He shall remove all its fat and turn it into smoke on the altar. 20 He shall do with the bull just as is done with the bull of sin offering; he shall do the same with this. The priest shall make atonement for them, and they shall be forgiven. 21 He shall carry the bull outside the camp, and burn it as he burned the first bull; it is the sin offering for the assembly.

22 When a ruler sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by commandments of the Lord his God ought not to be done and incurs guilt, 23 once the sin that he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring as his offering a male goat without blemish. 24 He shall lay his hand on the head of the goat; it shall be slaughtered at the spot where the burnt offering is slaughtered before the Lord; it is a sin offering. 25 The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar of burnt offering. 26 All its fat he shall turn into smoke on the altar, like the fat of the sacrifice of well-being. Thus the priest shall make atonement on his behalf for his sin, and he shall be forgiven.

27 If anyone of the ordinary people among you sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the Lord’s commandments ought not to be done and incurs guilt, 28 when the sin that you have committed is made known to you, you shall bring a female goat without blemish as your offering, for the sin that you have committed. 29 You shall lay your hand on the head of the sin offering; and the sin offering shall be slaughtered at the place of the burnt offering. 30 The priest shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and he shall pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. 31 He shall remove all its fat, as the fat is removed from the offering of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar for a pleasing odor to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf, and you shall be forgiven.

32 If the offering you bring as a sin offering is a sheep, you shall bring a female without blemish. 33 You shall lay your hand on the head of the sin offering; and it shall be slaughtered as a sin offering at the spot where the burnt offering is slaughtered. 34 The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and pour out the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. 35 You shall remove all its fat, as the fat of the sheep is removed from the sacrifice of well-being, and the priest shall turn it into smoke on the altar, with the offerings by fire to the Lord. Thus the priest shall make atonement on your behalf for the sin that you have committed, and you shall be forgiven.


We also find a description of the form of animal sacrifice.


Leviticus 14:10-32 (NRSV)

10 On the eighth day he shall take two male lambs without blemish, and one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish, and a grain offering of three-tenths of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil, and one log of oil. 11 The priest who cleanses shall set the person to be cleansed, along with these things, before the Lord, at the entrance of the tent of meeting. 12 The priest shall take one of the lambs, and offer it as a guilt offering, along with the log of oil, and raise them as an elevation offering before the Lord. 13 He shall slaughter the lamb in the place where the sin offering and the burnt offering are slaughtered in the holy place; for the guilt offering, like the sin offering, belongs to the priest: it is most holy. 14 The priest shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the big toe of the right foot. 15 The priest shall take some of the log of oil and pour it into the palm of his own left hand, 16 and dip his right finger in the oil that is in his left hand and sprinkle some oil with his finger seven times before the Lord. 17 Some of the oil that remains in his hand the priest shall put on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the big toe of the right foot, on top of the blood of the guilt offering. 18 The rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed. Then the priest shall make atonement on his behalf before the Lord: 19 the priest shall offer the sin offering, to make atonement for the one to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall slaughter the burnt offering; 20 and the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. Thus the priest shall make atonement on his behalf and he shall be clean.

21 But if he is poor and cannot afford so much, he shall take one male lamb for a guilt offering to be elevated, to make atonement on his behalf, and one-tenth of an ephah of choice flour mixed with oil for a grain offering and a log of oil; 22 also two turtledoves or two pigeons, such as he can afford, one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering. 23 On the eighth day he shall bring them for his cleansing to the priest, to the entrance of the tent of meeting, before the Lord; 24 and the priest shall take the lamb of the guilt offering and the log of oil, and the priest shall raise them as an elevation offering before the Lord. 25 The priest shall slaughter the lamb of the guilt offering and shall take some of the blood of the guilt offering, and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of the right hand, and on the big toe of the right foot. 26 The priest shall pour some of the oil into the palm of his own left hand, 27 and shall sprinkle with his right finger some of the oil that is in his left hand seven times before the Lord. 28 The priest shall put some of the oil that is in his hand on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of the right hand, and the big toe of the right foot, where the blood of the guilt offering was placed. 29 The rest of the oil that is in the priest’s hand he shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed, to make atonement on his behalf before the Lord. 30 And he shall offer, of the turtledoves or pigeons such as he can afford, 31 one for a sin offering and the other for a burnt offering, along with a grain offering; and the priest shall make atonement before the Lord on behalf of the one being cleansed. 32 This is the ritual for the one who has a leprous disease, who cannot afford the offerings for his cleansing.


We find a description of the proper slaughtering of animals.


Leviticus 17 (NRSV)

The Slaughtering of Animals

17 The Lord spoke to Moses:

2 Speak to Aaron and his sons and to all the people of Israel and say to them: This is what the Lord has commanded. 3 If anyone of the house of Israel slaughters an ox or a lamb or a goat in the camp, or slaughters it outside the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to present it as an offering to the Lord before the tabernacle of the Lord, he shall be held guilty of bloodshed; he has shed blood, and he shall be cut off from the people. 5 This is in order that the people of Israel may bring their sacrifices that they offer in the open field, that they may bring them to the Lord, to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and offer them as sacrifices of well-being to the Lord. 6 The priest shall dash the blood against the altar of the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting, and turn the fat into smoke as a pleasing odor to the Lord, 7 so that they may no longer offer their sacrifices for goat-demons, to whom they prostitute themselves. This shall be a statute forever to them throughout their generations.

8 And say to them further: Anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them who offers a burnt offering or sacrifice, 9 and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting, to sacrifice it to the Lord, shall be cut off from the people.

Eating Blood Prohibited

10 If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. 12 Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any alien who resides among you eat blood. 13 And anyone of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside among them, who hunts down an animal or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.

14 For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off. 15 All persons, citizens or aliens, who eat what dies of itself or what has been torn by wild animals, shall wash their clothes, and bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the evening; then they shall be clean. 16 But if they do not wash themselves or bathe their body, they shall bear their guilt.


We find a description of the votive offering.


Leviticus 27 (NRSV)

Votive Offerings

27 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Speak to the people of Israel and say to them: When a person makes an explicit vow to the Lord concerning the equivalent for a human being, 3 the equivalent for a male shall be: from twenty to sixty years of age the equivalent shall be fifty shekels of silver by the sanctuary shekel. 4 If the person is a female, the equivalent is thirty shekels. 5 If the age is from five to twenty years of age, the equivalent is twenty shekels for a male and ten shekels for a female. 6 If the age is from one month to five years, the equivalent for a male is five shekels of silver, and for a female the equivalent is three shekels of silver. 7 And if the person is sixty years old or over, then the equivalent for a male is fifteen shekels, and for a female ten shekels. 8 If any cannot afford the equivalent, they shall be brought before the priest and the priest shall assess them; the priest shall assess them according to what each one making a vow can afford.

9 If it concerns an animal that may be brought as an offering to the Lord, any such that may be given to the Lord shall be holy. 10 Another shall not be exchanged or substituted for it, either good for bad or bad for good; and if one animal is substituted for another, both that one and its substitute shall be holy. 11 If it concerns any unclean animal that may not be brought as an offering to the Lord, the animal shall be presented before the priest. 12 The priest shall assess it: whether good or bad, according to the assessment of the priest, so it shall be. 13 But if it is to be redeemed, one-fifth must be added to the assessment.

14 If a person consecrates a house to the Lord, the priest shall assess it: whether good or bad, as the priest assesses it, so it shall stand. 15 And if the one who consecrates the house wishes to redeem it, one-fifth shall be added to its assessed value, and it shall revert to the original owner.

16 If a person consecrates to the Lord any inherited landholding, its assessment shall be in accordance with its seed requirements: fifty shekels of silver to a homer of barley seed. 17 If the person consecrates the field as of the year of jubilee, that assessment shall stand; 18 but if the field is consecrated after the jubilee, the priest shall compute the price for it according to the years that remain until the year of jubilee, and the assessment shall be reduced. 19 And if the one who consecrates the field wishes to redeem it, then one-fifth shall be added to its assessed value, and it shall revert to the original owner; 20 but if the field is not redeemed, or if it has been sold to someone else, it shall no longer be redeemable. 21 But when the field is released in the jubilee, it shall be holy to the Lord as a devoted field; it becomes the priest’s holding. 22 If someone consecrates to the Lord a field that has been purchased, which is not a part of the inherited landholding, 23 the priest shall compute for it the proportionate assessment up to the year of jubilee, and the assessment shall be paid as of that day, a sacred donation to the Lord. 24 In the year of jubilee the field shall return to the one from whom it was bought, whose holding the land is. 25 All assessments shall be by the sanctuary shekel: twenty gerahs shall make a shekel.

26 A firstling of animals, however, which as a firstling belongs to the Lord, cannot be consecrated by anyone; whether ox or sheep, it is the Lord’s. 27 If it is an unclean animal, it shall be ransomed at its assessment, with one-fifth added; if it is not redeemed, it shall be sold at its assessment.

28 Nothing that a person owns that has been devoted to destruction for the Lord, be it human or animal, or inherited landholding, may be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. 29 No human beings who have been devoted to destruction can be ransomed; they shall be put to death.

30 All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord. 31 If persons wish to redeem any of their tithes, they must add one-fifth to them. 32 All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord. 33 Let no one inquire whether it is good or bad, or make substitution for it; if one makes substitution for it, then both it and the substitute shall be holy and cannot be redeemed.

34 These are the commandments that the Lord gave to Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.


We also find what constitutes an acceptable offering.


Leviticus 22:17-30 (NRSV)

Acceptable Offerings

17 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 18 Speak to Aaron and his sons and all the people of Israel and say to them: When anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens residing in Israel presents an offering, whether in payment of a vow or as a freewill offering that is offered to the Lord as a burnt offering, 19 to be acceptable in your behalf it shall be a male without blemish, of the cattle or the sheep or the goats. 20 You shall not offer anything that has a blemish, for it will not be acceptable in your behalf.

21 When anyone offers a sacrifice of well-being to the Lord, in fulfillment of a vow or as a freewill offering, from the herd or from the flock, to be acceptable it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it. 22 Anything blind, or injured, or maimed, or having a discharge or an itch or scabs—these you shall not offer to the Lord or put any of them on the altar as offerings by fire to the Lord. 23 An ox or a lamb that has a limb too long or too short you may present for a freewill offering; but it will not be accepted for a vow. 24 Any animal that has its testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut, you shall not offer to the Lord; such you shall not do within your land, 25 nor shall you accept any such animals from a foreigner to offer as food to your God; since they are mutilated, with a blemish in them, they shall not be accepted in your behalf.

26 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 27 When an ox or a sheep or a goat is born, it shall remain seven days with its mother, and from the eighth day on it shall be acceptable as the Lord’s offering by fire. 28 But you shall not slaughter, from the herd or the flock, an animal with its young on the same day. 29 When you sacrifice a thanksgiving offering to the Lord, you shall sacrifice it so that it may be acceptable in your behalf. 30 It shall be eaten on the same day; you shall not leave any of it until morning: I am the Lord.


            We see sacred actions in the development of sacrificial worship. The Old Testament nowhere gives a direct exposition of the meaning of this worship. Nor can one fill in the gaps of Old Testament explanation with the practices and meanings of other religions. The community developed its sacrificial system upon entry into Canaan. Ideas surrounding these sacrifices remained flexible over the centuries. Sacrifice remained an event that took place in a sphere lying outside of humanity. Humanity gave it the external impulse. The actual operation of the sacrifice resided with Yahweh, who had the power to accept or reject the sacrifice. Yahweh’s turning towards the community did not exhaust itself in historical deeds or in gracious guidance of individual lives. Worship life in the sacrifices opened another way for continuous relationship with Yahweh. Yahweh was within reach of the gratitude, of the community. Yahweh granted fellowship in the sacred meal, and especially receive forgiveness. Now, in accordance with the comparative study of religion, we find four important ideas underlying sacrificial worship.

            The first is the idea of feeding, in that the deity receives nourishment and renewed strength.

            The second idea underlying sacrificial worship is that of a gift to the deity. The inferior brings a present to the superior. The client brings a gift to the patron. A vassal brings a gift to the lord of the castle. Such occasions are the normal expression of subjection and fealty. In the same way, the worshipper makes an offering to God. Only something valuable, the surrender of which involves an act of renunciation on the part of the giver, is suitable for such an offering. Food accords admirable with this, because it is essential to life. The feeling of willing surrender or mistrustful appeasement of deity, by confident intercession or calculating self-interest may accompany minha. A particular negative judgment may rest on the vow, in which the conditional promise of a gift has the character to wait for whether God will perform to the wishes of the worshipper. People offered the sacrifice of petition at the time when the worshipper made the request of God in order to add to its force. This practice involved consuming the victim in the fire, and thus called the burnt offering or whole burnt offering. This offering normally was associated with another offering. Dedicatory gifts to the sanctuary were set up as trophies, memories, or tokens of gratitude and adoration offered to deity, and took the form of weapons, money, and treasure, sacred objects, and pillars. One could also dedicate persons, although Yahweh never required child sacrifice or temple prostitution. The offering tribute paid regularly to the deity also occurred in Israel. One example is the offering of the first fruits. They are Israel’s recognition of the duty of thankfulness for the gracious gift of the land at the hand of Yahweh. The tithe constituted the proper tribute payable to the divine owner of the land. In post-exilic Israel, the tithe became a tax to the maintenance of the temple.

            The third idea underlying sacrificial worship is that of sacred community. The act of eating together signifies participation in a common source of life. It creates an intimate fellowship that one cannot break without serious consequences. Sacrifice has the power to create a bond of fellowship. The deity and worshippers enter the same system of living power. The strongest possible unites them. The participant receives a share in divine life through partaking of the gifts that one has dedicated to God. One may safely assume the presence of this concept of fellowship through the sacrifice in every case where the law combines an offering to Yahweh with a feast of which the offerer partakes, even if we find no explicit reference to the concept in a particular case. The zebah or slaughtered sacrifice normally features this rite of sacral communion. We see it in the covenant festival, the initiatory sacrifices offered by kings, bringing the Ark to Zion, consecration of the temple, and other occasions in which people desired the actual presence of Yahweh. We also find such offerings at the beginning of a war, the sacrificial meal at the offering of the first fruits, and annual sacrifices. The peace offering left a portion of the offering for the worshiper to eat. This was the main element and high point for the laity. The sacrifice accompanied by a common meal was the excellent sacrifice, being far more important and more frequent recurrence than all the others. This sacrificial act was always a social occasion. The worshipper invited friends to the meal, to eat and to drink before Yahweh. This sacrifice came into the category of a communion sacrifice; the participants viewed Yahweh as the guest of honor. The occasions and mood connected with it were predominantly joyous, and on occasion even excessively so. The meal at Sinai in Exodus 24:9-11 is a good example. Yahweh was the unseen participant in the meal. The text understands the ritual meal at the conclusion of covenants in the same way. The contracting parties bound themselves and entered into obligations in the presence of a third party, the deity whom they thought of as present. This sacred meal concerns itself with the real presence of the deity and that personal union with the deity from which all life and strength derive. Personal and moral fellowship with a divine Lord whose will shaped and regulated afresh the life of this people is the foundation of this sacred meal. The power of the sacred communion mediated by the sacrifice rests on the declaration by God that God is prepared to enter into a special relationship with this people and to give them a share in divine life. The communion sacrifice becomes a sacrament, in which the blessing pronounced by the priest, the hymn sung to the glory of God, the casting of oracles and the promulgation of the law carried out in conjunction with the ritual, all remind people of their fellowship with Yahweh.

            The fourth idea underlying sacrificial worship is that of atonement or expiation. Expiation is a Latin term referring to one person doing something that causes another person to act favorably toward them. It suggests appeasing the disfavor or anger of another through some action on one’s part. While God is faithful and doing what is right by way of the covenant, the people do not always do so. Such behavior introduces a disruption in the covenant relationship and only God can provides of restoring the relationship. They think of the procuring of atonement comes as a transaction between two persons. People bring gifts to the angry God to express their recognition of their dependence and subjection and their desire to make the good the harm they have done. They have deprived God of something, and they must provide a substitute to receive the good pleasure of the deity toward the gift and the giver. The faith of Israel stresses the divine demands in worship and law, in custom and morality. The divine “thou shalt” drives home the fact of a God whose personal will is present to control all human conduct. Both sin and expiation acquire a special character in the light of humanity’s relation with God. Israel makes atonement to the wrath of God by self-humiliation and reparation and the sinner then finds transference from a state of defilement to one of purity. The expiatory offering may take the form of a simple oblation and no more, though care is taken to make the gift as a valuable as possible in order to emphasize the attitude of humble renunciation. Since the object is to win back the favor of an angry God, prayer and confession of sin normally accompanies the sacrifice of sin and exerts no kind of compulsive effect. Reconciliation remains the gift of God, which explains why there are offences that one cannot expiate by sacrifice. The foundation of this practice may reside in the human practice that a breach of trust between human beings involved the payment of compensation. The same obligation toward God worshippers expressed in the guilt offering and sin offering. These offerings were part of the consecration of the altar and other occasions in which pollution may occur. The most common expression is that of making atonement or kipper, to wipe away or to cover. That still leaves open the question of what it covers, what it wipes away and how this happens.  Sin can refer to missing the mark, and thus failures that occur in the relationships people have with each other. Another word means to distort, to act perversely, to go astray, and often translated as trespass. A third word refers to revolt or rebellion. Sin is a direct insult against God. Sin was also a social category. The individual was so deeply embedded in the community that an offence on his or her part was not just a private matter affecting only oneself or one’s relationship with God. Wherever grave offence against the divine law occurred, the community risked consequence because the sin placed its life of worship at risk. Through the evil deed, the result would turn against the sinner or the community. The continuing ripple effect of sin brings eventually reaches equilibrium. Actions and consequences to those actions have close correspondence. The community had a strong interest in the sin of the individual, for it could destroy individual and community alike, unless the community cancelled its solidarity with the offender. The focus was upon the deed, and not the personal motivations or intentions. Remember, in the fall of Adam and Eve, complicated operations within humanity opened up new territory of sin and its punishment. The community had an interest in restoring order, sometimes through excommunication or execution of the offender. The conception of sin is of a material impurity, and the blood, as a holy substance endowed with miraculous power, this theory expects, to remove the stain of sin. The slaying of the Passover lamb and the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement are examples of this type of sacrifice. The blood that makes expiation happen has life contained in it. God stresses this sacrifice because God does not forgive sin as a matter of course, but because of the offering of a pure and innocent life as expiation for the guilt-laden life of the offerer. The offender must stand before the priest, who has the power over the matter. The offender can become the prey of his or her own evil deed, and therefore divine wrath and the curse can follow the offender. Expiation was a saving event. The priest performs expiation as a representative of Yahweh, and so Yahweh determines whether the offering is accepted. The one who receives expiation is the community, and Yahweh acts to avert the calamity brought in by the curse and burden evil effected. This forms a profound lesson on the seriousness of sin. We also find prophetic rejection of these sacrifices when one forgets the context of covenant relationship, so that God has a right to forgive apart from the sacrifice and can deny forgiveness when no longer in covenant. The Psalms also stress the attitude of the heart in a way that suggests dispensing with sacrifices when their essential meaning, fellowship with God, one has expressed prayer and worship.


            The Levites express the peculiarity of the historically based worship of Yahweh that occurred in Israel. They provided a self-contained theology that tries to encompass the extremely many-colored world of worship and to interpret it uniformly, even to the point of occasionally spiritualizing old customs. It seeks to teach the Israel of its own time to understand itself in its unique existence before Yahweh. The Levites could not achieve this comprehensive self-interpretation of Israel without a certain amount of rationalization effected by means of the saving history. The text addresses Israel as a sacral community, the holy people, and the people belonging to Yahweh. Its life and offices have this character.

            The text relates everything to the saving gift of the Promised Land. The saving blessings held out to the people are therefore material, as in fertility, pace from enemies, and political greatness. The grace of Yahweh produces everything that furthers life. The wrath of Yahweh impairs life. The products of nature and civilization are gifts accruing from salvation, which the love of Yahweh desires to present to this people. Its dwelling in the arable land, its enjoyment of its blessings, and its worshipping Yahweh mean the final victory over Baal had occurred. The text provides a unified theological conspectus, one Yahweh, one comprehensive Israel, one revelation, one Promised Land, one place of worship, and one prophet.

            The core of the text is the endeavor to make Israel listen to the revelation of the will of Yahweh in all circumstances. This obedience is not a prerequisite of election. All the commandments are simply a grand explanation of the command to love Yahweh and to cling to Yahweh alone. This love is Israel’s return of the divine love bestowed upon it. The many imperatives are appeals for action to demonstrate its gratitude. The Levites regard them as easy to fulfill. Nothing would be more absurd than that Israel should let this revelation become a problem for it. The whole of Deuteronomy has a feeling of a great anxiety lest Israel might throw this claim to the winds and forfeit its salvation. Disobedience with all its sinister possibilities has come within the range of Deuteronomy’s theological vision. Israel, just before the catastrophe, once more receives the offer of life. Deuteronomy wipes out some seven centuries squandered in disobedience, and places Israel in the wilderness, with Moses speaking to it. The offer of present salvation comes on the same terms as before. “Today” means both the time of Moses and that of the Deuteronomy taken together. This implies that the Israel addressed still stands in the space between its election and salvation. It is still on the road and awaiting still the great saving blessings that it is to receive.


Hindu Beginnings

            In India, we find the Rig-Veda and Artha-Veda putting into writing Hindu myths. It has a rather strong sense of the mystery of life. The sense of individual human life a small part of a far larger mystery finds reflection in this text in the Rig-Veda:


Who knows truly? Who can here declare it?

Whence it was born, whence is this emanation.

By the emanation of this the gods

            Only later came to be.

Who then knows whence it has arisen?


Whence this emanation hath arisen,

Whether God disposed it, or whether he did not, --

Only he who is its overseer in highest heaven knows.

He only knows, or perhaps he does not know! 


The same sense is in the Artha-Veda:


The infinite is extended out in many places:

Infinite and finite meet at a common edge….

Knowing what of it was and what is yet to be.


In the same text, we also find a reflection upon the limits of individuals.


Wherein, in Man, immortality and death and held together ...


Humanity is to gain freedom from desire.


Free from desire, immortal, wise and self-existent,

With its own savor satisfied, and nothing lacking, --

Whoso knows him, the Self, -- wise, ageless, ever young, --

            Of death will have no fear.


Divinity is nearer than we realize.


The One is finer than a hair:

The One, it seems, cannot be seen.

Hence is the deity so dear to me,

            Most fit to be embraced.


Divinity is close as breath.


Homage to the Breath of Life, for this whole universe obeys it,

Which has become the Lord of all, on which all things are based.


O Breath of Life, that form of thine so dear to us,

O Breath of Life, that form which is yet dearer,

And then that healing which too is thine,

Place it in us that we may life.


The Breath of Life takes living creatures as its garment,

            As father takes his beloved son.

The Breath of Life is the Lord of all,

Of whatever breathes and what does not.


The Breath of Life some call the wind,

            Again it’s called the breeze.

In the Breath of Life is what is past and what is yet to be;

On the Breath of Life all things are based.


Period of the Tribal Federation


Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, volume one, “Viii. The Instruments of the Covenant: A. The Charismatic Leaders. 2. The seers. 3. The Nazirities. 4. The judges. B. The Official Leaders. 2. The king.” 1933, 1959.

Gerhard Von Rad, Theology of the Old Testament, volume one, “Part Two. B. Theology of the Hexateuch. VII. The Granting of the Land of Canaan. C. Israel’s Anointed 5. The Judges.” 1957.

George E. Mendenhall, The Tenth Generation: The Origins of the Biblical Tradition, 1973.

Robert G. Boling, Joshua in the Anchor Bible, 1982.

Robert G. Boling, Judges in the Anchor bible, 1975.

Edward F. Campbell, Jr, Ruth in the Anchor Bible, 1975.



            This was during Iron Age I (1200-900 BC).  No dominant world power influenced the area.  Egypt declares a victory over the "peoples of the sea, in 1175 BC, possibly the Philistines.  Assyrians begin to increase their authority under Tiglath-Pileser I, but then they decline in favor the various smaller kingdoms around Palestine. The world power during this period was Egypt, which considered the area the first line of defense against invaders. Canaanites organized much of Palestine into small city-states with princes who had their positions through heredity.  Canaanites distributed political power to these areas, which were nothing more than the city and the few fields and villages surrounding it.  The area just north of Jerusalem seems to have been a larger territory and a political unit.  The situation would appear to be the same in Galilee, where it is likely the area contained a larger political unity.

            The collapse of Egypt as a world power by 1200 BC under Rameses III quickly brought changes in the political realities of Palestine.  They had names like Philistine, Israelites, Judeans, Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Arameans.  Israelites now named political entities after the tribes that ruled over the area.  This shows a growing national consciousness on the part of the inhabitants.  The city-states became smaller administrative units of the larger kingdom of which they were a part.  Judah may have been a special case, for the city-states there seemed to maintain their independence much longer.  The Israelite occupation of Palestine focused on those parts of the country which already formed large political unites, and continued to do so afterwards.  This means that the Israelites gained control rather quickly of the mountainous area to the north of Jerusalem and Galilee.  These larger areas were thinly populated and were least capable of resisting the advance of the Israelites. It also offered the tribes the best chance of continuing their semi-nomadic way of life to which they were accustomed.  However, the city-states in the Judean hills and along the coasts proved to be hostile to tribal influences.  They remained strong until the Israelites turned their attention to a full-scale expansion with the time of David and Solomon.

            The settlement of Palestine began, for the Israelites, in the less developed and civilized portions.  The plain area was already under the control of the Philistines, and the Israelites did not seriously try to expand into that region.  The tribes of Israel continue their behavior relatively unchanged, as long as there is no threat from external forces.  The judges did not receive any official authority, but derived their strength from the sudden appearance of a personal gift and power which was regarded in Israel simply as a charisma, a free gift of the Lord to the individual, and which therefore swept the populace along with it.  The worship of the Lord broke down tribal barriers and helped the Israelites maintain their unity.  However, one weakness of this system is that, as far as the records indicate, there was no one who united all twelve tribes against any external foe.  It is this state affair, the power of the Philistines in Palestine, which would give rise to the need for a unified response from the Israelites.

Biblical Text

            The early historical books of Joshua and Judges contain ancient sources. I want to spend some time relating each of those traditions.

            Joshua is an attempt to describe the conquest of the land.  This is done through recounting the battle at Jericho, which is intended to be a comedy, from before 1040 BC.  There is a liturgical conquest of the land given in 3-6.  It is possible that the wall of Jericho collapsed in 1475-1350 BC, according to the most recent archeological discoveries.  The account of the capture of Ai in chapter 8 is from 1220-1050 BC.  An ancient tradition concerning the reading of the law at Mount Ebal is given in chapter 8 as well.  The battle at Gibeon, where the sun stands still, is in chapter 10.  The land is distributed among the tribes.  However, it is clear that they did not complete the conquest. While a general reading may lead one to think Joshua accomplished the conquest, it is clear in the details that the process went on for many years.  The ancient covenant at Shechem is given in chapter 24. 


            One surrounds Gilgal, on the eastern border of Jericho. Joshua took the twelve memorial stones in Joshua 4 and brought them to this new place of worship. We find that chapters 3-5:12 are an early liturgical account of the crossing of the Jordan River by the twelve tribes.  We then find an account of the circumcision of Hebrews at Gilgal and a celebration of the Passover. The Gilgal traditions also contained a Hebrew comedy of the fall of Jericho. The use of spies, the account of Rahab and the prostitute, and the fall of the walls of Jericho by trumpets, had the intent of bringing a smile to the face, as well as remind people that Yahweh was the one who fought and won their battles.


Joshua 2 (NRSV)

Spies Sent to Jericho

2 Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there. 2 The king of Jericho was told, “Some Israelites have come here tonight to search out the land.” 3 Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.” 4 But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, “True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. 5 And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them.” 6 She had, however, brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof. 7 So the men pursued them on the way to the Jordan as far as the fords. As soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

8 Before they went to sleep, she came up to them on the roof 9 and said to the men: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites that were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below. 12 Now then, since I have dealt kindly with you, swear to me by the Lord that you in turn will deal kindly with my family. Give me a sign of good faith 13 that you will spare my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” 14 The men said to her, “Our life for yours! If you do not tell this business of ours, then we will deal kindly and faithfully with you when the Lord gives us the land.”

15 Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was on the outer side of the city wall and she resided within the wall itself. 16 She said to them, “Go toward the hill country, so that the pursuers may not come upon you. Hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers have returned; then afterward you may go your way.” 17 The men said to her, “We will be released from this oath that you have made us swear to you 18 if we invade the land and you do not tie this crimson cord in the window through which you let us down, and you do not gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family. 19 If any of you go out of the doors of your house into the street, they shall be responsible for their own death, and we shall be innocent; but if a hand is laid upon any who are with you in the house, we shall bear the responsibility for their death. 20 But if you tell this business of ours, then we shall be released from this oath that you made us swear to you.” 21 She said, “According to your words, so be it.” She sent them away and they departed. Then she tied the crimson cord in the window.

22 They departed and went into the hill country and stayed there three days, until the pursuers returned. The pursuers had searched all along the way and found nothing. 23 Then the two men came down again from the hill country. They crossed over, came to Joshua son of Nun, and told him all that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, “Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands; moreover all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before us.”


Joshua 5:13-6:27 (NRSV)

Joshua’s Vision

13 Once when Joshua was by Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing before him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you one of us, or one of our adversaries?” 14 He replied, “Neither; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and he said to him, “What do you command your servant, my lord?” 15 The commander of the army of the Lord said to Joshua, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.

Jericho Taken and Destroyed

6 Now Jericho was shut up inside and out because of the Israelites; no one came out and no one went in. 2 The Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers. 3 You shall march around the city, all the warriors circling the city once. Thus you shall do for six days, 4 with seven priests bearing seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, the priests blowing the trumpets. 5 When they make a long blast with the ram’s horn, as soon as you hear the sound of the trumpet, then all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city will fall down flat, and all the people shall charge straight ahead.” 6 So Joshua son of Nun summoned the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant, and have seven priests carry seven trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark of the Lord.” 7 To the people he said, “Go forward and march around the city; have the armed men pass on before the ark of the Lord.”

8 As Joshua had commanded the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the Lord went forward, blowing the trumpets, with the ark of the covenant of the Lord following them. 9 And the armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets; the rear guard came after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. 10 To the people Joshua gave this command: “You shall not shout or let your voice be heard, nor shall you utter a word, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.” 11 So the ark of the Lord went around the city, circling it once; and they came into the camp, and spent the night in the camp.

12 Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. 13 The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord passed on, blowing the trumpets continually. The armed men went before them, and the rear guard came after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. 14 On the second day they marched around the city once and then returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

15 On the seventh day they rose early, at dawn, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. 16 And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, “Shout! For the Lord has given you the city. 17 The city and all that is in it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live because she hid the messengers we sent. 18 As for you, keep away from the things devoted to destruction, so as not to covet and take any of the devoted things and make the camp of Israel an object for destruction, bringing trouble upon it. 19 But all silver and gold, and vessels of bronze and iron, are sacred to the Lord; they shall go into the treasury of the Lord.” 20 So the people shouted, and the trumpets were blown. As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. 21 Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys.

22 Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house, and bring the woman out of it and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23 So the young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her—they brought all her kindred out—and set them outside the camp of Israel. 24 They burned down the city, and everything in it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 But Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, Joshua spared. Her family has lived in Israel ever since. For she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

26 Joshua then pronounced this oath, saying,

“Cursed before the Lord be anyone who tries

to build this city—this Jericho!

At the cost of his firstborn he shall lay its foundation,

and at the cost of his youngest he shall set up its gates!”

27 So the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was in all the land.


We then find in Joshua 7-8 of the Gilgal traditions an account of the reason for the initial defeat of the tribes when they encountered Ai. In their explanation, Achan took plunder from Jericho. In order to cleanse the whole community, Joshua brings capital punishment upon Achan, his sons, daughters, and wife. The incident was significant enough, in that it revealed the anger of Yahweh and its relenting, that the place received the name “Vale of Achor.” We then find an account of the defeat of Ai, originating from 1220-1050 BC.


Joshua 8:1-29 (NRSV)

Ai Captured by a Stratagem and Destroyed

8 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear or be dismayed; take all the fighting men with you, and go up now to Ai. See, I have handed over to you the king of Ai with his people, his city, and his land. 2 You shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king; only its spoil and its livestock you may take as booty for yourselves. Set an ambush against the city, behind it.”

3 So Joshua and all the fighting men set out to go up against Ai. Joshua chose thirty thousand warriors and sent them out by night 4 with the command, “You shall lie in ambush against the city, behind it; do not go very far from the city, but all of you stay alert. 5 I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. When they come out against us, as before, we shall flee from them. 6 They will come out after us until we have drawn them away from the city; for they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, as before.’ While we flee from them, 7 you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city; for the Lord your God will give it into your hand. 8 And when you have taken the city, you shall set the city on fire, doing as the Lord has ordered; see, I have commanded you.” 9 So Joshua sent them out; and they went to the place of ambush, and lay between Bethel and Ai, to the west of Ai; but Joshua spent that night in the camp.

10 In the morning Joshua rose early and mustered the people, and went up, with the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai. 11 All the fighting men who were with him went up, and drew near before the city, and camped on the north side of Ai, with a ravine between them and Ai. 12 Taking about five thousand men, he set them in ambush between Bethel and Ai, to the west of the city. 13 So they stationed the forces, the main encampment that was north of the city and its rear guard west of the city. But Joshua spent that night in the valley. 14 When the king of Ai saw this, he and all his people, the inhabitants of the city, hurried out early in the morning to the meeting place facing the Arabah to meet Israel in battle; but he did not know that there was an ambush against him behind the city. 15 And Joshua and all Israel made a pretense of being beaten before them, and fled in the direction of the wilderness. 16 So all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and as they pursued Joshua they were drawn away from the city. 17 There was not a man left in Ai or Bethel who did not go out after Israel; they left the city open, and pursued Israel.

18 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Stretch out the sword that is in your hand toward Ai; for I will give it into your hand.” And Joshua stretched out the sword that was in his hand toward the city. 19 As soon as he stretched out his hand, the troops in ambush rose quickly out of their place and rushed forward. They entered the city, took it, and at once set the city on fire. 20 So when the men of Ai looked back, the smoke of the city was rising to the sky. They had no power to flee this way or that, for the people who fled to the wilderness turned back against the pursuers. 21 When Joshua and all Israel saw that the ambush had taken the city and that the smoke of the city was rising, then they turned back and struck down the men of Ai. 22 And the others came out from the city against them; so they were surrounded by Israelites, some on one side, and some on the other; and Israel struck them down until no one was left who survived or escaped. 23 But the king of Ai was taken alive and brought to Joshua.

24 When Israel had finished slaughtering all the inhabitants of Ai in the open wilderness where they pursued them, and when all of them to the very last had fallen by the edge of the sword, all Israel returned to Ai, and attacked it with the edge of the sword. 25 The total of those who fell that day, both men and women, was twelve thousand—all the people of Ai. 26 For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the sword, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. 27 Only the livestock and the spoil of that city Israel took as their booty, according to the word of the Lord that he had issued to Joshua. 28 So Joshua burned Ai, and made it forever a heap of ruins, as it is to this day. 29 And he hanged the king of Ai on a tree until evening; and at sunset Joshua commanded, and they took his body down from the tree, threw it down at the entrance of the gate of the city, and raised over it a great heap of stones, which stands there to this day.


            Another text is surrounds Jashar (Joshua 10:13),

            A third set of ancient sources relates to the military campaigns in chapter 10 and 11 of Joshua. We find an account of the distribution of the land to the twelve tribes in Joshua 13-21. This victory of the Hebrews in Israel had a peaceful dimension, as they apparently won many of the local people over to the worship of Yahweh.

            Joshua 22 is a story in which we find potential civil war averted through negotiation. The dispute achieved resolution through talking with each other. In the structure of Joshua and Judges, the significance of this is immense, for the continuing history in Judges shows the deterioration of the covenant. In fact, part of what we see in this history is determination to implement the Mosaic covenant in the life and institutions of the people.


Joshua 22 (NRSV)

The Eastern Tribes Return to Their Territory

22 Then Joshua summoned the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, 2 and said to them, “You have observed all that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, and have obeyed me in all that I have commanded you; 3 you have not forsaken your kindred these many days, down to this day, but have been careful to keep the charge of the Lord your God. 4 And now the Lord your God has given rest to your kindred, as he promised them; therefore turn and go to your tents in the land where your possession lies, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you on the other side of the Jordan. 5 Take good care to observe the commandment and instruction that Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to keep his commandments, and to hold fast to him, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” 6 So Joshua blessed them and sent them away, and they went to their tents.

7 Now to the one half of the tribe of Manasseh Moses had given a possession in Bashan; but to the other half Joshua had given a possession beside their fellow Israelites in the land west of the Jordan. And when Joshua sent them away to their tents and blessed them, 8 he said to them, “Go back to your tents with much wealth, and with very much livestock, with silver, gold, bronze, and iron, and with a great quantity of clothing; divide the spoil of your enemies with your kindred.” 9 So the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh returned home, parting from the Israelites at Shiloh, which is in the land of Canaan, to go to the land of Gilead, their own land of which they had taken possession by command of the Lord through Moses.

A Memorial Altar East of the Jordan

10 When they came to the region near the Jordan that lies in the land of Canaan, the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh built there an altar by the Jordan, an altar of great size. 11 The Israelites heard that the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh had built an altar at the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region near the Jordan, on the side that belongs to the Israelites. 12 And when the people of Israel heard of it, the whole assembly of the Israelites gathered at Shiloh, to make war against them.

13 Then the Israelites sent the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, 14 and with him ten chiefs, one from each of the tribal families of Israel, every one of them the head of a family among the clans of Israel. 15 They came to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, in the land of Gilead, and they said to them, 16 “Thus says the whole congregation of the Lord, ‘What is this treachery that you have committed against the God of Israel in turning away today from following the Lord, by building yourselves an altar today in rebellion against the Lord? 17 Have we not had enough of the sin at Peor from which even yet we have not cleansed ourselves, and for which a plague came upon the congregation of the Lord, 18 that you must turn away today from following the Lord! If you rebel against the Lord today, he will be angry with the whole congregation of Israel tomorrow. 19 But now, if your land is unclean, cross over into the Lord’s land where the Lord’s tabernacle now stands, and take for yourselves a possession among us; only do not rebel against the Lord, or rebel against us by building yourselves an altar other than the altar of the Lord our God. 20 Did not Achan son of Zerah break faith in the matter of the devoted things, and wrath fell upon all the congregation of Israel? And he did not perish alone for his iniquity!’ ”

21 Then the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh said in answer to the heads of the families of Israel, 22 “The Lord, God of gods! The Lord, God of gods! He knows; and let Israel itself know! If it was in rebellion or in breach of faith toward the Lord, do not spare us today 23 for building an altar to turn away from following the Lord; or if we did so to offer burnt offerings or grain offerings or offerings of well-being on it, may the Lord himself take vengeance. 24 No! We did it from fear that in time to come your children might say to our children, ‘What have you to do with the Lord, the God of Israel? 25 For the Lord has made the Jordan a boundary between us and you, you Reubenites and Gadites; you have no portion in the Lord.’ So your children might make our children cease to worship the Lord. 26 Therefore we said, ‘Let us now build an altar, not for burnt offering, nor for sacrifice, 27 but to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, that we do perform the service of the Lord in his presence with our burnt offerings and sacrifices and offerings of well-being; so that your children may never say to our children in time to come, “You have no portion in the Lord.” ’ 28 And we thought, If this should be said to us or to our descendants in time to come, we could say, ‘Look at this copy of the altar of the Lord, which our ancestors made, not for burnt offerings, nor for sacrifice, but to be a witness between us and you.’ 29 Far be it from us that we should rebel against the Lord, and turn away this day from following the Lord by building an altar for burnt offering, grain offering, or sacrifice, other than the altar of the Lord our God that stands before his tabernacle!”

30 When the priest Phinehas and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the Reubenites and the Gadites and the Manassites spoke, they were satisfied. 31 The priest Phinehas son of Eleazar said to the Reubenites and the Gadites and the Manassites, “Today we know that the Lord is among us, because you have not committed this treachery against the Lord; now you have saved the Israelites from the hand of the Lord.”

32 Then the priest Phinehas son of Eleazar and the chiefs returned from the Reubenites and the Gadites in the land of Gilead to the land of Canaan, to the Israelites, and brought back word to them. 33 The report pleased the Israelites; and the Israelites blessed God and spoke no more of making war against them, to destroy the land where the Reubenites and the Gadites were settled. 34 The Reubenites and the Gadites called the altar Witness; “For,” said they, “it is a witness between us that the Lord is God.”


            These early traditions reveal a desire to implement the covenant at Sinai.  Israel existed as a series of independent city-states, but at least theoretically inter-connected.  It was a loose federation of tribes.  In this period, the sanctuary was wherever the Ark was.  This material comes from independent stories, undoubtedly professional storytellers, which were collected around the 700's, incorporated by the author of Deuteronomy in the 600's, and further edited in the post-exilic period.  For Joshua and Judges, Samuel may have had a hand in their compilation.  They are guided by national and historical concerns, and not the individual concerns of the patriarchal and exodus traditions.  It tends to give meaning to the disaster that happened at the national level, that is, the exile.  These early stories show the need for a centralized monarchy, for their early history showed the results of obedience and disobedience.  A king became necessary to give tangible evidence of unity.

            The book of Judges is a further accounting of this period.  The pattern is that God calls a judge to be a deliverer for various parts of the tribes, calling them together for battle. Scholars come up with some dating through this material. The pattern of accounting for judges is the Israelites did what is evil the eyes of the Lord, they forgot the Lord, and they served Baal and Asherah, so the anger of the Lord blazed out against Israel. The people then cry out to the Lord, and the Lord rescued them through a deliverer. What I include, minus this pattern from Deuteronomy, is an attempt to provide the textual basis for life in this period.

            We have the account of Othniel.


Judges 3:8-10 (NRSV)

8 the Lord sold them into the hand of King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim; and the Israelites served Cushan-rishathaim eight years. 9 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. 10 he judged Israel; he went out to war, and the Lord gave King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Cushan-rishathaim.


            Ehud judged Israel in 1100 BC.


Judges 3:12-30 (NRSV)

12 the Lord strengthened King Eglon of Moab against Israel, … 13 In alliance with the Ammonites and the Amalekites, he went and defeated Israel; and they took possession of the city of palms. 14 So the Israelites served King Eglon of Moab eighteen years.

15 … the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man. The Israelites sent tribute by him to King Eglon of Moab. 16 Ehud made for himself a sword with two edges, a cubit in length; and he fastened it on his right thigh under his clothes. 17 Then he presented the tribute to King Eglon of Moab. Now Eglon was a very fat man. 18 When Ehud had finished presenting the tribute, he sent the people who carried the tribute on their way. 19 But he himself turned back at the sculptured stones near Gilgal, and said, “I have a secret message for you, O king.” So the king said, “Silence!” and all his attendants went out from his presence. 20 Ehud came to him, while he was sitting alone in his cool roof chamber, and said, “I have a message from God for you.” So he rose from his seat. 21 Then Ehud reached with his left hand, took the sword from his right thigh, and thrust it into Eglon’s belly; 22 the hilt also went in after the blade, and the fat closed over the blade, for he did not draw the sword out of his belly; and the dirt came out. 23 Then Ehud went out into the vestibule, and closed the doors of the roof chamber on him, and locked them.

24 After he had gone, the servants came. When they saw that the doors of the roof chamber were locked, they thought, “He must be relieving himself in the cool chamber.” 25 So they waited until they were embarrassed. When he still did not open the doors of the roof chamber, they took the key and opened them. There was their lord lying dead on the floor.

26 Ehud escaped while they delayed, and passed beyond the sculptured stones, and escaped to Seirah. 27 When he arrived, he sounded the trumpet in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites went down with him from the hill country, having him at their head. 28 He said to them, “Follow after me; for the Lord has given your enemies the Moabites into your hand.” So they went down after him, and seized the fords of the Jordan against the Moabites, and allowed no one to cross over. 29 At that time they killed about ten thousand of the Moabites, all strong, able-bodied men; no one escaped. 30 So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest eighty years.


            An account of Shamgar goes like this.


Judges 3:31 (NRSV)

31 After him came Shamgar son of Anath, who killed six hundred of the Philistines with an oxgoad. He too delivered Israel.


            Deborah and Barak is a story of the defeat Hazor in 1200's. The Song of Deborah is from this period.


Judges 5 may also reflect this period of history.


Judges 5 (NRSV)

The Song of Deborah

5 Then Deborah and Barak son of Abinoam sang on that day, saying:

2 “When locks are long in Israel,

when the people offer themselves willingly—

bless the Lord!

3 “Hear, O kings; give ear, O princes;

to the Lord I will sing,

I will make melody to the Lord, the God of Israel.

4 Lord, when you went out from Seir,

when you marched from the region of Edom,

the earth trembled,

and the heavens poured,

the clouds indeed poured water.

5 The mountains quaked before the Lord, the One of Sinai,

before the Lord, the God of Israel.

6 “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath,

in the days of Jael, caravans ceased

and travelers kept to the byways.

7 The peasantry prospered in Israel,

they grew fat on plunder,

because you arose, Deborah,

arose as a mother in Israel.

8 When new gods were chosen,

then war was in the gates.

Was shield or spear to be seen

among forty thousand in Israel?

9 My heart goes out to the commanders of Israel

who offered themselves willingly among the people.

Bless the Lord.

10 “Tell of it, you who ride on white donkeys,

you who sit on rich carpets

and you who walk by the way.

11 To the sound of musicians at the watering places,

there they repeat the triumphs of the Lord,

the triumphs of his peasantry in Israel.

“Then down to the gates marched the people of the Lord.

12 “Awake, awake, Deborah!

Awake, awake, utter a song!

Arise, Barak, lead away your captives,

O son of Abinoam.

13 Then down marched the remnant of the noble;

the people of the Lord marched down for him against the mighty.

14 From Ephraim they set out into the valley,

following you, Benjamin, with your kin;

from Machir marched down the commanders,

and from Zebulun those who bear the marshal’s staff;

15 the chiefs of Issachar came with Deborah,

and Issachar faithful to Barak;

into the valley they rushed out at his heels.

Among the clans of Reuben

there were great searchings of heart.

16 Why did you tarry among the sheepfolds,

to hear the piping for the flocks?

Among the clans of Reuben

there were great searchings of heart.

17 Gilead stayed beyond the Jordan;

and Dan, why did he abide with the ships?

Asher sat still at the coast of the sea,

settling down by his landings.

18 Zebulun is a people that scorned death;

Naphtali too, on the heights of the field.

19 “The kings came, they fought;

then fought the kings of Canaan,

at Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;

they got no spoils of silver.

20 The stars fought from heaven,

from their courses they fought against Sisera.

21 The torrent Kishon swept them away,

the onrushing torrent, the torrent Kishon.

March on, my soul, with might!

22 “Then loud beat the horses’ hoofs

with the galloping, galloping of his steeds.

23 “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the Lord,

curse bitterly its inhabitants,

because they did not come to the help of the Lord,

to the help of the Lord against the mighty.

24 “Most blessed of women be Jael,

the wife of Heber the Kenite,

of tent-dwelling women most blessed.

25 He asked water and she gave him milk,

she brought him curds in a lordly bowl.

26 She put her hand to the tent peg

and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;

she struck Sisera a blow,

she crushed his head,

she shattered and pierced his temple.

27 He sank, he fell,

he lay still at her feet;

at her feet he sank, he fell;

where he sank, there he fell dead.

28 “Out of the window she peered,

the mother of Sisera gazed through the lattice:

‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?

Why tarry the hoofbeats of his chariots?’

29 Her wisest ladies make answer,

indeed, she answers the question herself:

30 ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil?—

A girl or two for every man;

spoil of dyed stuffs for Sisera,

spoil of dyed stuffs embroidered,

two pieces of dyed work embroidered for my neck as spoil?’

31 “So perish all your enemies, O Lord!

But may your friends be like the sun as it rises in its might.”

And the land had rest forty years.


            Gideon is difficult to date. It occurs in chapter 6-8.

            Abimelech and his reign in 1175 BC receive attention in Judges 9. 

            Tola and Jair were judges as well.


Judges 10:1-2 (NRSV)

 After Abimelech, Tola son of Puah son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, who lived at Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim, rose to deliver Israel. 2 He judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died, and was buried at Shamir.

Judges 10:3-5 (NRSV)

3 After him came Jair the Gileadite, who judged Israel twenty-two years. 4 He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys; and they had thirty towns, which are in the land of Gilead, and are called Havvoth-jair to this day. 5 Jair died, and was buried in Kamon.


            Jephthah was a judge.


Judges 10:8-12 (NRSV)

8 and they crushed and oppressed the Israelites that year. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites that were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead. 9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was greatly distressed.

10 So the Israelites cried to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have abandoned our God and have worshiped the Baals.” 11 And the Lord said to the Israelites, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, oppressed you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand.


Judges 10:17-18 (NRSV)

17 Then the Ammonites were called to arms, and they encamped in Gilead; and the Israelites came together, and they encamped at Mizpah. 18 The commanders of the people of Gilead said to one another, “Who will begin the fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”


Judges 11:1-12:7 (NRSV)


11 Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah away, saying to him, “You shall not inherit anything in our father’s house; for you are the son of another woman.” 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him.

4 After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5 And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 They said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, so that we may fight with the Ammonites.” 7 But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father’s house? So why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?” 8 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “Nevertheless, we have now turned back to you, so that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites, and become head over us, over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9 Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.” 10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord will be witness between us; we will surely do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.

12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, “What is there between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” 13 The king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel, on coming from Egypt, took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably.” 14 Once again Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites 15 and said to him: “Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, 16 but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. 17 Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Let us pass through your land’; but the king of Edom would not listen. They also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh. 18 Then they journeyed through the wilderness, went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, arrived on the east side of the land of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. 19 Israel then sent messengers to King Sihon of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, ‘Let us pass through your land to our country.’ 20 But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people together, and encamped at Jahaz, and fought with Israel. 21 Then the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel occupied all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. 22 They occupied all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. 23 So now the Lord, the God of Israel, has conquered the Amorites for the benefit of his people Israel. Do you intend to take their place? 24 Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess? And should we not be the ones to possess everything that the Lord our God has conquered for our benefit? 25 Now are you any better than King Balak son of Zippor of Moab? Did he ever enter into conflict with Israel, or did he ever go to war with them? 26 While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the towns that are along the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27 It is not I who have sinned against you, but you are the one who does me wrong by making war on me. Let the Lord, who is judge, decide today for the Israelites or for the Ammonites.” 28 But the king of the Ammonites did not heed the message that Jephthah sent him.

Jephthah’s Vow

29 Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33 He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty towns, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

Jephthah’s Daughter

34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” 36 She said to him, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites.” 37 And she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I.” 38 “Go,” he said and sent her away for two months. So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. 39 At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made. She had never slept with a man. So there arose an Israelite custom that 40 for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

Intertribal Dissension

12 The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down over you!” 2 Jephthah said to them, “My people and I were engaged in conflict with the Ammonites who oppressed us severely. But when I called you, you did not deliver me from their hand. 3 When I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hand, and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day, to fight against me?” 4 Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim; and the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives from Ephraim, you Gileadites—in the heart of Ephraim and Manasseh.” 5 Then the Gileadites took the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. Whenever one of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” 6 they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand of the Ephraimites fell at that time.

7 Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in his town in Gilead.


            Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon are among the judges of Israel.


Judges 12:8-15 (NRSV)

8 After him Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. 9 He had thirty sons. He gave his thirty daughters in marriage outside his clan and brought in thirty young women from outside for his sons. He judged Israel seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died, and was buried at Bethlehem.

11 After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel; and he judged Israel ten years. 12 Then Elon the Zebulunite died, and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.

13 After him Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys; he judged Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried at Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.


            Samson and his story occur in Judges 13-16. The story is from 1160-1100 BC. 

            Judges concludes with several independent stories.

            One story is that of the tribe of Dan committing an atrocity against a peaceful people. The story records their migration, an event that occurred around 1075 BC. The account includes a story about Micah and his domestic shrine. Here is how the text describes the people of Laish and their defeat. One way to read this description is the sadness of the author concerning the way the tribe of Dan treated these peaceful people.


Judges 18:7 (NRSV)

7 The five men went on, and when they came to Laish, they observed the people who were there living securely, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing on earth, and possessing wealth.Furthermore, they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with Aram.

Judges 18:27-28 (NRSV)

The Danites Settle in Laish

27 The Danites, having taken what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, put them to the sword, and burned down the city. 28 There was no deliverer, because it was far from Sidon and they had no dealings with Aram. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. They rebuilt the city, and lived in it.


            Another story is that of Gibeah and the war against Benjamin. The Levite who traveled from village to village did not receive hospitality. The men of Gibeah had group sex with his concubine. She fell at the door of the Levite, who then cut up her body in twelve pieces and sent them to the tribes of Israel. The Israelites rally to avenge this crime by the men of Gibeah. Since this occurred within the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, the rest of Israel almost destroyed the whole tribe. The Israelites then consider that they went too far. They allow the few men left have the girls of Jabesh. Since there were not enough women, they allowed the rape of the daughters of Shiloh.

            The end of the book of Joshua has the people almost going to war, but negotiating a peaceful settlement among them.  They averted a civil war.  By the end of the book of Judges, disastrous events take place.  The tribe of Dan attacks a defenseless city called Laish, a Levite cut up parts of his concubine, who may have still been alive, and sent them to the 12 tribes to mobilize them against the men of Gibeah, the tribe of Benjamin is almost wiped out so they are allowed to rape the girls of Jabesh.  It is clear the Deuteronomic historian desires us to get the message that peace is the best approach to national life, and that this period was one of steady decline for the 12 tribes.


                Some written material is likely from this period. These materials gives us a flavor of the religious spirit of the age. I do this in as near historical order as I reasonably can. Some people think this is an effort to get to a non-theological core. The reality is that one cannot get to that place. Theological reflection is at every level of tradition. Israel has theological roots.


One text may be the Shechemite Covenant.


Deuteronomy 27:15-26 (NRSV) Shechemite Twelve Commandments

15 “Cursed be anyone who makes an idol or casts an image, anything abhorrent to the Lord, the work of an artisan, and sets it up in secret.” All the people shall respond, saying, “Amen!”

16 “Cursed be anyone who dishonors father or mother.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

17 “Cursed be anyone who moves a neighbor’s boundary marker.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

18 “Cursed be anyone who misleads a blind person on the road.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

19 “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

20 “Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has violated his father’s rights.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

21 “Cursed be anyone who lies with any animal.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

22 “Cursed be anyone who lies with his sister, whether the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

23 “Cursed be anyone who lies with his mother-in-law.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

24 “Cursed be anyone who strikes down a neighbor in secret.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

25 “Cursed be anyone who takes a bribe to shed innocent blood.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”

26 “Cursed be anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by observing them.” All the people shall say, “Amen!”


Joshua 8:30-35 (NRSV)

Joshua Renews the Covenant

30 Then Joshua built on Mount Ebal an altar to the Lord, the God of Israel, 31 just as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded the Israelites, as it is written in the book of the law of Moses, “an altar of unhewn stones, on which no iron tool has been used”; and they offered on it burnt offerings to the Lord, and sacrificed offerings of well-being. 32 And there, in the presence of the Israelites, Joshua wrote on the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he had written. 33 All Israel, alien as well as citizen, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark in front of the levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded at the first, that they should bless the people of Israel. 34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, blessings and curses, according to all that is written in the book of the law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the aliens who resided among them.

Joshua 24:2-13, 25-28 (NRSV)

2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. 3 Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; 4 and to Isaac I gave Jacob and Esau. I gave Esau the hill country of Seir to possess, but Jacob and his children went down to Egypt. 5 Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. 6 When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. 7 When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time. 8 Then I brought you to the land of the Amorites, who lived on the other side of the Jordan; they fought with you, and I handed them over to you, and you took possession of their land, and I destroyed them before you. 9 Then King Balak son of Zippor of Moab, set out to fight against Israel. He sent and invited Balaam son of Beor to curse you, 10 but I would not listen to Balaam; therefore he blessed you; so I rescued you out of his hand. 11 When you went over the Jordan and came to Jericho, the citizens of Jericho fought against you, and also the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I handed them over to you. 12 I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove out before you the two kings of the Amorites; it was not by your sword or by your bow. 13 I gave you a land on which you had not labored, and towns that you had not built, and you live in them; you eat the fruit of vineyards and oliveyards that you did not plant.

25 So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. 26 Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. 27 Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” 28 So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.


Another text may be the division of the land among the tribes.


Genesis 49 (NRSV)

Then Jacob called his sons, and said: “Gather around, that I may tell you what will happen to you in days to come.

2 Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob;

listen to Israel your father.

3 Reuben, you are my firstborn,

my might and the first fruits of my vigor,

excelling in rank and excelling in power.

4 Unstable as water, you shall no longer excel

because you went up onto your father’s bed;

then you defiled it—you went up onto my couch!

5 Simeon and Levi are brothers;

weapons of violence are their swords.

6 May I never come into their council;

may I not be joined to their company—

for in their anger they killed men,

and at their whim they hamstrung oxen.

7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce,

and their wrath, for it is cruel!

I will divide them in Jacob,

and scatter them in Israel.

8 Judah, your brothers shall praise you;

your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies;

your father’s sons shall bow down before you.

9 Judah is a lion’s whelp;

from the prey, my son, you have gone up.

He crouches down, he stretches out like a lion,

like a lioness—who dares rouse him up?

10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

until tribute comes to him;

and the obedience of the peoples is his.

11 Binding his foal to the vine

and his donkey’s colt to the choice vine,

he washes his garments in wine

and his robe in the blood of grapes;

12 his eyes are darker than wine,

and his teeth whiter than milk.

13 Zebulun shall settle at the shore of the sea;

he shall be a haven for ships,

and his border shall be at Sidon.

14 Issachar is a strong donkey,

lying down between the sheepfolds;

15 he saw that a resting place was good,

and that the land was pleasant;

so he bowed his shoulder to the burden,

and became a slave at forced labor.

16 Dan shall judge his people

as one of the tribes of Israel.

17 Dan shall be a snake by the roadside,

a viper along the path,

that bites the horse’s heels

so that its rider falls backward.

18 I wait for your salvation, O Lord.

19 Gad shall be raided by raiders,

but he shall raid at their heels.

20 Asher’s food shall be rich,

and he shall provide royal delicacies.

21 Naphtali is a doe let loose

that bears lovely fawns.

22 Joseph is a fruitful bough,

a fruitful bough by a spring;

his branches run over the wall.

23 The archers fiercely attacked him;

they shot at him and pressed him hard.

24 Yet his bow remained taut,

and his arms were made agile

by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,

by the name of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel,

25 by the God of your father, who will help you,

by the Almighty who will bless you

with blessings of heaven above,

blessings of the deep that lies beneath,

blessings of the breasts and of the womb.

26 The blessings of your father

are stronger than the blessings of the eternal mountains,

the bounties of the everlasting hills;

may they be on the head of Joseph,

on the brow of him who was set apart from his brothers.

27 Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,

in the morning devouring the prey,

and at evening dividing the spoil.”

28 All these are the twelve tribes of Israel, and this is what their father said to them when he blessed them, blessing each one of them with a suitable blessing.

Jacob’s Death and Burial

29 Then he charged them, saying to them, “I am about to be gathered to my people. Bury me with my ancestors—in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, 30 in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. 31 There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah— 32 the field and the cave that is in it were purchased from the Hittites.” 33 When Jacob ended his charge to his sons, he drew up his feet into the bed, breathed his last, and was gathered to his people.


Deuteronomy 33 (NRSV)

Moses’ Final Blessing on Israel

This is the blessing with which Moses, the man of God, blessed the Israelites before his death. 2 He said:

The Lord came from Sinai,

and dawned from Seir upon us;

he shone forth from Mount Paran.

With him were myriads of holy ones;

at his right, a host of his own.

3 Indeed, O favorite among peoples,

all his holy ones were in your charge;

they marched at your heels,

accepted direction from you.

4 Moses charged us with the law,

as a possession for the assembly of Jacob.

5 There arose a king in Jeshurun,

when the leaders of the people assembled—

the united tribes of Israel.

6 May Reuben live, and not die out,

even though his numbers are few.

7 And this he said of Judah:

O Lord, give heed to Judah,

and bring him to his people;

strengthen his hands for him,

and be a help against his adversaries.

8 And of Levi he said:

Give to Levi your Thummim,

and your Urim to your loyal one,

whom you tested at Massah,

with whom you contended at the waters of Meribah;

9 who said of his father and mother,

“I regard them not”;

he ignored his kin,

and did not acknowledge his children.

For they observed your word,

and kept your covenant.

10 They teach Jacob your ordinances,

and Israel your law;

they place incense before you,

and whole burnt offerings on your altar.

11 Bless, O Lord, his substance,

and accept the work of his hands;

crush the loins of his adversaries,

of those that hate him, so that they do not rise again.

12 Of Benjamin he said:

The beloved of the Lord rests in safety—

the High God surrounds him all day long—

the beloved rests between his shoulders.

13 And of Joseph he said:

Blessed by the Lord be his land,

with the choice gifts of heaven above,

and of the deep that lies beneath;

14 with the choice fruits of the sun,

and the rich yield of the months;

15 with the finest produce of the ancient mountains,

and the abundance of the everlasting hills;

16 with the choice gifts of the earth and its fullness,

and the favor of the one who dwells on Sinai.

Let these come on the head of Joseph,

on the brow of the prince among his brothers.

17 A firstborn bull—majesty is his!

His horns are the horns of a wild ox;

with them he gores the peoples,

driving them to the ends of the earth;

such are the myriads of Ephraim,

such the thousands of Manasseh.

18 And of Zebulun he said:

Rejoice, Zebulun, in your going out;

and Issachar, in your tents.

19 They call peoples to the mountain;

there they offer the right sacrifices;

for they suck the affluence of the seas

and the hidden treasures of the sand.

20 And of Gad he said:

Blessed be the enlargement of Gad!

Gad lives like a lion;

he tears at arm and scalp.

21 He chose the best for himself,

for there a commander’s allotment was reserved;

he came at the head of the people,

he executed the justice of the Lord,

and his ordinances for Israel.

22 And of Dan he said:

Dan is a lion’s whelp

that leaps forth from Bashan.

23 And of Naphtali he said:

O Naphtali, sated with favor,

full of the blessing of the Lord,

possess the west and the south.

24 And of Asher he said:

Most blessed of sons be Asher;

may he be the favorite of his brothers,

and may he dip his foot in oil.

25 Your bars are iron and bronze;

and as your days, so is your strength.

26 There is none like God, O Jeshurun,

who rides through the heavens to your help,

majestic through the skies.

27 He subdues the ancient gods,

shatters the forces of old;

he drove out the enemy before you,

and said, “Destroy!”

28 So Israel lives in safety,

untroubled is Jacob’s abode

in a land of grain and wine,

where the heavens drop down dew.

29 Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you,

a people saved by the Lord,

the shield of your help,

and the sword of your triumph!

Your enemies shall come fawning to you,

and you shall tread on their backs.


One text that may reflect this period is Genesis 19:30-38.


Genesis 19:30-38 (NRSV)

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and settled in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; so he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the world. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. 34 On the next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Look, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger rose, and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son, and named him Moab; he is the ancestor of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and named him Ben-ammi; he is the ancestor of the Ammonites to this day.


Another may be in chapter Genesis 34.


Genesis 34 (NRSV)

The Rape of Dinah

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. 2 When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force. 3 And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her. 4 So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl to be my wife.”

5 Now Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah; but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. 6 And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him, 7 just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field. When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.

8 But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. 9 Make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You shall live with us; and the land shall be open to you; live and trade in it, and get property in it.” 11 Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor with you, and whatever you say to me I will give. 12 Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like, and I will give whatever you ask me; only give me the girl to be my wife.”

13 The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. 14 They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15 Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. 16 Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter and be gone.”

18 Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. 19 And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his family. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, 21 “These people are friendly with us; let them live in the land and trade in it, for the land is large enough for them; let us take their daughters in marriage, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will they agree to live among us, to become one people: that every male among us be circumcised as they are circumcised. 23 Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will live among us.” 24 And all who went out of the city gate heeded Hamor and his son Shechem; and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

Dinah’s Brothers Avenge Their Sister

25 On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. 27 And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. 28 They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. 29 All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey. 30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” 31 But they said, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?”


Numbers 23-­24 may be from this period. Later history recorded these events in Judges through II Samuel 7.

            The song of victory in Exodus 15 has a relationship to the psalms of the Zion tradition, based upon the J and P traditions.


Exodus 15:1b-18 (NRSV)

 “I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;

horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.

2 The Lord is my strength and my might,

and he has become my salvation;

this is my God, and I will praise him,

my father’s God, and I will exalt him.

3 The Lord is a warrior;

the Lord is his name.

4 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;

his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.

5 The floods covered them;

they went down into the depths like a stone.

6 Your right hand, O Lord, glorious in power—

your right hand, O Lord, shattered the enemy.

7 In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;

you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.

8 At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up,

the floods stood up in a heap;

the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.

9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake,

I will divide the spoil, my desire shall have its fill of them.

I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’

10 You blew with your wind, the sea covered them;

they sank like lead in the mighty waters.

11 “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?

Who is like you, majestic in holiness,

awesome in splendor, doing wonders?

12 You stretched out your right hand,

the earth swallowed them.

13 “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;

you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.

14 The peoples heard, they trembled;

pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.

15 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed;

trembling seized the leaders of Moab;

all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.

16 Terror and dread fell upon them;

by the might of your arm, they became still as a stone

until your people, O Lord, passed by,

until the people whom you acquired passed by.

17 You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,

the place, O Lord, that you made your abode,

the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.

18 The Lord will reign forever and ever.”



            Of course, only by chance, nor is it part of the Deuteronomic history, but the book of Ruth, from Solomon's time but about this time period, presents the story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz. Judges 19-21 is a story of whether everything is done wrong. Old institutions are thoroughly misapplied. A Levite dismembers his dead concubine in order to call the amphictynoc muster, becoming a self-appointed judge. The muster produces a civil war and nearly wipes out one of its own tribes, the Benjaminites. In order to keep the letter of their sworn oath not to supply wives for the remnant of the Benjaminites, they put Jabesh-Gilead to the sword and round up their virgin daughters. They also allow the Benjaminites to disrupt thoroughly the annual festival of the Lord at Shiloh. The only person to give hospitality is a sojourner. The contrast with the story of Ruth is striking. This context for the story of Ruth makes more sense than placing in the post-exilic period as a contrast with the narrowness of Ezra and Nehemiah. Ruth is simply not a polemical piece of literary work. Ruth may have been written as early as 900-800 BC, the time of Solomon, though it takes place during the time of the judges some four hundred earlier.  It is a beautiful story, a classic from the professional storytellers throughout Israel.  It shows the activity of God as being in the shadows, in the way people act toward one another.  It is a story of covenant-love and thus an affirmation of the basic covenant established with God.  This is in stark contrast to the end of Judges, where the old institutions were used wrongly.  In Ruth, everything follows its proper course.

            This intricately woven and magnificently crafted tale of Ruth is the work of one person standing in the mainstream of Israelite life and thought. The author is also a teacher who has chosen the vehicle of story to communicate central to the heart of the author. As a Hebrew short story, it is has a purpose, in this case to edify and advocate. Its orientation is toward the historical level of common human activity and experience. Its style is elevated, artistic, and containing nearly poetic rhythmic elements. It has its origin in the storytellers of the villages of Israel, possibly among Levites or wise women. Teachers told these stories at the city gate. The audience would delight in the nuances of the story, as well as receive instruction as to the covenant relationships contained in the story. The story centers on mundane matters that would not seem significant to the historian dealing with significant or world-historical figures. It looks for ordinary events as being the scene of the subtle providential activity of God. It combines play and seriousness in order to entertain as well as instruct. The attempt to find documentary sources for the story has so far led to a blind alley. Historically, the story presents a plausible account of the state affairs in the period of judges and prior to kings. The written piece is from 950-700 BC, reflecting the style of the court history of David, portions of the J account in Genesis, and the prose portions of Job.

            Naomi presents a complaint to God for what has happened to her family and to her. Yet, the fact that she gives this complaint to God is itself a profound affirmation of faith. By the end of the story, she receives a new vocation, that of grandmother to Obed, ancestor of King David. It also presents the story of a faithful Moabite, Ruth, who demonstrates above the call of duty. The same is true of Boaz, who acts honorably and with magnanimity. Even Orpah and the near-redeemer of chapter four act honorably, even if not with the generosity of the two main characters. The point is that these two persons had options to do otherwise. However, they remained faithful to covenant relationships and went beyond what these relationships required.  Ruth herself is a sojourner in a new land. The story unfolds the character of one who realizes that she needs to pay special attention to the customs of her adopted land and needs to show extra kindness in doing so. Boaz responds to her extra show of faithfulness by extending to her an extra show of covenant faithfulness. Both Ruth and Boaz reveal their character in word and deed. In Ruth, God is viewed as in the shadows, in ordinary life. God exercises providential control lightly. The coincidences in the story actually demonstrate correspondence between the way God acts and the way the people in the story act. God is present and active in the way in which the people behave toward each other. God brings about the peace in the context of the town, among these people, through the caring responsibility of human beings to each other. Yet, this style of life is far from a foregone conclusion for the people of God. Faithfulness in covenant relationships is attainable, but elusive. The faithfulness of God that Naomi questioned the story demonstrates in the way people live out their relationships in covenant kindness. The story is an affirmation of covenant love.  Even the intentionally ambiguous and sexually suggestive story of Ruth and Boaz on the threshing floor becomes part of determination of the story to move forward in a proper manner. The impact is that living out a righteous and responsible life is a matter of determination to do so. The modern reader should assume than neither Ruth nor Naomi knew of the proper order of the redeemer, but wanted to see if Boaz would fulfill the covenant at this point. Redeemers are to function on behalf of persons and their property within the circle of the larger family. They take responsibility for the unfortunate and stand as their supporters and advocates. They are to embody the basic principle of caring responsibility for those who may not have justice done for them by others or by the law. When Naomi encourages Ruth to wait and see “how the matter will fall out” (3:18), we find her willingness to trust again in God coming out. The storyteller commends for the audience one of several available choices. The story commends a style of living that God can bless. We can only guess at the ties of implied responsibilities in a small village. In all of these ties, there is a way in which God intends people to live out their lives. The commended style of living is a means to that end. Ruth would become the ancestor of Israel's greatest king, David. In the context of the canon, Ruth and Boaz represent a contrast with the end of Judges, where covenant relationships break down. However, even in general decline as represented in the Tribal Federation, Ruth and Boaz refuse to participate. They remain faithful to what Yahweh required. 

            To pick up the Story of the Deuteronomic history again, the story of Samuel, the last of the judges, is given.  His miraculous birth is mentioned, and his stay with Eli, who has allowed his sons to corrupt worship.  Samuel is the one who listens to the voice of the Lord, and God calls him to be a judge.  An ancient story about the Ark of the Covenant coming into the hands of the Philistines is given in I Samuel 4-7.


            At least two psalms appear to be from this period.


Psalm 82 (NRSV)

1 God has taken his place in the divine council;

in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:

2 “How long will you judge unjustly

and show partiality to the wicked?      Selah

3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;

maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.

4 Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,

they walk around in darkness;

all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

6 I say, “You are gods,

children of the Most High, all of you;

7 nevertheless, you shall die like mortals,

and fall like any prince.”

8 Rise up, O God, judge the earth;

for all the nations belong to you!


Psalm 29 (NRSV)

1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,

ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;

worship the Lord in holy splendor.

3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;

the God of glory thunders,

the Lord, over mighty waters.

4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;

the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;

the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,

and Sirion like a young wild ox.

7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.

8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;

the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,

and strips the forest bare;

and in his temple all say, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.

11 May the Lord give strength to his people!

May the Lord bless his people with peace!



            Any history of the origins of Israel must start with the sudden appearance of a large community in Palestine and Transjordan only a generation after the small group escaped from Egypt under the leadership of Moses.  It is quite likely that during this period the kingship of the Lord was the vision that held the Israelites together as a distinct group.  It was this faith of early Israel that meant they could transcend the traditional boundaries of tribalism.  Like all religious movements, they began with a profound conviction in the kingship of the Lord, which led to certain behavior, and thus represents a break with tradition, a discontinuity of existing social and religious systems.  This meant the focus of Israel during this period was the establishment of a values based community of faith, not just another political power alteration in Canaan.  This is Israel at its formative period.  They did not begin with a set of traditions to which they held allegiance.  Israel at this stage, forms its faith and institutions, and a religious community concerned with the mere reception, preservation, and transmission of a tradition. In the formative period, the concern is to break with tradition.  It is rare that such a movement has a long lasting effect upon society as a whole.  This biblical vision would have an impact upon later generations in a way few other movements would have.

            We have little knowledge of what might be some useful information concerning division of labor, specialization in occupation, and the degree of economic organization.  However, we do know that Israel at this formative period had a conscious rejection of many cultural traits of the period's urban and imperial cultures.  In this process, we cannot separate faith from history as neatly as many would like to do.  The vision of their faith is what led Israel at this formative period to do what it did.

            We must begin with the recognition that the larger the social unit, the less kinship ties become important.  The term Israelite needs to be removed from the realm of ethnic ties.  Societies are often reluctant, in fact, to admit the diversity of their origins.  To do so, it is feared, will heighten the stresses in the community of the present.  This is why the common ancestor concept, which is from the J and E traditions, formed in the time of Solomon.  This became a possibility only after the Canaanite people and traditions had been incorporated into the covenant. 

            If kinship is not the explanation of the expansion of Israelite authority in Palestine, it is even truer that military superiority did not do this.  Every indication is that Israel's military might was less advanced than that of Canaanite city-states.  Even further, politics, so valued today, was not the reason for this growth.  Political realities of the period were falling away, whether the weakened power of Egypt, or the weakened alliances within Palestine. 

            Thus, we explain the process if we understand the community as, first, a religious community based upon a covenant.  The twelve tribes were comprised of those members of the population of Palestine and Transjordan who had accepted the reign of God.  The ethical power of this new movement explains its phenomenal growth.  The enormous growth of the Israelite so quickly is best accounted for by the essential conversion and incorporation into the covenant of many Canaanites.  The purpose of this movement may have been the creation of a condition of such peace that all people could sit under their own fig tree and do "what was right" in their own eyes (judges 17:6, 21:25).  This may originally have been a description of self-­determination and freedom from the interference or harassment by the king and his princes or military aristocracy.  The Lord was the king, the leader in war and the judge and lawgiver.  Clearly, the Israelites took the approach of proselyting the nonbelievers in their midst, rather than seeking military or political supremacy.

            The granting of the land of Canaan was the last of the saving acts of Yahweh. The history of the patriarchs in J made systematic use of this promise to them at various points. This promise becomes a major theme of the Deuteronomic history. It forces the reader to relate the conquest under Joshua to the promise to the patriarchs. Many scholars think that Gilgal had a conquest festival at which the crossing of the Jordan and the crossing of the Red Sea were celebrated together. The individual stories of Joshua 2-9 originally attached etiologically to this sanctuary. Further, the theme of the marvelous bringing of Israel into Canaan by Yahweh that connects them and which they presuppose must have been a tradition specially cherished in this form at Gilgal. Still further, anonymous singers and storytellers kept the story alive.

            The clans or tribes largely accomplished the entry into the Promised Land without recourse to war. It took place in the course of changing pasture ground. Even if the way in which events are given in Judges 1 diverges quite considerably from the later and subsequently dominant picture given in Joshua 2-10, the former still regards the entry as a sum total of separate enterprises of the clans acting independently of each other. Nevertheless, even here it is already understood as a warlike event. It is inconceivable that from the very beginning it was the intention of all the immigrating clans to drive all the Canaanites out of their towns. In fact, it was only at a later stage that the relationships between the immigrants and the existing inhabitants of the land became fraught with political tension. When the clans had grown strong, the tension led to occasional clashes in war. This theoretical claim of Israel’s upon Canaan provided the scheme of the boundaries of the clans given in Joshua and the list of the cities that were not captured in Judges 1:16ff. Both show that in the period of the Judges there were theoretical claims made on particular territories that were still at that time occupied by the Canaanites. We know almost nothing of how the claims came into being. The idea that Canaan was Yahweh’s is very ancient. Israel exactly equated this land with the area in which Yahweh could be worshiped. Anyone outside its frontiers was far from Yahweh. If Yahweh was the real owner of land, concrete conclusions could thereby be drawn for the regulation of matters of inheritance between people. Such affirmations are the theological basis of all legislation concerning land tenure in ancient Israel. This land formerly belonged to other nations that Yahweh, in acting in history, gave to Israel to posses. The accounts stress the self-sufficient miraculous nature of the events, while also they employ a definitely sober realism that has room for very intricate psychological processes. The intention and purpose of this element in the narrative is to picture the entry of the whole people into Palestine. All Israel marched into the land under Joshua’s leadership as a mighty army. However, the picture in Joshua 2-9 narrates conquering the territory of Benjamin.

            Seers were people who see more than ordinary mortals who see the future and anything hidden. They possess the gift of clairvoyance. Physical phenomena may accompany such clairvoyant gifts. Ecstatic disturbance of consciousness may also accompany it. One could exercise it fully awake or in dreams. Such manifestations appeared in other religions of the area. The unique element for Israel was that the seer had the added responsibility of transmitting the energy and devotion of the period of Moses. The Israelite seer derived oracles from Yahweh as revealed through Moses. People viewed such insights as continuation of the divine dialogue begun through Moses, the purpose of which was to acknowledge the honor due to Yahweh. Their oracles mediated the divine presence. Their powers served the purpose of implementing its religious heritage. This meant resisting foreign influences. They had awareness of God and enthusiasm for Yahweh, who directions actions toward moral ends. The seer inherits a great and sacred task. Deborah, for example, held political, legal, and religious influence. Just as Moses had political, military, legal, and religious functions, the seer inherited responsibility in these areas. Although the texts focus upon the work of the seer as political and military leader in times of crisis, the quiet and continuous work of the seer in times of peace was also of decisive importance for showing the superiority of Yahweh over nature religions. Samuel became one of the outstanding persons of Israelite history.

            The ancient Nazirite had streaming locks, the symbol of complete dedication of his life to God. The way in which he served Yahweh was by warring against the nation’s enemies as the champion whose daring feats of arms should inspire his compatriots to heroism in battle. They had their widest influence during this time. With the monarchy, they disappear or continue to exist in a drastically modified form. They contributed to strengthening the sense of a people and of the religious basis of that connection. They helped in keeping the religion of Israel from drifting into a compromise with that of Canaan, and in urging it to assert itself and to develop to the full its unique character. They animated and sustained the religious conception of war. In this way, they afforded significant support to the judges.

            Among the new things this tribal confederation experienced with Yahweh was the form in which Yahweh protected them in times of war. The means employed was the charismatic gift that God bestowed upon one of the leaders of the people. Yahweh went into battle and defeated the enemy through divine terror sent to the enemy. The stories of the judges present us with Israelite leaders of varied types, who exercised a greater or less degree of authority over the nation or merely over sections of it. They were chieftains or petty princes, who achieved a distinguished political position by their prowess in war, but whose influence nevertheless seldom extended beyond the bounds of their tribe. These old stories commemorate political acts of deliverance effected by Yahweh through charismatic leaders as well as a numinous panic that Yahweh caused to break out among the enemy. Yahweh rose up to protect the people in these holy wars, and the action that was decisive belonged to Yahweh. Some question whether they exercised a religious function. We should not underestimate the religious effects of the emergence of political leaders in the ensuing period. The call is followed immediately by the public proof of the charisma effected by means of a victory over the enemy. Then the line curves steeply downwards. The one who was a special instrument of Yahweh’s will in history falls into sin, degradation, or some other disaster. Thus, these little narrative complexes already have as their background a definite, pessimistic conception of the charismatic leader. Behind these narratives lies, it would seem, the unspoken question, where is the one who serves his people as deliverer not merely on one occasion alone? For a time, Israel follows a judge. After death, the people fell away from Yahweh, and an interregnum ensued, during that Yahweh handed the people over to their enemies for punishment. Then, when they cried to him in their distress, he once again sent them a deliverer, and the cycle began all over again. They could not carry out their projects without adopting the slogan, “Yahweh and Israel.” They were forced into this policy for several reasons. One was by the close connection between national and religious freedom, between the concepts of Yahweh and of the nation.  In addition, the obligation to take part in wars against their common enemies could only be brought home to any considerable proportion of the Israelite clans and tribes, it was invested with religious authority and subjected them to the sovereignty of the divine will. On the worship of this God depended the greatness and glory of the nation. The coups effected by these tribal heroes not only gave the Israelite minority room to develop freely, but at the same time strengthened their spiritual powers of resistance by awakening and reinforcing their determination to assert their unique religious character. Even in those figures who are purely secular is the miraculous power of the spirit that is the real force behind those acts of redemption that preserve the life of the nation. In the unexpected success of their enterprises, the Israelite recognized the activity of a higher power. By designating this power as spirit, Israelites made their political leaders the direct servants of God and the instruments by which God exercised sovereignty. The close association of political and military activity with the power of the divine Lord served to make clear to people the emphatic way in which the whole of life was related to the one Yahweh, and decisively excluded the idea that political life might be isolated as a purely human preserve. This partnership of seer and judge is probably not to be regarded simply as an isolated phenomenon. It indicates a new way in which the frequent and volcanic outbreaks of nationalist fervor were made to serve God. These warrior heroes, who often exercised their power within very restricted limits, are able to furnish the colors for the portrait of the one great Redeemer who is to bring order out of life’s chaos and set up Yahweh’s rule over the sorely pressed land. They regarded these people as instruments of the dominion of Yahweh. Thus, despite the limited significance of their actual historical role, they became genuine mediators of the covenant with Yahweh.

Divine intention shown in Divine activity

            The divine intention showed itself in certain forms.

            One was in the realm of nature. In this period, the natural forces break out with startling suddenness to terrify people and to threaten them with destruction. We see this in the lightning, the dark thundercloud, or the raging story. The unapproachable holiness and terrifying power of the God of the covenant caused them to see such threatening experiences as appropriate symbols and speaking likeness of the divine nature that element distinguished above all others for the suddenness of its outbreaks and for the mockery that it makes of all human defenses. Visionary experiences reinforced this concept of divine fire. The combination of fire, story, and earthquake, acquired a predominantly symbolic significance as a representation of the intervention of God in history and the invisible God concretely visible diminished in importance.

            The angel of the Lord occupies a special place among the heavenly beings who belong to the divine court. In some cases, God acts quite directly in the angel of the Lord, and in a manner more direct than God could have achieved through any other heavenly being. Yet, it was not so direct that one could say that the God of heaven come to earth in person. The reference to the angel of the Lord safeguards the transcendent nature of God. It also associates this immediate but concealed form of presence only those special activities that God undertakes among people for the accomplishment of the saving purpose of God.

            The glory or kabod of God denotes that which is heavy or weighty, gives a person respect, and suggests the outwardly visible, such as wealth, honor, power, and success. In reference to God, it refers to majesty and includes an element of appearance, something that catches the eye. It has a close relationship with the transcendent majesty of Yahweh. Moses sees divine glory pass before his veiled eyes as a special gift of the favor of God. This conception later gives rise to the hope that in the future, when God calls the new world into being, even this glory will be visible, and that not only in Israel, but throughout the whole world. In the priestly view, divine glory is a reflection of the splendor of the transcendent God, through which Yahweh declares gracious presence. In the prophetic view, divine glory is here a special form in which God appears for the purposes of revelation. It becomes possible for priestly thought to speak of a real entry of the transcendent God into the realm of the visible without prejudicing transcendence. In later Judaism, the shekina is the visible sign of the divine presence, which descends to earth from its concealment in heaven, and appears to people as a reflected radiance from the heavenly splendor. In particular, it blesses the pious at their prayers and study of the Law in the synagogue or the Rabbinic school.

            The face of God is found in popular tales of the period of the patriarchs, but generally in a metaphorical sense.

            The name of Yahweh shows the reciprocal relationship between the name and its owner. Knowledge of the name mediates a direct relationship with the nature of the owner of the name. The name is an expression of the individual character of its owner that it can become a concept interchangeable with the owner of the name. In reference to Yahweh, the name is the guarantee of the divine presence. God as shown in the name is permanently present at the holy place. The name acquires a more independent function as the representative of the transcendent God, by means of which God assures people of the nearness and continuing efficacy of the power of God. At the same time, the name is a warning to people that the sovereignty of God will not tolerate any restriction at the hands of selfish human desire. The equation of name and person occurs after the destruction of the temple, when identifying the name with the holy place no longer had relevant meaning.

            Cosmic powers could also become occasions of divine activity that reveal divine intention.

            The Spirit or ruach retained at all times the meaning of wind or breath. In the blowing of the wind and the rhythm of human respiration, people detected a divine mystery, and saw in this element in nature, at once so near to humanity and yet so incomprehensible, a symbol of the mysterious nearness and activity of the divine. As the bearer of life, the wind tends to become in theistic religions the breath of life, proceeding from God, animating nature and bestowing life on humanity. Spirit suggests the mystery of life, life in a myriad forms overcoming death, life calling new generations of humanity into being, life bringing back individuals from sickness to new and vigorous life. Spirit and the creative word also have a close association. Spirit is an intermittent divine force that humanity cannot control and that suddenly overpowers individuals. After the rise of the monarchy, the connection of spirit with the exercise of political power ends. It lost the charismatic character that had been the association with Moses and the Tribal Federation. It stepped out of the sphere of the inexplicable and miraculous. In the prophetic movement, the impact with which group ecstasy broke into the life of the people made the direct working of God through the spirit a certainty for many people. If Yahweh was present everywhere in wind and breath, faith in the invisible nearness of God acquired an ally whose importance one can hardly overestimate. In Judaism, the spirit becomes the medium through which the presence of God in the midst of the people becomes a reality, and in which all the divine gifts and powers that work within the people are combined. This spirit is also the guide and protector of the nation in the present. Even the post-exilic community was day of small things, one thing the returning exiles did not allow others to take from them was the presence of the divine spirit as governor and guide. Further, the individual also receives help and support from the spirit. The effort to bring greater areas of life within the scope of its dominion continued. Political activity, artistic endeavors of the poet or craftsman, has the influence of the spirit. Through the spirit the history of revelation becomes a living force, and the foundation of communal life based on faith. Later Judaism extended the role of the spirit to cover the process by which Scripture came into being.

            The divine word in history is the foundation for the significance of the divine word as an expression of the sovereignty of God. The divine word shows itself in Law and in proclamation for particular situations in the prophetic word. The Deuternonomic history has its organizing principle from the influence of the prophetic word. This word is an expression of the saving will and purpose of God in history. The priestly view of the word in creation emphasizes the regularity of that word. The same is true of the word as shown in the Law. Such regularity leaves theology open to the deistic removal of God from the events of the world and from individual life. Linking word and spirit preserved the living quality of both. The word becomes a living and present reality, the effects of which people could discern from day to day, and in them God confronted them.

The underworld

            Sheol is a place of the dead, a place under the earth to which one descends, but in which there is no community of the dead with each other and consequently no hope of seeing again. Existence in Sheol is a faithful, if shadowy, copy of existence on earth. It is a place of silence and stillness where the impotence of the shadow beings makes the boisterous vigor of real life quite impossible. The Law draws a sharp line of separation between the dead and the religion of Yahweh. Any contact with a corpse is enough to make one unclean. The dead have unimportance for the normal life of Israel. What disturbed them was that there was a diminished form of human existence in which one could no longer offer praise. The domain of death reached far into the realm of the living. Weakness, illness, imprisonment, and oppression by enemies are a kind of death. One so ill as to be handicapped in many active functions of life is in a state of relative death. Many Psalms refer to the person at prayer as already in Sheol, but Yahweh brought the person forth from it. Sheol had an aggressive element. It insinuates itself on every side into the realm of the living. Death becomes a reality when Yahweh forsakes people, where Yahweh is silent, and the living relationship with Yahweh wears thin. Suffering brought questions to humanity.


            The strength of solidarity is a feature of this period, combined with capacity for personal responsibility and for shaping one’s own life. The nomad develops in relation to the clan. The clan is a closely integrated unit as a structure of life together. It suggests a spiritual and psychical unity in which each individual is a representative of the whole, and in turn individuals have their life shaped by the whole. Among the fundamental principles of the concept of law is the collective liability of the tribe for the trespasses of its members. The tribe champions any member injured by an outsider. Through the period of the Tribal Federation, a strong tribal sense and resistance to any serious limitation of tribal independence conditions much of the social experience of the Hebrew people.

            The unification of the tribes into the people of Yahweh brought about enlargement of the circle of those linked by solidarity, creating a new whole within which an inward bond of a held the members of the covenant together with the firmness of a clan community. The solidarity thinking that derived from common experience of divine redemption and making of covenant had a foundation in the patriarchal history, where they perceived themselves as deriving from one father. Their individual experience of God has its foundation in the tribal federation that surrounds him or her. Slowly, the local community of the village and the district dissolves the old social ties of the clan. The result of these developments for the position of the individual in the community was that the sense of solidarity transferred to the family. Within this smaller group, the individuality of each member of the family was able to make itself more strongly felt. Collective responsibility plays increasingly less role in legal life. The special attention given to the afflicted and economically weak, as well as warnings against oppressing them, suggests Yahweh will bring vengeance against such behavior.

            Another way to understand the solidarity of individual and community is through appreciating the approach to righteousness. Most of the time, Israel lived with its ideas of righteousness uncritically. Its life was full of suffering and serious dangers for community and individual alike. Its faith directed the people toward brings these experiences into connection with Yahweh. Israel refused to repress negative realities. The concept of righteousness had to vindicate itself among a people who had a strong sense of reality. Israel had the perspective that a definite and recognizable connection existed between what one did and what happens to one. Evil deeds recoil banefully upon the one who does them. Good deeds recoil beneficially upon the one who does them. This represents the ripple effect that attaches to any deed. They had a synthetic apprehension of life, or a sphere of action that creates fate. Although such ripple effects do not require a separate action by Yahweh, Yahweh is the one who brought this process to its goal. The guilty party could only appeal to Yahweh to break the ripple effect and avert disaster. Israel saw this connection of act and consequence or outcome as confirmed in daily experience. Communities existed, while individuals were organic units of the community. Conduct loyal to the relationship benefited the whole. An anti-social action inevitably endangered or destroyed the existence of its perpetrator as well.

Personal relation to God

            The awe inspiring grandeur and the jealous exclusiveness of the will of God is the foundation for the experience of the fear of God. This experience runs throughout all periods covered by the Old Testament. It shows the gap between God and humanity as the dominant element in Old Testament piety. One could take this experience as servility and self-surrender. Yet, religious fear is not simply a matter of a naked feeling of terror, putting one to fight. Rather, the experience of a mysterious presence can both repel and attract. The Old Testament emphasizes the inward agitation produced by the experience. Fear is the response to demonstrations of the holiness of God.

            Yet, this experience of fear has an equally indispensable element of confidence and trust in the help provided by God.

            That which made it possible for the fear of God to take this special form was the distinctive self-communication of the deity as a covenant God. The terrifyingly unapproachable God is the leader and protector of the people, one who has bound up the gift of life with fixed ordinances governing the way in which one is to live that life. The fear of God is the basis of divine norms established in the Law. The fear of God is an indispensable virtue of the judge and king. The fear of God is a relationship with the sovereign divine will. The numinous feeling of terror in the presence of divine power steadily gives way to an attitude of reverence. The fear of God is filled with a complex rational content, with the result that predominance is given to the positive element in the relationship between God and humanity. Quiet confidence in God receives the upper hand over terror in the presence of the hidden one.

            Further, the mighty intervention of God in history suggests the dynamic of an unknown and impenetrable will, and to direct this fear along the path of adventurous trust.