#102. Do the people believe and listen to Moses OR do they not? (Ex 4:29-31 vs Ex 6:9-12)


We have already seen how, and attempted to understand why, the later Priestly writer when rewriting the exodus story presented Moses as initially failing in his task (#91, #93, #97-98). Contradiction #102 continues from these observations.

In one version of the story (E), Yahweh reveals himself to Moses in Midian at the burning bush and informs Moses that he has heard his people’s sufferings and has prepared to liberate them in all his pomp and glory—the complete extermination of all of Egypt’s drinking water, vegetation, livestock, and firstborns! At root, E’s story is a theological demonstration, and it is quite effective in this respect. I will detail this in a subsequent entry. At any rate, Moses is to bring this message to the people; but alas he fears that they will not believe him (4:1). Therefore, Yahweh provides him with a couple “signs” to perform: turning his staff into a snake and his hand leprous.

Thus asking Jethro’s permission to return to Egypt, and leaving his wife and son(s) with Jethro (but see #99), Moses returns to Egypt, meets up with Aaron,

and they gathered all the elders of the children of Israel, and Aaron spoke all the words that Yahweh had spoken to Moses. And he did the signs before the people’s eyes. And the people believed, and they heard that Yahweh had taken account of the children of Israel and that he had seen their degradation. And they knelt and bowed (Ex 4:29-31).

The people’s belief in Moses, and Yahweh, disappears in chapter 6. We have already reviewed the fact that Exodus preserves two, once independent, revelation scenes (#87). The revelation at Exodus 6:2-14 is from the Priestly writer and exhibits many of this writer’s themes and concerns, which were already established throughout Genesis. Here Yahweh reveals himself to Moses as Yahweh, while to the patriarchs he was only known as El Shaddai (but see #11). Like the Elohist’s revelation scene, so too here Yahweh claims that he has heard the people’s sufferings, remembered his covenant, and will bring the people out. Only now when Moses conveys this same message to the people, “they did not listen to Moses.”

This failure on the part of the people to believe what Moses has just conveyed works as a literary foil to present Aaron, and with and only with Aaron, will Moses be successful.

Based on this and many other passages, some scholars have argued that such passages strongly suggest that the Priestly writer was familiar with the older Elohist and Yahwist traditions, and that he consciously composed his narrative in light of these earlier traditions. In this case then, the Priestly writer or redactor strategically placed the Priestly revelation scene at an appropriate point. With a new revelation, now seen as a second revelation in the composite text, the Priestly writer can, and did, present Moses’ initial message to the people as a failure. This, along with transferring E’s language of  Moses who was “heavy of mouth and tongue” to “uncircumcised of lips” (#93), introducing Aaron as Moses’ older brother rather than mere Levite brother (#95), and presenting Aaron as Yahweh’s miracle-working staff bearer who now performs his signs, and not Moses (#91) . . . when all these elements are viewed together they undeniably illuminate one of the Priestly writer’s agendas in rewriting these narratives—demote Moses and promote the status and position of Aaron. The Priestly writer traced his ancestry back to Aaron!

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