Well, this chapter is sort of awkwardly placed.
We were building to a good moment. Pharaoh’s response to Moses’ request has been to punish the Israelites, who are now angry at Moses. Moses, frustrated and upset, turns to God to demand some help. And the first verse is God reassuring him.
And then God starts launching into a re-introduction of himself, including his true name of YHWH, which is a little odd. Didn’t we cover this in chapter 3? But by the time you get to the end, this seems to be meant as what God is telling Moses to say, not so much what God is telling Moses.
Then out of the blue, bam! A genealogy. It breaks up the flow of the story, and in fact the verses after it (28-30) wind up completely rehashing the verses before it (10-13) as a result.
What gives, redactors? Why wasn’t this put in between chapters 1 and 2, when Moses is first introduced? Why wait until now to give us his parentage?
Editing flaws aside, a few things to notice reading this chapter.
First, God says that he was only known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob under the name El Shaddai, and didn’t reveal his true name (the LORD) until Moses. I’m pretty sure that’s not actually true, if I went back and look through names, not to mention that, as I mentioned, they used more than just El Shaddai (Jacob preferred El Bethel, Abraham used El Elyon sometimes). But it does open up the tantalizing theological possibility that many religions are worshiping God under different names, they just haven’t been told the “true” one yet.
Also, Moses’ father married his aunt. (v 20) I’m assuming this one of those big age gape between siblings scenarios. A 15-20 year space between eldest child and youngest could put them at about the same age. I’d be more squicked by the incest if I didn’t accept that different cultures have different definitions of incest (parent-child and grandparent-grandchild is usually where that tolerance completely breaks down; that’s just wrong). I’d be less surprised if sex with your aunt was expressly forbidden in Leviticus 18:12. But then again, so is sex with your half-sister, in the verse right before, and Abraham got away with it. Were these not wrong until the law on Sinai was passed down? Or did God grant you excuse for not knowing? And is this a rebuttal to people who claim that the Bible doesn’t permit “moral relativism”? (Thanks to Maimonides for collecting these!)
As for the whole “uncircumcised lips” idea (12 and 30; the NRSV gives “poor speaker” with the literal term as a footnote, but the Japanese leaves it in the original graphic term), I’ll leave that for Richard Beck to talk about, because he’s awesome.
The Japanese: oose “statement, command” (v 3), shinban “judge,” aganau “to compensate, to make up for” (v 6), iyoku “will, eagerness” (v 9), settoku suru “to persuade” (v 11).