Non-literal Numbers in the Old Testament

This is such a simple concept that I almost feel ridiculous writing about it, but YECs have swarmed this blog lately.  I thought non-literal numbers in the rest of the Old Testament merited a mention.

Charles Isbell was my first professor of Old Testament (though I’m sure it may have grated on his nerves as a Jewish professor to teach a course called “Introduction to the Old Testament” at a secular university like LSU).  One of the books assigned for this course was Isbell’s God’s Scribes.  In that book, though I can’t put my hands on it anymore, I remember there being a chapter on non-literal use of numbers in the Hebrew Bible.  Even as an evangelical, this chapter didn’t really bother me at all.  People use non-literal numbers all the time.  All that to say, Young Earth Creationism is absolutely lost on me.

I believe there are almost innumerable examples of non-literal use of numbers in the Bible.  Here are a couple of candidates:

  1. 2.5 million people leaving at the time of the (Exodus 12:37) Not likely (though I also realize that some have argued that “thousand” may not really mean “thousand” there).
  2. 430 years of slavery in Egypt (Exodus 12:40-41) – Exodus 6:14-25 actually only calculates 4 generations between Levi and Moses. That this time period lasted 430 years seems doubtful to me.
  3. The ages of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 20) – I’ve always wondered what the King of Gerar would have wanted with a perhaps nearly 90 year-old, barren woman, but maybe that’s just me.
  4. Jeremiah’s 70 years (25:11) – Jeremiah said the people would serve the King of Babylon for 70 years after the land became a ruin and waste …. Nope, at least not if one reads the 70 absolutely literally.

Perhaps not all of these would work, but there are a myriad of other candidates.  These are just the first that sprang to mind.  I would obviously add to this list of non-literal use of numbers – 6 days of creation, the life spans of people in the book of Genesis, the numbers in the flood account (since they don’t all agree) …  and, oh yes, the age of the earth if you calculate it based on the Book of Genesis.

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Could I get a little help form my friends? Exodus 12.12

John Martin (painter), engraving "The Sev...

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The Lectionary before Easter included a bit on the Passover. Upon hearing it, because it is meant to be heard, something stood out to me:

NAB  Exodus 12:12 For on this same night I will go through Egypt, striking down every first– born of the land, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt– I, the LORD!

NLT  Exodus 12:12 On that night I will pass through the land of Egypt and strike down every firstborn son and firstborn male animal in the land of Egypt. I will execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt, for I am the LORD!

NRS  Exodus 12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

Think Christus Victor model.

Anyway, before we move into Christian Theological Speculation, I was wondering how this might fit into ANE material. YHWH is rescuing his people by attacking the other gods, especially the Egyptian gods. He is attacking the other gods by slaying the firstborn. Well, that’s how I read it.

It seems to me, that the firstborn was devoted to the particular god so in slaying the firstborn, that god was deprived of representation or other power on earth.

Or am I drawing a connection between the judgment against the gods and the execution (sentence) of the firstborn?

Thoughts? Any articles on this particular verse and how it fit into either henotheism or developing monotheism?

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Augustine on Moses’ Motherly Prayer

I was doing a bit of reading for the blog that I write for my church parish.  And, for today’s Old Testament lectionary reading from Exodus 32, I came across this quote from Augustine that I thought was interesting:

And in case you should suppose that he acted like this more from necessity than from charity, God actually offered him another people: “And I will make you,” he said, “into a great nation,” so leaving himself free to eliminate those others.  But Moses wouldn’t accept this: he sticks to the sinners; he prays for the sinners.  And how does he pray?  This is a wonderful proof of his love, brothers and sisters.  How does he pray?  Notice something I’ve often spoken of, how his love is almost that of a mother.  When God threatened that sacrilegious people, Moses’ maternal instincts were roused, and on their behalf he stood up to the anger of God.  “Lord,” he said, “if you will forgive them this sin, forgive; bit if not, blot me out from the book you have written.”  What sure maternal and paternal instincts, how sure his reliance, as he said this, on the justice and mercy of God!  He knew that because he is just he wouldn’t destroy a just man, and because he is merciful he would pardon sinners.

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Exodus 36:1-7 – Least Preached Text Ever?

I was listening to my audio Bible not too long ago, and I wanted to post on this, but forgot until today.  It occurred to me that this might be one of the least preached texts ever.

1 Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the Lord has given skill and understanding to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary shall work in accordance with all that the Lord has commanded.
2 Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab and every skillful one to whom the Lord had given skill, everyone whose heart was stirred to come to do the work; 3 and they received from Moses all the freewill offerings that the Israelites had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, 4 so that all the artisans who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task being performed, 5 and said to Moses, “The people are bringing much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” 6 So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing; 7 for what they had already brought was more than enough to do all the work.

So have you ever heard a sermon on this text?  “Folks, you know what?  You’ve actually brought in more of an offering than we really need.  You can go ahead and stop bringing offerings for now.  We’ll let you know when you need to start up again.”  Bet this doesn’t make into many people’s canon within a canon.  But, if it does I bet it gets flipped.  “These people gave more than was needed and look at you, you sorry bunch.  You all need to start bringing in more for your offerings!!!”

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