As we enter into the final chapters in the saga of the Ten Commandments, the Israelites have left the desert they were wandering around in for forty years. God is juuuust about ready to give them the land He promised them, but He needs to play one last joke.
The caravan of Israelites was attacked by the nation of Amalek (God didn’t let the Israelites take the shortcut because they might get into a fight with the Philistines, but after they’d been wandering for forty years and a few months, what were they gonna do? Go back to Egypt? Psh, no one would even have been alive there at this point except whatever it is that has a very strict diet of frog corpses.). Moses, caretaker of the Israelites, told Joshua to grab all the men in fighting shape he could find and take them to face the enemy army. God… God will help us defeat the Amalekites!
So Moses carried the staff that had worked the miracles of God to the top of a hill, and looked over the battle, and God said “Hey, Moses. I’ll help Joshua win the fight, but you gotta do something for me.”
“Ok,” Moses replied with a heavy tone of trepidation. “What can I do to earn your help?”
Moses thought he heard a chuckle. “You gotta… Here’s what you gotta do. You gotta hold that staff over your head! See? Not so bad!”
So Moses raised the Staff of God over his head, and the tides of the battle began to turn in the favor of the Israelites, but the battle was long and hard fought.
“Hey Moses… You’ve got to be… What? Almost 90 now? You gettin’ tired? Maybe you should ask for help holding that staff up! Better not let it drop! You’ll lose the fight if you drop your staff!” (Seriously. Exodus 17:11. I wanted to write God as a character who was a teenager, but I feel like the original author of the Bible wrote him as a child far better than I could. Again, what do I learn from this? That they win the fight as long as Moses holds the staff up? WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING? Why did anyone even want that in the Bible?)
Moses, elderly and worn down by the harsh years in the desert living only on rain-bread, felt his arms tire and the staff slipped below the crown of his head, and instantly the battle surged in favor of the Amalekites. Moses called for the help of Aaron and Hur, who held his arms up, knowing that if he dropped his arms too far they would all surely perish.
“Psh. That’s no fun. Since you are asking for help, I’ll make sure this battle lasts all the way until night. You’ll be stuck that way for hours.” And so it was that the battle ran until sunset, Aaron and Hur holding the Staff of God, in Moses’ hands, over the head of Moses. When they had won, God said “Man, aren’t I awesome? I am so awesome, you have to write down how you won that fight, and make sure it is mostly just about how awesome I am. In fact, as soon as you write it down, go show it to Joshua, makes sure he knows he only won the fight because I helped.”
Before he even voiced the question, he began to regret it. “But God,” Moses intoned, “Joshua was out there fighting for at least 36 hours (Exodus 17:9, 12), thousands of our men are dead. Don’t you think they could have some credit?”
“Again with the whining! You know what? Fine. Mention his name. He can have some glory, but make sure everyone knows he only won because I was helping. MAKE SURE THEY KNOW THAT!” (Exodus 17:14. I don’t… I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I think it stands on its own. Hell, go read Exodus 17, SUPER short chapter, and tell me if I have in any way mistaken God’s personality in this summary.)
After the battle, Moses got to see his family. Jethro, his father in law, ran up to him, “Hey man! I heard about everything God did, with the plagues on Egypt, and rescuing you, and feeding you, and giving you water! Those are some amazing miracles, man! And then I heard you were going to get wiped out by the Amelekites, and God totally won that battle for you! Man, God is so amazing, hey! I’ve got a bunch of really young, unblemished lambs. Let’s go sacrifice some lambs and have a party in God’s honor, eh? Man, our God is an awesome God, isn’t He?!”
Moses stood staring, dumbstruck. “You know what? Sure. Sure, God is awesome. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go sit and judge some Israelites for being dicks. You go sacrifice some lambs. He’ll like that.” Moses turned and walked away, and returned to his duties of being caretaker for the Israelites. From dawn until dusk, people brought cases in front of him, and he sat in judgment, making sure to fill the role of caretaker so that God was happy.
After Jethro was done throwing a bitchin’ party for God, he came back to Moses. “Hey man, why are you sitting here alone, doing like ten people’s worth of work?”
Moses mumbled “S’long as I’m talking to people, God leaves me alone.”
“Hm? Sorry Moses, didn’t catch that…”
“Oh, sorry. God has appointed me as the agent of His will. All these people come to me asking what God wants. For some reason, God will talk to me whenever (and as soon as) I am alone, but He won’t share a single word with any of the rest of the Israelites.”
“Ah,” Jethro replied. “Look, I get that God has made you very important, but what about this. What say you teach the people what God wants, then appoint others to judge the simple cases?”
Then that happened, because it seemed like a smart thing to do.
Then God said to Moses, “Hey Moses. I know you’re having a tough time, and the people don’t like you, so here’s what I’mma do for you. I am going to come down to Earth and talk to you in front of everyone, then they’ll know that you’re my boi! So before they see me, here’s what you gotta tell them. First, tell them they are my chosen people, and because they are chosen I am going to put just a ridiculous amount of incredibly cumbersome rules on them that I don’t put on anyone else. I wanna see their face when you tell them that! Then, tell them they aren’t allowed to have sex or masturbate for three whole days before they see me talking to you. That part is important. Then bring them to Mount Sinai, but they aren’t allowed to come up the mountain. If they try to come up the mountain, kill them. Kill them so hard.”
Moses said nothing, but turned and gathered the people and delivered the message. When three days had passed, God came down in a cloud on the top of Mount Sinai, and called Moses to him.
“Heeeey buddy. Go back down and tell the people that they aren’t allowed to come up the mountain.”
“But I’ve already told them that.”
“What, you think I care? You’re 90, I’m like infinity years old. Get down that mountain and tell them they aren’t allowed on the mountain. Then come back up here. Oh, and bring Aaron. I wanna talk to him, too. But anyone else who comes up? I will smite them so hard.”
(Now, I would like to think the above conversation was my idea, but it comes directly from Exodus 19 16-25. God tells Moses to come up, then go back down to deliver the same message, God tells Moses to do it anyway. In verse 25, you can almost hear the … Disappointment? Exasperation?… of the original writer. Verse 25, in its entirety, reads “So Moses went down and told them.”
I CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP!)
And so God came down on the mountain to give Moses the Ten Commandments, with the people of Israel watching, and God looked like a giant storm. Everyone was like “Oh man, no wonder Moses is the only one who talks to God directly. Man, God is scary. Hey, Moses! We don’t want to talk to God directly any more. You can be the caretaker, you’ve got our vote now!”
So Moses walked up to God, and God said “Hah! I gave them a good show, didn’t I? I figure if they fear me, instead of love or respect me, that will definitely make them loyal. That’s how that works, right?! Anyway, now that they are good and afraid of me, make sure they never, ever stray from worshiping me or I’ll…”
“Smite the hell out of them,” Moses interrupted. “Yeah, got it.”
“Hey, no. No finishing my sentences for me!”
“Oh, so you weren’t going to say ‘smite the hell out of them’?”
“Well… I was… But just for that, I am going to increase the amount of sacrificing you have to do to me. So that I know you know how awesome I am. And when you build sacrificial altars, don’t use good supplies. If you use any materials that have been tooled, I’ll make sure you get… Tooled… I don’t really know where I was going with that, but just make sure you only use crappy, round rocks when building an altar. That is important to me for some reason. I don’t have to explain myself to you!” (Exodus 20:24-25)
“Also, make sure the altar is on a hill, but that there are no steps leading up to it. When you are walking up the steps, people could see up your robes, and nobody wants to see 90 year old junk.”
“Won’t they be able to see up my robe if I am walking up a hill anyway?”
“Shut up! No steps! Now get ready to write, I’ve got some of those onerous rules that I was talking about earlier all ready to go. And no complaining.”
Some parts of the Bible just stand on their own as … Weird? Without my even having to inject my own characterizations into it. I still have no idea what to make of Moses holding his hands over his head for the duration of a 36 hour battle. Seriously.