Ex 24 is anything but easy with regard to clear connection in and style of the text. Even a quick read makes a person scratch his/her head, wondering why it is a bit choppy. One example: not only is this section of Exodus out of chronological order, even this chapter is “dischronologized.” It seems as if vv 3-8 interrupt the flow of vv 1-2 and 9ff. Of course, the author(s) no doubt had a reason for this order, but that’s tough to discern. Here’s how Childs handles the tension.
He speaks about two ways this tension has been approached. One (the LXX and the Targums) “attempted to fill in the missing gaps in the ongoing narrative and to harmonize the difficulties.” The weakness of this approach “lies in its failure to deal seriously enough with the given text, substituting one’s own opinion of what the text should have said.”
The second approach, found in the “recent critical commentaries,” abandoning all effort to obtain a coherent account.” Thy point out all the discrepancies in the text and focus solely on historical reconstructions of the text. The weakness of this approach “lies in its complete atomizing of the narrative in disregard of the final stage of the text, and its failure to realize that the whole is more than its parts.”
“What is needed (Childs’ approach) is a synthetic approach which, while recognizing the historical dimension of the text, will seek to describe as objectively as possible what the final editor actually accomplished with his narrative. In this way the expositor does not himself go beyond the witness of the text (something which both above approaches do). He is also able to offer some value judgments on how successfully the last literary stamping has dealt with the older material of the tradition which was reworked into a new form.”
I agree with Childs here; neither the first nor the second approach is laudable. Possibly people in the “conservative” camp would fall into the first group, the “liberals” would fall into the latter (to generalize terribly!). There’s a better way, however, as Childs notes.
I do have a question with Childs’ final sentence there. I could be reading it incorrectly, but it seems to me as if Childs stumbles a bit. Notice how he said the reader offers “value judgments” on how the final editor reworked the old material into a new form. I believe that we should say that the editor was successful in reworking the older material into new form, because he did it! The judgment should be on us: how successful we are in seeing how he reworked the older material into new form.
Again, just some thoughts. I could be wrong. If “value judgments” means “humble guesses,” then I don’t have a problem with it. Also, I’m not sure how we can know the “older material of the tradition.” Let me know if you have some ideas! I could use them!
Quotes from page 503 of Childs’ commentary on Exodus (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1974).