Moses, Israel, and the S’neh Tree

The story of Moses repeats key themes from the stories of the garden, Noah, and Abraham. Moses and Israel both face tests before trees on high places, and Moses takes the act of sacrifice one step further. Listen in as Tim and Jon discuss Moses and the s’neh tree.

Episode 6
1hr 8m
Feb 10, 2020
Play Episode
Show Notes


Here’s a new Noah going up to a mountain of God, and he’s talking like Abraham. The three narratives of high places with trees—Eden, Mount Ararat, Mount Moriah—are being hyperlinked in this scene. They’re all supposed to come together in your imagination.


  • The story of Moses repeats key themes from the stories of the garden, Noah, and Abraham.
  • God tests the people of Israel in the wilderness and at the mountain to see whether they will listen to his voice or choose to take wisdom into their own hands.
  • Moses becomes the first image of someone who willingly offered themselves as a sacrifice on behalf of the rebellion of others.

Trees, High Places, and Sacrifice

In part one (0:00–9:00), Tim and Jon recap the conversation so far. High places symbolize where humans experience the presence of God, and the trees bring a moment of decision. Will they trust God’s wisdom or sieze wisdom on their own terms? Humanity chooses autonomy, and death and exile is the inevitable result.

God promises that a seed of the woman will overcome evil at its source while also suffering the deadly consequences of humanity’s rebelion. The Bible sets us up for this hope of one who will sacrifice themselves to bring people into the presence of God. This is a motif that is developed in the stories of Noah, Abraham, and Moses.

Noah trusts God when he builds an ark and upon being delivered, offers a sacrifice in thanks and intercession. Abraham passes the test when he listens to God’s voice to sacrifice his son. And the story of Moses carries these motifs even further.

Moses and the S’neh Tree

In part two (9:00–36:30), Tim and Jon talk about Moses and the people of Israel in the book of Exodus. Moses is introduced as a new Noah figure. He passes through the waters of death as a new Noah.

Exodus 2:1-3
Now a man from the house of Levi went and took a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was good, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got him an ark of reeds and covered it over with tar and pitch. Then she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile.

Later, Moses escapes into the wilderness for forty years. He wanders up onto a high mountain where he meets the presence of God burning in a s’neh tree.

Exodus 3:1-6
Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush (Heb. s’neh // סנה); and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, (Heb. Mar’eh // מארה) why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The burning bush merges the images of the tree of life and the fire of God’s presence into one image. The story of Moses also links back to Abraham and Isaac, when God called Abraham twice and Abraham responded, “Here I am.” In this moment, themes from Eden, Noah, and Abraham all overlap.

And just as in these previous narratives, this becomes a moment of testing for Moses. Will he trust God’s wisdom or do things his own way? God commands Moses to tell Pharaoh to release the people of Israel so that they can worship God at the mountain. In other words, Moses is called to bring the people to experience what he himself experienced on the mountain.

Israel is delivered through the waters, escapes into the wilderness, and meets God at the mountain, just like Moses. But before they get to the mountain, they face a test.

Exodus 15:22-27
Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah. So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” Then he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet.

There God made for them a statute and regulation, and there he tested them. And he said, “If you will listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians. For I, the Lord, am your healer.”

Then they came to Elim (“oak trees”) where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there beside the waters.

Tim points out that the tree God shows Moses becomes the vehicle of salvation for the people. This moment was a test, and Moses is the only one who passes. He keeps the laws of the covenant before they were given by listening and obeying God’s voice. Moses passes the test on behalf of the people, which then leads them into an Eden oasis.

Israel’s Test Before the Tree

In part three (36:30–47:00), the guys look at Exodus 19. It opens with the people of Israel arriving at the wilderness of Sinai (Heb. סיני), which recalls Moses’ meeting with God at the s’neh bush. Now the mountain is called by the name of the tree. God shows up for the people just as he showed up for Moses––as a blazing fire.

Exodus 20:18-20
All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test (Heb. נסי) you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.”

The test for the people of Israel has become the tree of life—to come into the presence of God.

Self-Sacrifice and False Trees of Life

In part four (47:00–end), Tim and Jon talk about the covenant that God gives to Moses to share with the people. Israel agrees, but while Moses goes back up the mountain, the people break God’s covenant. At the foot of a high place, the people create a false god in a false Eden and fail the test.

Exodus 32:30-33
On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin, and now I am going up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Then Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if you will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from your book which you have written!” The Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me, I will blot him out of my book.”

In response to the sin of the people, Moses goes back up the high place into God’s presence. But instead of offering an animal sacrifice to make atonement, Moses offers himself. Moses isn’t ultimately the one to atone for the people’s sacrifice, but he put himself in a position of self-sacrifice.

The crafting of idols mirrors the image of humans taking from the tree of life. Jon points out that this is consistent with human nature today when we look to any other source of power to serve us. Tim shares that later moments in Israel’s history point back to this moment, like when Jeroboam sets up two temples with a golden calf in each under a new priesthood. These later references to high places refer to Asherah, the fertility goddess symbolized in a luxuriant tree. These ancient and modern idols represent us replacing our allegiance for salvation.

Show Music

  • Defender Instrumental by Tents
  • Sundown by Aarbor x Aarigod
  • Daylight by Jay Someday
  • Coniferous by Kupla

Show produced by Dan Gummel and Tim Mackie.

Powered and distributed by Simplecast.

Scripture References
Exodus 3:1-6
Exodus 1:7
Exodus 40:34-35
Revelation 22:2-5
Exodus 2:1-3
Genesis 22:1
Genesis 28:16-17
Exodus 3:10-12
Exodus 15:22-25
Exodus 15:26
Exodus 15:27
Exodus 19:1
Exodus 20:18-20
Exodus 20:1-4
Exodus 32:1
Exodus 32:9-10
Exodus 32:30-33
Numbers 11:14
1 Kings 12:28-31
2 Kings 3:26-27

Tree of Life E6 Final
Moses, Israel, & The S’neh Tree
Podcast Date: February 10, 2020
Speakers in the audio file:
Jon Collins
Tim Mackie


Tim: Hey there. This is Tim at The Bible Project, and welcome to The Bible Project podcast. If you've been tracking with this series on the tree of life, you'll know that we are following the theme of trees on high places throughout the storyline of the Bible. Today, we are going to arrive at a really interesting set of stories about Moses. Moses had some really important moments in front of trees, especially by bodies of water or on high places. We're going to look at two of these today.

The first is a story of Moses and what has come in English to be called the story of the burning bush. We're going to explore why that translation doesn't quite capture the whole meaning and significance of what this burning tree bush is all about. The second story we're going to look at is one of these odd short stories in the Bible. It's an Exodus chapter 15. After the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt, they're wandering the wilderness looking for water and they find this pool of water that they can't drink from because it's bitter. And so what happens? Moses saves the people by tossing a tree into the pool. This strange little story is full of meaning when you see it in light of the bigger design pattern of trees in the Bible. We're going to explore all of this and even more on today's episode. So thanks for joining us. Here we go.

Jon: We're talking about trees and we are going to in this episode talk about Moses and how he is connected to this theme of...

Tim: Recurring design pattern motif.

Jon: ...of trees on high places. But actually, more specifically, the high place being where humanity and God dwell together. And the tree being...

Tim: Or two trees...

Jon: Two trees?

Tim: ...that creates a plot tension between them.

Jon: How are you going to live in this high place with God? How are you going to take His life?

Tim: God brought you up here to become His eternal partner and rule in creation.

Jon: Are you going to eat of the tree of life, live by His wisdom in His presence or eat of the tree of knowing good and bad, seize wisdom on your own terms? One tree leads to eternal life, one tree leads to death. And God exiles the humans because if they also eat the tree of life, this death will become the eternal death. Bad news. It's interesting that if you open the Bible thinking the Bible is about how do I get to heaven when I die, it's very different. It's saying God created you to rule with me on earth forever, but you're going to die because you want to do it on your own terms. But I want you to rule the earth with me forever. So it's not how do I get to heaven, it's how do I get to this vocational calling of ruling the earth with God forever.

Tim: That's right. And all of a sudden Revelation 21:22 pop into focus.

Jon: Which is?

Tim: Well, the last sentence of the biblical narrative is and they ruled with God forever and ever in the new Eden, which is the New Jerusalem, which is the new creation.

Jon: All those images are connected. 

Tim: Correct.

Jon: So that was a cosmic narrative. 

Tim: That's right.

Jon: Because this is humanity in its infancy innocence with a choice. Before any bad choice has been made, everything is good. Now, death enters the picture, relationships are divided.

Tim: Humans are doing what God warned. He said eating from the tree of knowing good bad would result in death. And what the humans start doing outside of the garden is killing each other. God is not the first one to bring about anybody's death. Humans are.

Jon: Yeah, hating each other fighting each other, taking wisdom on our own terms.

Tim: Participating in building human structures that participate in corrupt spiritual powers that are also in rebellion, resulting in widespread violence and the building of Lamech city.

Jon: This isn't just our choice. It was a choice that was connected to this...

Tim: Cosmic rebellion.

Jon: Cosmic rebellion choice, which we haven't really been talking about. So God tells them, "Look, there's going to be a seed of the woman, an offspring, a human who will deal with the mess you've made. He'll do it.

Tim: He'll undo it. He'll overcome the agent of evil at its source.

Jon: You won't be able to do that, you're stuck now with that choice, but someone will come and undo it for you. And while doing that, and the act of doing that will suffer the consequences of the choice as well.

Tim: Yeah. He'll suffer along with Adam and Eve and all their children of coming under the power and death power of the snake - being bitten by it. But paradoxically, that being bit by the snake will be his way of overcoming it, which is something Adam and Eve did not do.

Jon: So the rest of the biblical narrative you're thinking, "Humans need to get back to the high place."

Tim: Back to that moment.

Jon: Back to the presence with God, eating of the tree of life totally in connection with Him, trusting His wisdom for what is good and bad. And to do that, it's going to require some sort of sacrifice. That whole idea as they wait that, there is the practice of sacrificing animals, which we know later is all connected to this of like getting back to the high place, the Holy of Holies, the hotspot where the tree of life is, where God's presence is, to do that, sacrifice an animal to go in. And it's a substitute.

Tim: That's right. So Noah is given a choice connected to another tree about whether he will build an ark. He's righteous and blameless. God wants to preserve the future of the seed of the woman through him. He makes the right choice at that tree.

Jon: He doesn't eat of the tree of good and bad.

Tim: No. He hands off, and in so doing he builds the vehicle of salvation with the tree. That wooden vehicle of salvation, he turns the tree of testing into the vehicle of salvation, which floats on the waters of divine justice and lands the top of a New Eden. And then he takes up the wood of that ark tree and offers not himself, but a sacrifice.

Jon: He turns the tree into an altar. That's the image we see in the temple moving forward, is you don't walk past the tree of knowing good and bad to get to the Holy of holies. You walk by altar and you make a sacrifice.

Tim: That's right.

Jon: And so now parallel image being in a high place of where God and humans lived and rural together. And its original design was the tree of life and the tree of knowing good and bad. Now, you've got this taste of it. Let's get back to that. And to get to the tree of life, you are not eating of the tree to get there, but then you make a sacrifice on the tree to deal with the fact that the mess has already been made. By doing that, you actually do get to participate in God's life. You get to start to enjoy God's life. Not in the eternal sense that you would want to...

Tim: But in your own mortal narrative, you experience a fleeting glimpse of the tree of life.

Jon: And somehow, by Abraham doing this, he gets a glimpse of that life in the rescue of his son, and then he ends up becoming this great family. But the whole point of that was because he wants to get humans back to eternal life. And this family is going to participate that in some significant way. There's still going to be a seed from this family who is going to deal with the cosmic evil that's been unleashed and do it through sacrificing himself.

Tim: That's it. [00:09:19]

Tim: So Moses, the story moves forward. The family multiplies through a whole bunch of episodes we don't have time to explore. The story of Isaac, the story of Jacob, story of Joseph. But the sin of Abraham's family, they replay the sins of their fathers, and that lands them to exile down in Egypt. And that's where the book of Exodus begins. Exodus begins by saying...first sentence is, "Israel in exile, marrying Adam and Eve - humanity in exile. And yet, in their exile, the sons of Israel were fruitful and we're multiplying in the land of their exile."

Jon: The defined test.

Tim: That's how the book of Exodus begins. However, that fruitful multiplication of immigrants looks to Pharaoh like a threat, and so he begins to kill them off. He has three attempts to destroy them. The third attempt is to start throwing all the baby boys into the waters of the Nile. And here we are introduced to a new Noah figure in Exodus 2. Exodus 2 "Now a man from the house of Levi went and took a daughter of Levi and the woman conceived and bore a son..."

Jon: This is all before the house of Levi had the input of being priests?

Tim: Correct. Correct. It'll be important that Moses and his brother, Aaron are Levites because they're going to found the priesthood. But yes, this is before the priesthood because it says such. But the reason why the narrator is telling us they're from the house of Levi is this is the origin story of the priestly line. Exodus 2:2 "The woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was good, she hid him for three months."

Jon: Usually when someone sees something is good, they're about to do something bad.

Tim: That's right. Unless this is the inversion story. "But when she could hide him no longer she got in ark of reeds (tava gome).

Jon: The same word that Noah built?

Tim: Yeah. The word ark appears two times in the Hebrew Bible. It's the tava of gofer, the wood that he builds, and then the word ark appears right here in the introduction to the Moses.

Jon: The tava of reeds.

Tim: Tava gome. Noah builds a tava offer.

Jon: What's that in Hebrew, gofer?

Tim: Gopher. Tava gofer. Moses' mom gets a tava gome. "And she covered it inside and out with tar and pitch. When Noah gets the commands to make the tava gofer, he covers it with pitch inside and out. Then she put the child..."

Jon: That's another design pattern.

Tim: Another design pattern. "...she put the child into it and set it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile." So into the waters of death, there's all these babies drowning because the pharaohs evil but here is one seed placed in an ark into those same waters of death, but he is saved and in him will be the salvation of the whole family. It's the new Noah. So he floats into Pharaoh's house. He grows up and he somehow still knows that he's an Israelite because he goes out one day to look upon his brothers and he sees an Egyptian slave master beating an Israelite slave. So he murders that Egyptian. Pharaoh hears about it, he's angry, he wants to kill Moses, and Moses flees into the wilderness.

Jon: His own exile.

Tim: Yeah. Now he's an exile from Israel in place of his family's exiles.

Jon: Double exile. Exile inception.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Yeah, totally. Exodus 3 "Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, who was the priest of Midian - we skip that story but it's a cool story - and he led the flock to the west in the wilderness and came to Horeb - which is the Hebrew word for dry place - the mountain of Elohim. His flock wandered up to a high place. This is the mountain that's going to feature in the rest of the Torah. "Now the angel of Yahweh became visible, became seeable to him in blazing fire from the midst of a s’neh.

Jon: Not an etz.
Tim: Not an etz. It's a type of etz. It's a type of tree, but it's a s’neh tree.
Jon: S’neh - Sinai?
Tim: Yeah.
Jon: Okay.

Tim: This is the only time this pieces of tree (bush) appears in the Hebrew Bible and it's spelled with the same root letters as the word Sinai. So he's at Horeb the mountain of God.

Jon: I thought the mount was called Sinai, but the mountain is called the Horeb.

Tim: The mountain is called by two names in the Hebrew Bible. Horeb and Sinai. Here, both are used, one as explicitly Horeb and then Sinai is here as a word play on the s'neh bush. "And so Moses looked, and behold, the s’neh was burning with fire, but the s’neh was not consumed." So you have a s’neh. What is the fire? The fire is the presence of the holy one in the tree. The holy divine presence sitting in a tree.

Jon: So you're supposed to be thinking, is up on a mountain of God, there's a type of tree, it's not called an etz but probably because it's trying to remind you that this is going to be Sinai, so it's called a s’neh.

Tim: Species of trees that rhymes with the word Sinai.
Jon: It's burning because God's presence is in it.
Tim: Yeah, God's presence appears when the angel Lord...
Jon: The angel of the Lord which...

Tim: Yeah, that's right. Is the human Yahweh figure who appears on a throne. Jon: Okay.
Tim: That's right.
Jon: So it's a type of tree of life?

Tim: Where this is going to end in the last chapter of the book of Exodus is with this glorious, fiery presence taking up residence in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle. The same exact divine presence in the same visible form will take up residence in the Holy of holies.

Jon: Which is a representation of the high place on the mountain.

Tim: On Eden. This is how design patterns work. This becomes like a retro commentary. You're supposed to now go back to the Eden story, and be like, "Wow, the tree of life was where they would meet God and participate in His eternal life. Now there was no fire in the tree of life mentioned, but now that these two moments have joined, we're supposed to kind of merge them together in our imagination and see them as reflect. Just like the two lines of biblical poetry, like an A line and B line. So now you have the A line is the Eden story and now the B line is like Moses here meeting God.

Jon: It's so cool to think about the tree of life on fire but not being consumed. It is a cool image.

Tim: It is a cool image. Moses said, "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight - why the bush is not burned up. When Yahweh saw that he turned aside to look, God called him from the midst of the s’neh saying, 'Moshe, Moshe.' And Moshe said, 'Hineni (Here I am)." This is how the story of Abraham and Isaac begin. "It came about after these things, that God tested Abraham. God said to Abraham, 'Abraham, Abraham.' And Abraham said, Hineni (Here I am).'"

Jon: So you're supposed to connect to that story too?

Tim: Yeah. When's the last time somebody was called to go to a mountain or was up on a mountain and God repeated their name twice and they said, "Hineni." That happens one time. One other time with Abraham called to go up and sacrifice his son for his own sins. Now he has a new Noah going up to a mountain of God and he's talking like Abraham. He's meeting God the way God met Abraham on Mount Moriah. So do you see now all the three narratives of high places with trees, Eden, Mount Ararat, Mount Moriah are all being hyperlinked in this scene. They're all supposed to come together in your imagination.

"Then God said, 'Don't draw near to here - that's priestly language - you're in the Holy of holies or you're approaching it. You just approach the Holy of holies. Don't draw near. Take your sandals off your feet. You got dung and dirt on your feet from outside the holy of holies.'"

Jon: Yeah, he's shepherding.

Tim: Yeah. "So leave the signs of the world of death out there and come on into here for the place on which you're standing is holy space." So he just walked into the Holy of holies.

Jon: This is the Holy of holies
Tim: He's just walked in to that. And he's the son of Levi.
Jon: Which is what the tree of life is too is being in the Holy of holies.

Tim: Exactly. The tree of life is the Holy of holies. He said, "I'm the God of your father, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob." And what is the normal human response when they wake up or discover that they're standing in the midst of that space? He hid his face for he was afraid to look at God. So a new Noah just walked into an Eden place. But notice we're not in Eden. We're at some other place on dry land. But he discovered this is Eden spot. Just like Jacob was in a field near Bethel and he woke up and that's an Eden spot, here's Moses.

So we have new Adam, new Noah and Abraham called upon here, "Moses, Moses." "Hineni (Here I am)." When God called Abraham, it was to go sacrifice his son at this place, right? At the high place. So we're supposed to then in our minds go back and compare each narrative. What do I anticipate will happen on this Eden spot?

Jon: A test?

Tim: There's going to be some kind of test. It's going to involve somebody having to make a choice related to all those other stories.

Jon: What are you going to do? Hey. you're going to decide what's good and bad...

Tim: God's going to give a command.

Jon: ...and are you going to participate in my desire to use this family to rescue the world?

Tim: That's right. I want to bring people into my presence so that they're transformed to become my representatives and rulers in the world. However, to draw near, you're going to have to make a choice. Will you trust my wisdom and command or are you going to do things your own way? This very spot is going to host that narrative pattern once again. That's what all of these patterns are setting us up to expect.

Jon: I see it.


Tim: Look at vs. 10 of chapter 3. "Therefore, come now, I'm going to send you to Pharaoh so that you may bring my people, the sons of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said to God, 'Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?' And God said, 'I will be with you, and this will be the sign that I'm the one who sent you. When you bring the people out of Egypt, y'all shall worship Elohim right here at the spot where you are.'" In other words, he's going send Moses to liberate the people, and then what Moses just experienced right here, he is now to bring all of the people so that they can experience what he just experienced. It's setting up now this as a design pattern for the people to undergo. Moses just underwent what all the people are supposed to undergo.

Jon: Everyone supposed to enter the Holy of holies.
Tim: "The whole nation will come up here and meet me here just like you did."
Jon: Why is it called the sign?
Tim: This will be the sign. Oh, because Moses is doubting that He's the one. He brings up the five objections of like, "Who am I? I'm not very good at speaking. Please send somebody else." And so God finally says, "Listen, trust me. Come here and watch. It'll be a replay of what you just experienced." When you have a sign, it's a foretaste of the ultimate real thing.

Jon: So the sign here is more of a promise?

Tim: Correct. It's a really interesting sign because usually, signs come in the moment.

Jon: Yes. This is not a sign in the moment.
Tim: This is a sign to say, if you trust me and you lead the people here... Jon: It's a sign you will see in the future.
Tim: You'll see a sign in the future that will vindicate your trust.
Jon: I would call this like a confirmation.

Tim: It's a unique use of the word "sign." So think. This narrative just told me that what Moses just went through is what all of the people are going to go through. So what happens? You go back into the story and you have Israel enslaved to Pharaoh, and then the ten plagues. And then Israel is brought through the waters of death just like Moses, and then Israel is brought through the wilderness. And then Israel is brought to the mountain to meet with God. So it's as if Moses in Exodus 2 and 3 in his own personal narrative just anticipated the narrative of all of the people who are enslaved in Egypt are going to go through the waters of death, through the wilderness and to meet God at the exact same spot. It's like Exodus 1 through 4 is the exodus story in a nutshell in the life of one person who's the...  


[crosstalk 00:23:16]

Jon: And it's a design pattern riffing off of the story of the fall.
Tim: Totally. Yeah, the biblical authors did.
Jon: It's packing it in.
Tim: Packing it in. That's just set up for the Sinai story.
Jon: Because when they get to Sinai, they don't go up the mountain.

Tim: Correct. Let's pause real quick here. After the deliverance through the waters of the sea, Israel goes into the desert, just like Moses did. But before they get to the mountain, they have an incident. Exodus 15:22.

Jon: So through Moses, God's rescues Israel. Now they've passed through the waters, they're in the wilderness on the way to the mountain.

Tim: In wilderness on the Sinai and this happens. Exodus 15:22 "Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea..." I mean, literally, we're walking away from the shoreline of the sea. It just happened. "...then they went into the wilderness of Shur. And they went three days into the wilderness and there was no water." Three days, and then we face test. "When they came to Marah, which is the Hebrew word for bitter, they could not drink the waters of Marah because they were marah." So they named the place Marah. That's good. "But then the people grumbled at Moses." This is the first of many grumbling narratives. "What are we going to drink?"

Jon: This is an important question. "What are we going to drink?"

Tim: What are we going to drink?

Jon: "We're going to die. Three day without water?"

Tim: "You just said you're going to save us and you brought us...Now, three days..."

Jon: It's how long humans can go without water, right? Three days.

Tim: Yeah. Not a week. You'll die within a week. "So Moses cried out to Yahweh and Yahweh showed him a tree."

Jon: A tree. Tim: A tree. Jon: An etz.

Tim: "Moses threw the tree into the waters and the waters became sweet (that is drinkable). There, God made for them a statute and regulation. Their God tested them." This was a test it turns out. This was a test. So they're not at a mountain, they're in the wilderness.

Jon: They're in the wilderness. They are about to die of thirst.

Tim: And they find a spring of water. They find a pool, but the pool represents a test. Are they going to trust that God could provide for them even out of these death waters, bitter waters? No, they don't. They grumble and protest and say, "What are we going to do?" But Moses, he trusts. He thinks that God can provide life for them even in this place of death.

Jon: And he cried out to the Lord.

Tim: He cries out to Yahweh. That's a classic term for intercession and plea for God's help. So Moses, unlike the people, he cries out to Yahweh.

Jon: People grumble but Moses intercedes.

Tim: People don't trust God, they grumble.

Jon: Now, can I just say I empathize with these people?

Tim: Of course, totally.

Jon: But at the same time, we have to remember they just were miraculously rescued.

Tim: This is the first story after they're rescued through the sea.

Jon: They just witnessed insane provision from God.

Tim: And what any person would do after being delivered through the waters of the sea is say, "Yahweh has power over water."

Jon: But take three days without water and that starts to fade back into the memory a little bit and you start to go...

Tim: And that's the point. And that's the point. That's exactly the point. But Moses trusts so he cries out to God. And what does God do? He shows him a tree. And then says, "This tree will become the agent of salvation to turn the waters of death into waters of life."

Jon: Trees becoming salvation like the ark.

Tim: Just like the ark went into the waters, this story presents itself to the reader as a riddle.

Jon: Yeah, it is because I've read the story and I'm just like, "Okay, weird."

Tim: Yeah, it's a riddle. These stories are usually very short, they're puzzling, it's hard to even understand who's doing or saying what, and they seem bizarre. This is the biblical authors' way of winking at us and saying, "Dear reader, follow the design patterns, do Psalm 1, take a long walk, and you'll start to see what we're inviting you to see."

Jon: I could have read the story that it wasn't tree, it was branch. Let's see in NIV. I think it's branch.

Tim: I got you. "A piece of wood," says NIV.

Jon: A piece of wood. For whatever reason, I have the image of a branch. Like when I've heard the story before, I always had an image of a branch.

Tim: ESV has "log." New American Standard has "tree." Let's keep going. It gets better. The whole point now is this was a test. Vs. 25 tells us this whole thing was a test. And only Moses passes the test. People grumble. Tree goes into the water becomes the vehicle turning death into life. And there he made for them a statute and regulation, which is covenantal law vocabulary. But the Covenant hasn't even been made yet.

Jon: So it's foreshadowing that.

Tim: It's foreshadowing it. So what's the test? Before the covenant has been made, what is the test of their covenant relationship? Vs 26, God said, "If you will listen listen to the voice of always your God and do what is right in His eyes..."

Jon: Shema shema?

Tim: Yes. "If you will shema to His commandments and keep all the statutes, I will put none of the diseases that I put on the Egyptians on you, for I Yahweh, I'm your healer."

Jon: And that's called a statute?

Tim: A statute and regulation. Do you remember how...this was in the law series. There's that story of after Abraham passes his test amount Moriah and offers up Isaac and then God gives Isaac back. Later in the book of Genesis, God recalls back to that moment and says, "In that moment, Abraham kept all of my laws and statutes and regulations."

Jon: That's right.

Tim: It's using the vocabulary of the laws of the covenant from Mount Sinai, and saying, Abraham kept the laws of the covenant by listening to God's voice and obeying Him.

Jon: It's a way for the biblical author to show you that this story is connected to these other stories.

Tim: That's right. What is God really after in the covenant relationship? Just people who listen to His voice. And when you listen to the voice, you're making the right choice when you stand before the tree. So here's Israel before another tree, and Moses passes the test, but the people fail. And so God says, "Listen, this is the test that I'm inviting you into. Will you please just listen listen to my voice? And if you do, that will be listening to the commandments and regulations."

Jon: So Moses by interceding was listening to the voice?

Tim: Yeah. He's a contrast to the people. The people grumble to Moses, but Moses cries out to Yahweh for salvation.

Jon: And this might be just passing too much, but listening to the voice is connected to obeying a command, right?

Tim: Correct.
Jon: What's the command here that they're not obeying?
Tim: Oh, yeah, got it.
Jon: They're just worried that they're going to die.

Tim: Yeah, that's right. You're right. In this sense, it's about faith and trust. You are right. The command would be to have faith and to trust. Because the narrative is they came into the wilderness, there was no water. They finally found water, but it's water of death. And then they grumble instead of crying out to Yahweh, "Oh, Yahweh, creator of heaven on earth and the seas, provide us water of salvation, the water of life here," what they say is, "What are we going to drink?" They grumble. They get angry. But Moses, in contrast, cries out to Yahweh for salvation.

Jon: The narrative would seem cleaner to me if the story went, "They found the water, God said, 'Put the tree in the water,' and they're like, 'Whatever.'"

Tim: Oh, sure, sure, sure, sure.

Jon: "We just want to go back."

Tim: I get it.

Jon: Because now they're not listening to the voice or listening to the command.

Tim: Correct. You're right. So the way the narrative is designed, the test becomes back at the moment when they grumbled. They're failing the test when they grumble. The test becomes when we're out here with no resources, are we going to trust that Yahweh can provide for us or not? And they're grumbling. Is failing a test.

Jon: These tests are hardcore, man.

Tim: Oh, yeah, they are.

Jon: Abram's tests: will you sacrifice firstborn son? This test: are you going to trust me after three days with no water? And now you're in front of a pool of water you can't drink. Are you still going to trust me?

Tim: I would have failed that test.

Jon: These aren't easy tests.

Tim: No, they're not. No, they're not. I'm with you. I'm with you. But Moses passes the test on their behalf.

Jon: Thank you, Moshe.

Tim: This is setting up the role of Moses in the narrative on the mountain. So he does trust God, and God rescues the people through with tree thrown into the waters. Then he says, "Listen, guys, we're going to do this test again." He tested them. There's going to be more chances. Vs 26 "If you will listen to my voice then I'm going to save you from death and evil. I'm your healer. I'm going to test you again."

Jon: It's not just going to be about going thirsty.

Tim: "We're not one and done here. There's going to be multiple tests. I want you to be my representatives to the nations."

Jon: Wow.

Tim: Then after Moses intercedes and saves the people, what's their next stop? Vs 27, they came to oak trees. They come to a whole grove of trees, and there were twelve fountains of water, seventy palm trees, and so they camped under the trees by the waters.

Jon: Twelve and seventy.

Tim: Yeah, come now.

Jon: Come now.

Tim: This is little Eden spot right here.

Jon: It's a little Eden spot. Water under trees. The number 12 and 70 are interesting because that's foreshadowing 12 tribes, right?

Jon: Well, they are the 12 tribes now. They're the 12 tribes. So they find a little spring of life for each tribe.

Jon: Each tribe gets their own little spring.

Tim: Yeah, totally. And 70 is how many descendants of Jacob went down into Egypt at the end of the...they went from the 70 with Jacob into the 12 tribes.

Jon: So it's saying, "There's enough for everyone here. It's Eden for everyone."

Tim: Yeah. It's the equivalent of Eden and the equivalent of in Solomon's reign, everyone got their own vine and fig tree.

Jon: It's interesting how God says, "I'm going to be testing you more, but here, let me give you a little Eden anyway."

Tim: That's right. In this story, who or what passed the test that gave them the gateway into the little Eden? Moses.

Jon: Yeah, Moses on their behalf.

Tim: The story is five versus.

Jon: Oh, yeah. So easy to skip over because you're like, "Weird random story. How did that make it in the Bible? Let's just keep going."

Tim: Yeah. This story is put here as a riddle, to invite the reader to meditate and to link the story into design patterns through the key repeated words. And then all of a sudden, you find yourself in five verses you've replayed the story of the whole Bible in five verses. Humans, life and death choice, tested at a tree, they fail, but one intercedes on their behalf and leads them to a New Eden. And you're just like, "Oh, sweet. Wow, the seed of the woman."   

Jon: This is what you mean by literary genius?

Tim: Yes, totally. This is what I'm talking about. The whole Bible is like this. Every paragraph. That's mind-blowing. These are the moments where I'm just like, "Is this brilliant humans who write brilliant literature?" I think this is a human literary art form at its peak. I can't say this is evidence of the inspiration of divine and human partnership of the scriptures. But the more years I spend seeing how intricately every word is crafted in sequence...

Jon: At a minimum is human literary genius.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, totally. And at maximum, it's an inspired gift of God.

Jon: To help us know how to choose wisely and embrace eternal life.

Tim: Yeah. Let's take our next step then into this whole story and watch it get played out on a macro level at Mount Sinai - the whole test.


Tim: We can spend a lot more time at what happens at Mount Sinai, but for the purpose of the video, I think we can do the pieces pretty quick. Chapter 19, "Moses leads the people to Mount Sinai." The word Sinai appears for the first time and Exodus 19.

Jon: So now it's not called Mount...
Tim: S'neh.
Jon: Well, Horeb. Mount Horeb. Now they're just like, "Oh, let's call it Sinai."

Tim: Yeah, totally. And then it will go back and forth between Sinai and Horeb throughout the rest of the Torah. But right here in Exodus 19, they come to the place at the s'neh bush where God said, "The people were going to come. And in the third month, after the sons of Israel came out of Egypt, on that day, they came to the wilderness of Sinai where Moses met God at the s'neh." The significance of that is the tree at the top of this mountain is not going to be mentioned in the narrative again.

Jon: But the mount is now called the tree.

Tim: The mountain is called by the name of that tree. And I'm meant to imagine that tree at the top of the mountain for every scene when Moses goes up there. The famous thing is God says again to the people, "You're going to be a kingdom of priests of the nations if you listen listen to my voice."

Jon: Listen, listen. Shema shema.

Tim: So God shows up in the fire and cloud just like you did to Moses on top of the mountain. He's doing for all the people what he did for Moses...

Jon: Little grander.

Tim: ...but more grand. Not just fire in a bush, the Bush is lighting up the whole mountain with the storm clouds. "The people saw the thunder and lightning, and the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking and the people saw it and they trembled and stood at a distance. And they said to Moses, 'You speak to us and we'll listen. We'll listen to your voice. But don't let God speak to us because he's going to kill us. We'll die.'"

Jon: It looks dangerous.

Tim: It's dangerous. So this is the trick. Moses thought he was going to die, he was afraid so he hid his face, I mean, he's freaked out, but he didn't die. He was transformed by that encounter.

Jon: But even he was scared. Tim: But he was scared. Yeah. Jon: And rightfully so, right? Tim: Yeah.

Jon: You're in the presence of some power, and we know - and this is interesting, we haven't go too far with this - but eating of the tree of life can be a curse.

Tim: Well, let's at least say this. Do you remember the tree of life represents God's eternal power in life and glory being eaten by a mortal dirt creature?

Jon: Yeah.

Tim: It's going to change you. For a human to exist as an eternal partner of God, we're going to need some kind of upgrade of the hardware.

Jon: It look unpleasant.

Tim: What if it's unpleasant?

Jon: What if it is unpleasant?

Tim: That's what the burning bush represents is like, "Whoa..."

Jon: "It's going to consume me like that bush?

Tim: "...I'm now here in the presence of my Creator. He's telling me to come close...

Jon: ...to fire consuming the bush.

Tim: ...but it's going to mean the end of the version of me that I know and that I'm familiar with.

Jon: "Because I can get consumed by this fire. What's it going to do to me?"

Tim: And God's like, "No, no, no. Come here. I've got the next thing for you." And Moses is like, "I'm going to stick with the version of me that I know."

Jon: "I want to upgrade you."

Tim: Totally. And this is what the people are saying right here. They see the divine glory and they say, "We don't want to go near." They say, "Moses, you've been up there so you go on our behalf and we'll listen to you if you tell us what God says. But we don't want to go out there and meet and talk with God." And then look at what Moses says. Moses says, "Don't be afraid, God has come in order to test you. This is your test. It is your test. He's come to test you in order that the fear of him might remain with you so that you don't sin."

So Moses went up to the mountain, he faced the fear and he ended up in the Holy of holies. And it didn't kill him, it transformed him. He brings the people to the foot of the mountain. It's the burning bush times a gazillion in terms of like the light show. And the people are called to go up and they won't go up with Moses. And Moses says, "No, you guys, this is the test. God doesn't want to kill you. He wants you to become His kingdom of priests to the nations." And they say no. They say no. They don't pass the test.

Jon: In order that you may fear him, which is...
Tim: Yeah, that's from garden vocabulary. Garden of Eden.
Jon: And it's just wisdom vocabulary.
Tim: Correct. The fear of the Lord. That's right. So that you don't sin.

Jon: So you can know how to live in a truly human away that doesn't lead to violence and destruction and death.

Tim: When you come to the tree of life, now this is a narrative developed, you realize it's a fearful thing to take from the tree of life.

Jon: That's what I was just thinking about was, was that in any way for Adam and Eve can you go back and go, "Was the tree of life intense in some way they kind of like...?"

Tim: "I'll take this other one.?"

Jon: "This other one looks a little more chill. That one's on fire."

Tim: I think that's how the design patterns are meant to make our imaginations go back and ponder

Jon: Yeah, it's interesting. Like, "I can trust in God and His presence, but what will happen to me? Will I be okay?"

Tim: So now all of a sudden, it's not taking from the tree of knowing good and bad that is the test, its will you enter into the presence of the tree of life? That's the test. The test is will the Israelites go up like Moses to stand with him in the divine presence by the tree.

Jon: Which was the first commandment. And now it's God has come in order to test you. What's the test? Are you going to come up and sit before the tree of life and be in God's presence? That's the test now. Does that makes sense?

Jon: It does. I don't know if I fully appreciate it.

Tim: Oh, well it's just that when design patterns work, it's never a full repeat. It's the same concepts but in inverted relationships a test

Jon: The test of Abraham was "don't eat of the tree of knowing good and bad on your own terms but listen to my voice and obey." The test wasn't "eat of the tree of life or be in my presence."

Tim: Correct. In Eden, it was "eat of the tree of life, don't eat from that tree."
Jon: So the test is "don't eat of the tree"?
Tim: The test is don't eat from that other tree.
Jon: The test here is "be in my presence."

Tim: "Come up to the burning tree to be in God's presence." And the test is are you going to come up or are you not going to come up?

Jon: But this is a unique calling. This isn't a calling for every human.

Tim: Oh, sure.

Jon: This was a calling for a people that God wanted to...

Tim: We're getting pretty cosmic here in terms of that cosmic story. One nation becoming God's royal priests to all of the other nations.

Jon: The reason why I'm saying that is because before the narrative logic is God's protecting you from that tree.

Tim: Oh, sure.

Jon: So what's he doing telling humans to come in and now partake? Is it a trick or is it an actual invitation? And it seems like it's actual invitation. But it's because he's doing something unique here. It's like an exception. This seems like an exception is what I'm saying.

Tim: Hold on. I guess what I'm saying is the test has switched trees. The burning s'neh bush is the tree of life. It's where you meet God and are transformed. That's the tree that the test now relates to? Are you going to come up to God? So how's that a trick?

Jon: I would wonder if it was a trick because if I knew the story of Adam and Eve, and I'm realizing what's happening here. I would go, "Hey, God, if I eat of the tree, I will have eternal death."

Tim: Oh, I understand.
Jon: "You're protecting us from this tree."
Tim: I see. Oh, got it. They're not eating from the tree of life. Jon: This isn't the

10 Episodes

Episode 10
Is the Tree of Life Practical?
We are concluding our Tree of Life series with a question and response episode. In this episode, Tim and Jon respond to audience questions on the theme of the Tree of Life in the Bible. Thank you to everyone that submitted questions!
1hr 5m • Mar 9, 2020
Episode 9
Jesus on the Cursed Tree
In this final episode of the Tree of Life series, Tim and Jon talk about the death of Jesus upon a tree on a high place. Jesus begins his final week on earth by cursing a tree. He faces his final test in a high garden and ends his life hanging on a tree as a sacrifice for a broken humanity.
1hr 20m • Mar 2, 2020
Episode 8
Back to the Tree of Life
Jesus often talks about the Kingdom of God like a garden. And in this Kingdom, Jesus saw himself as the tree at the center. Listen in as Tim and Jon discuss the life and parables of Jesus, as well as the future promise of a new Eden on the final pages of the Bible.
52m • Feb 24, 2020
Episode 7
David, Isaiah, and New Eden
King David sets up a new Eden in Jerusalem, but the people continue to set up false Edens in high places. How will God respond, and when will he raise up the seed who will usher in a new Eden? The book of Isaiah brings these themes together and points us to God’s answer.
53m • Feb 17, 2020
Episode 6
Moses, Israel, and the S’neh Tree
The story of Moses repeats key themes from the stories of the garden, Noah, and Abraham. Moses and Israel both face tests before trees on high places, and Moses takes the act of sacrifice one step further. Listen in as Tim and Jon discuss Moses and the s’neh tree.
1hr 8m • Feb 10, 2020
Episode 5
Are Humans Naturally Immortal? Tree of Life Q+R 1
Why are moments of testing on high places often accompanied by sacrifice in the Bible? Why does the Eden story seem ambiguous about the number of trees in the garden? Were humans mortal when they were placed in the garden? Tim and Jon respond to these questions and more in this question and response episode.
37m • Feb 3, 2020
Episode 4
Dismantling the Tree
Noah and Abraham both face important tests before a tree on a high place. Their obedience and sacrifice opens the door for mercy and blessing, and their stories point us to a future hope of one who will overcome the tree of knowing good and bad and restore humanity. Listen in as Tim and Jon discuss Noah, Abraham, and their moments of decision at trees on high places.
1hr 8m • Jan 27, 2020
Episode 3
The Tale of Two Trees
On the first pages of the Bible, God places humans in a lush garden to rule with him. There are two trees in the garden, and humanity is presented with a choice: trust God and enjoy his good gifts or take the knowledge of good and bad for themselves. The tale of two trees tells us something profound about the human condition and the choice we all face.
50m • Jan 20, 2020
Episode 2
Trees of the Ancients
The tree of life represents God’s own life given as a gift to humanity. This image echoes across ancient Near Eastern cultures, and even today, people long for the peace and security symbolized in the tree of life. Listen in as Tim and Jon explore the meaning and context of the tree of life.
58m • Jan 13, 2020
Episode 1
Humans Are ... Trees?
The idea that humans are like trees might seem strange to us until we see how the Hebrew Bible connects them with the same key words, images, and scenes. Humans and trees are found together at most of the hinge points in the biblical story. Listen in as Tim and Jon discuss these parallels in the Bible.
1hr 7m • Jan 6, 2020
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