FootballThe passion for college football in Arkansas amazes me. What happened the previous Saturday on the field and what will happen the next one saturates life in between. It even seeps into my classes. For instance, my first year as a prof, the Razorbacks and their new coach were having a lousy season. 1-6 in conference play! This particular week, the Hogs were scheduled to play their hated rivals: the infamous LSU Tigers.

We were covering Exodus 17 in class. It’s the chapter that recounts when the Amalekites ambushed the Israelites. As you remember, Joshua responds by taking up arms and leading Israel into the valley to fight. But Moses goes the other direction. He ascends the mountain and raises his arms. As long as Moses held his hands high, the Israelites were winning. Whenever he lowered his arms, however, the Amalekites got the upper hand.

I asked my students what they thought Moses was doing when he lifted his arms. Some suggested he was praying, while others suspected that he was worshipping the Lord.  Then one student—fueled with football frenzy—blurted: “I think he was calling the Hogs!” The student raised his hands and cheered the University’s trademarked cheer: “Woooooo! Pig Soooie!”[1]  As a longtime Hog fan, I appreciated the student’s enthusiasm. I also chuckled at the notion of Moses, the great Jewish lawgiver, praising pigs. I thanked the student and reinforced that the patriarch was more likely interceding on Israel’s behalf.

I used the droll distraction to inform the class that this student wasn’t the first to apply a little eisegesis[2] to Exodus 17. In the second century, an early church father filled with Christian passion wrote that Moses went upon the hill and raised his hands to form the symbol of the cross (Epistle of Barnabas 12:2). Rather than to tell of Joshua’s battle in the valley, the story was meant to foreshadow Jesus climb onto Golgotha’s hill.  Whereas in Exodus 17, Joshua[3] was introduced as a son of man, “the son of Nun”, Jesus would be declared the “Son of God.” Therefore, for this church father, Moses wasn’t so much worshipping the Lord or praying for Israel (or cheering for his favorite team): he was sharing the gospel of Christ. To be fair, the author of Barnabas read the entire Old Testament cross-eyed.[4]

I admitted to my students that as much as the New Testament scholar in me liked this interpretation, I am ultimately skeptical of this option as well. Of course, if we are going to allow something to influence our reading of the Old Testament, our love for Christ and the church are better options than football and nationalism.[5] I ended the discussion by saying that no matter what Moses was really doing, my prayer for believers is that—on this side of Moses and Jesus—we will be passionately and invariably involved in all three of our best interpretative options: worship, witness, and prayer.

(Nevertheless, maybe Moses was praying for the Razorbacks that week. In almost miraculous fashion, the Hogs went on to upset the Tigers.)[6]


[1] Here is an example of fans “Calling the Hogs”: .

[2] OED: ‘The interpretation of a word or passage (of the Scriptures) by reading into it one’s own ideas.’

[3]Joshua is spelled the same as “Jesus” in Greek.

[4] Unfortunately, Barnabas’ resentment for the Jews sullied his reading too.

[5] If you’ve never read Richard Hays’s book Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, I recommend it.

[6] Here’s are the highlights of that game:

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Dr. Dodson teaches for Eternity Bible College and also serves as an associate professor of Biblical Studies at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. He received his Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and was a guest researcher at the University of Tübingen in Germany. Joey is the author of A Little Book for New Bible Scholars with E. Randolph Richards; and The 'Powers' of Personification. Joey has also written a number of articles for academic journals as well as essays in various volumes. Moreover, he is the editor of Paul and the Second Century with Michael F. Bird; and Paul and Seneca in Dialogue with David E. Briones. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @jrrdodson.