“Then the LORD spoke to Moses and to Aaron, and gave them a charge to the sons of Israel and to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt.” (Ex.6:13)
God is about to move in a most remarkable and unprecedented series of supernatural events in the land of Egypt. It is a sequence that will define the nature of our conceptual understandings of such terms as “deliverance” and “redemption”.
Yet, at this turning point in the story, a moment at which despair is about to become victory, the narrative is abruptly interrupted and we are made to read a tedious and (seemingly) out of place record of the family of the Levites, from which Moses and Aaron spring.
At the end of this catalog of names and geneology, we read a curious redundancy:
“It was the same Aaron and Moses to whom the LORD said, “Bring out the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their hosts…it was this same Moses and Aaron.” (Ex.6:26-27)
And, as if this were not odd enough, the next verses are a near verbatim repeating of the statements made in the text immediately preceding the listing of the Levitical posterity.
What is going on here? Why is the story (a riveting drama, mind you) so rudely and illogically sidetracked here? And why the repeats of things we already know?
Rabbi Elie Munk, in his excellent commentary, weighs in on this:
“The Torah inserts this geneological register just before the miraculous mission is about to take a victorious turn. Accordingly, it was necessary at the outset of this great episode to record that Moses and Aaron were no different in any respect from the rest of humankind…(Historically), men of outstanding character (have been) divested of their humanity and regarded as Divine beings. However, all Israel knew Moses’ family and its numerous branches, and that they had preserved their family purity since the time of the Patriarchs….This record shows us that the prophet was only human, but (also) not an ordinary one.” (The Call of the Torah, Rabbi Elie Munk, Artscroll, pg.81)
This tendency of persons in the Ancient World to ascribe diety to outstanding characters, which Munk notes, was not only a habit of the people in Moses’ day, but also in Yeshua’s. Ceasar was considered to be Divine and of immortal stock, though he was clearly a man who was fraught with all the same frailties and fallacies of any man. Likewise, the gods of the Greek and Roman pantheon, while all considered Divine, are nonetheless not so very different from normal human beings in terms of their passions, motivations and shortcomings.
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” (Heb.4:15)
In fact, put in the context of the Roman Empire and it’s triumphalistic position over the Jewish people in the Second Temple period, it was virtually assured that as Christianity became more and more Romanized and anti-Jewish, that the Christ figure would lose a good deal of his Jewish messianic flavor and become formed into the image of a Ceasar-figure and deified in a manner far different than from what the apostles would seem to have intended.
“The expression “son of God” can be linked with the Davidic messiah, since it is a prominent epithet of the king in scripture. There is evidence that the king of Israel was thought to be Divine. Even if this tradition had been forgotten by the time of Mark, the role of Messiah was linked with Divine authority, since he would have been God’s agent. From the perspective of traditional Greek religion, the term “son of God” implies Divinity or at least heroic status.” (Magnus Zetterholm, The Messiah in Early Judaism and Christianity; The Messiah as Son of God in the Synoptic Gospels, pg.23-24, Fortress Press, 2007)
After all, the Jewish Messiah was to be an earthly king, a sovereign lord over the Jews in a glorious idealized age in which the Jewish nation achieved military ascendancy, sovereign rulership, and in which all the nations of the world would literally stream to Zion to learn from the wisdom of the king, and pay homage to him. Basically, a sort of Davidic dynasty reborn, but on hyper-drive.
This Israel-centric vision did not particularly sit well with Roman inheritors of the gospel, who saw Rome as the center of the world, and not Jerusalem, and who were far more interested in a gnostically-spiritualized, philosophical kingdom of God than an actual, physical one on earth, and particularly not one centered in the Middle East.
Justin Martyr, in his Dialog with Trypho, makes this perspective perfectly clear:
“(In Martyr’s work), the kingship of Christ is not primarily related to his coming to earth in accordance with the prophets of the Scriptures, but to his position as the eternal, pre-existent Logos.” (Jan Eric-Steppa, The Messiah in Early Judaism and Christianity: The Reception of Messianism and the Worship of Christ, pg.93-94, Fortress Press, 2007)
Eric-Steppa continues her evaluation of this dynamic in the same essay, in relation to Origen:
“Origen effects a democratization of the concept of the kingship by designating Christians as a royal people, a people of kings, whereas Christ is called the “King of kings”…In (Origen) we find the messianic concept of kingship fundamentally transformed into an existential, mystical interpretation…” (IBID)
Gnostic concepts certainly held sway in those early Church days, as such doctrines as Marcion’s, which purported that the God of the Old Testament was a Creator-god who somehow, by a twisted logic this author has never been able to comprehend, is a different god than the one represented by Jesus.
The problem is quite simple: To relate to Yeshua in the manner that the apostles present him in the synoptic gospels is too Jewish; too much like you and I. Surely Yeshua was never actually tempted by sin, was he? Surely he had all power and omniscience, like his Father, did he not?
In fact, according to apostolic testimony, he was tempted to sin, and he did not have all power like the Father. He was, by all accounts, even in the mystical musings of John’s gospel (perhaps especially so), a man whom God exalts.
The full revelation of who Jesus was does not appear to be evident to any (save perhaps John and Peter on the Mount of Transfigiration) of his followers as a Divine being until after the resurrected Christ appeared before hundreds just before his ascension, which is witnessed by many as well, according to the recorded account.
In like manner, it is perhaps not until Moses descends from Sinai with the renewed covenant and the new tablets of testimony, with his face aglow from basking in the presence of the Almighty, does Moses truly gain acknowledgment as something other than a mere man. He has been exalted by God, though of humble origins, like all of them.
Hence, like Yeshua after him, the Torah sees fit to list this geneological record in Exodus, before the telling of the miracles wrought by Moses’s hand.
This parallels the pattern we see in the gospels, with the geneologies of Christ in both Matthew and Luke; the former tracing him back to Abraham, and the latter to Adam.
“The record of the geneology of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” (Matt.1:1)
It is interesting how both men share a real and documented human ancestry, and both also share a legendary divine birth story, yet only Christ is considered Divine in the Christian tradition, while only Moses in the Jewish one.
Regardless of speculation as to divine origins, it is apparently quite important to take care to connect them to the birth lines of the very people they came to deliver from bondage, or else they would quickly become something other than anointed agents of God, and become gods themselves, at least in perception. This is all the more important in light of the revelation of their mission and purpose, and in the fact that they become “as God” to those for whom they are sent by the Father.