In my reading of the Bible cover to cover, have recently come across a strange passage in Joshua 5, which reads:
13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”15 The commander of the LORD’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.
Now, what I like about this passage is the way in which it appears to work, in some small way, against the grain of the wider narrative trajectory of the Jews leaving Egypt and entering the promised land. That is, the man (whoever he is: a man, an angel, a theophany, etc) despite being the commander of the army of the LORD is neither for the Jews nor their enemies. What does this mean? It suggests to me that the Biblical narrative is not a purely linear tale of Hebrew triumphalism in the face of immense difficulties, but that there are more things going on than perhaps even the writer knew.
There are other bits too which strike me as startlingly at odds with the general narrative. Such as this snippet from Exodus 4, when Moses was preparing to go back to Egypt to tell pharaoh to let God's people go:
24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)
What does it mean? Why, when God had chosen Moses to gather the Jews and take them to the promised land, was the life of Moses threatened in such a way by no less than God himself? Even granting that Moses ought to have circumcised his son by then, the passage stands out as remarkable in its oddness. Again it works against the general thrust of the narrative of redemption; and it is precisely for this reason that I don't want to weasel my way into incorporating it into my understanding of it on the cheap, as though the Bible is meant to always only ever tell one story from a one-dimensional way. I want to understand them, but not in a way that reduces their power to shock as counter-narratives.
On the plus side, I love the phrase 'bridegroom of blood' - sounds like a hammy Hammer Horror film title!