As I approach the narrative desert that is Leviticus and Numbers, allow me to savor the theological meatiness of these chapters, particularly the first two. Is God an almighty, ever-present, all-knowing force in the universe, or is God a human-like entity, one of many, with marvelous powers? It seems to me that while the Scriptures were being written, the notion evolved from the latter to the former. And I think that is good and fine. Just because our understanding of fire during the last 2000 years has changed quite a bit, that doesn’t mean I question the value (or reality) of fire.
Nonetheless, check out the tension in just these two chapters.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
- Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” . . . The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.
- Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
- And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
- The Lord said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.” Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments.
Obviously, we have another example, even with a single book, of merging traditions together. We saved two recitations of the law here. But also, we see YHWH seen as both someone to whom Moses can speak “face to face as a friend,” and a being from which Moses must hide in a cleft in the mountain in order to avoid being killed by his presence. He’s an entity that literally writes the commandments, or he’s an entity that directs Moses to write them down.
God is also quite jealous of other Gods. “Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Ex. 34:14. It appears to me that this is monotheism as in, I’m the only god you can worship, no monotheism as in, I’m the only god that exists. Which is interesting.