It is the Exodus-event that structures many of these issues for us. In the Exodus, God gives a formal revelation, creates a community that accepts it, authenticates it to the founders of the community, authenticates the mediator of much of that revelation, sets it up as a standard to judge future claims to revelation, provides a mean to preserve the continuity of content, and sets criteria in place to allow micro- and macro-changes to the content.
Let's analyze the Mosaic Events (i.e. Exodus and Wanderings):
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight -- why the bush does not burn up." 4 When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses said, "Here I am." 5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." 6 Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. 7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey -- the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." 11 But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" 12 And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." 13 Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, `What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" 14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.'" 15 God also said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites, `The LORD, the God of your fathers -- the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob -- has sent me to you.' This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.Note that God does a visible manifestation, a miraculous element, an audible communication. He identifies Himself with the Patriarchs--ancestors of Moses and creators of the Hebrew community. Moses is clearly persuaded that it is GOD Himself speaking to him (i.e. the extraordinary evidence is effective!), for he hids his face in fear (vs.6).
So God establishes a epistemic 'anchor point' with Moses, and establishes a communication channel with him. This communication stream is centered around (1) God's promises to the Abrahamic community and (2) God's impending actions in history to deliver that community from bondage in Egypt.
Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, `The LORD did not appear to you'?" 2 Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" "A staff," he replied. 3 The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground." Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4 Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. 5 "This," said the LORD, "is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers -- the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob -- has appeared to you." 6 Then the LORD said, "Put your hand inside your cloak." So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow. 7 "Now put it back into your cloak," he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh. 8 Then the LORD said, "If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. 9 But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground."This passage--Exodus 4.1ff--contains God's provision for extraordinary evidence to be used in case some doubt Moses' claim to have had an extraordinary experience. The miraculous signs had evidential value, but apparently the Nile-to-blood sign was for 'escalation'.
Notice that God authenticated His message and identity to Moses first, then gave means for authentication to him, FOR him. And, also note that God anticipates that some will respond with EITHER disbelief OR suspension of judgment--in spite of the reality of the miracle. In other words, extraordinary evidence does NOT NECESSARILY "convince"--there is more to the equation than just the evidence.
Ask now about the former days, long before your time, from the day God created man on the earth; ask from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? 33 Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? 34 Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? 35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other. 36 From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you. On earth he showed you his great fire, and you heard his words from out of the fire. 37 Because he loved your forefathers and chose their descendants after them, he brought you out of Egypt by his Presence and his great strength, 38 to drive out before you nations greater and stronger than you and to bring you into their land to give it to you for your inheritance, as it is today. 39 Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.The LORD is VERY keen on getting "extraordinary evidence" to these people--to create a community of acceptance of Him--but not on the basis of 'blind faith'!
If one looks at the express mentions of God's epistemic intent--in the book of Exodus alone--the number of passages is impressive (both to the Egyptian people, the royal court, and to the Israelites):
And yet...some did not believe?!:
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, 19 and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him. 20 The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up 21 and the LORD said to him, "Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the LORD and many of them perish. 22 Even the priests, who approach the LORD, must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against).
This once-for-all communication of God's identity, commitments, and the obligations placed upon the humans in the treaty was (1) immersed in extra-ordinary evidence and (2) constitutive of the existence of Israel as a nation.
This is a significant issue. If the blessings to the community could only occur as they were faithful to the terms of their agreement with YHWH (i.e. the Mosaic covenant--cf. Ex 19.7: So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak.
8 The people all responded together, "We will do everything the LORD has said." So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD.), then it was critical to the happiness and well-being of the people to NOT get off the track! They would need to be faithful to their commitments (as per the treaty) for God to be faithful to His promises (as per the treaty). Treachery and treason to a protective and benevolent King is/was NOT healthy in any culture!
Therefore, it was in the best interests of the people for YHWH to put stipulations in the covenant to strongly discourage them even 'listening to' alternative supernatural voices (remember the serpent?). Hence, the strong capital punishments for mediums and false prophets made perfect sense in that tightly-defined covenant community.
Deut 13.1ff: If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.).
Deut 18.10f: Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, 11 or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.
Deut 18.20: But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death."
Deut 20.27: "`A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.'")These are, of course, some rather strong measures (which are unique to the theocracy of the OT, I might add), but not unreasonable in light of the implications of covenant fidelity (Deut 28.1-14) or infidelity (Deut 28.15-68). Israel had agreed and pledged themselves to these conditions several times:
"Censorship" (of OVERT anti-YHWH 'competing revelations'--NOT of 'different opinions'--we will see many of these later) made perfect sense in this type of community--it was a matter of community survival and welfare. [And any would-be spiritists and false-prophets would have been more than welcome in the surrounding cultures--the job market for these was very, very good.]
Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you.
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.Notice that the reason the false prophet is so dangerous is that he tries to get the people to follow a DIFFERENT GOD than the One who has already proven His power and kindness (through the Exodus--vs. 5). The people are supposed to already be in love with such a wonderful, gracious, and saving God.
Thus--EVEN IN THE CASE OF EXTRAORDINARY EVIDENCE--a member of the community (already created by YHWH) was NEVER justified in giving equal/greater weight to a 'competing revelation'. Not only would a single sign or miracle have inadequate 'weight' BY ITSELF to explain away the huge quantity and high intensity of the Exodus/Wanderings miracles(!), but the very fact of their existence as a nation-taken-from-Egypt was proof enough of YHWH's reality and good motives.
It should be noticed that this is parallel to the story of Isaac--his existence ITSELF was proof of God's reality, power, graciousness to Abe, faithfulness to His promises, and His kind-hearted intent to 'bless all nations'.
[Practically speaking, for me this has an interesting implication. If someone were to approach me today and offer occasional or 'spot' miracles in support of counter-YHWH claims, I would be hard pressed to accord them ANY evidential force. The VAST majority of the miracles in the Bible occurred in such well-organized 'clusters'--Moses, Elijah/Elisha, Jesus/Apostles. But more on this later...]
There are 4 specific generations we need to consider.
This group (40-60 at Jordan) is addressed by God in Deut 11.1-7:
Love the LORD your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always. 2 Remember today that your children were not the ones who saw and experienced the discipline of the LORD your God: his majesty, his mighty hand, his outstretched arm; 3 the signs he performed and the things he did in the heart of Egypt, both to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his whole country; 4 what he did to the Egyptian army, to its horses and chariots, how he overwhelmed them with the waters of the Red Sea as they were pursuing you, and how the LORD brought lasting ruin on them. 5 It was not your children who saw what he did for you in the desert until you arrived at this place, 6 and what he did to Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab the Reubenite, when the earth opened its mouth right in the middle of all Israel and swallowed them up with their households, their tents and every living thing that belonged to them. 7 But it was your own eyes that saw all these great things the LORD has done.Notice that God reminds them that THEY have seen extraordinary evidence--but that their children have NOT seen ALL of the works (some of them WOULD have seen SOME of the wandering events, of course).
But their epistemic grounds would no longer be PERSONAL EXPERIENCE of the extraordinary events; instead their grounds would become the EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY of the extraordinary events.
The entire community was to bear witness to the exodus in its institutions, its religious observances, even its law codes (cf. Lev 19.33: "`When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.
34 The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. ).
Consider some of the passages related to transmission of the communities confession to the children:
Now this last issue would have been addressed by a community-consensus of ALL the adults. In other words, if EVERY adult Israelite made the same confession at Passover about the extraordinary evidence of the Exodus, then that would constitute at least better grounds for belief than say, just a pair of parents.
The integrity and passion of the redeemed Israelite (coupled with public continuity with the covenant documents and practices--as preserved by the priesthood) was supposed to be adequate grounds for the younger generation to accept the truthfulness of their witness concerning the extraordinary evidence. With the strong emphasis on honesty and integrity AS PART OF THE COVENANT, witnesses were expected to be trustworthy!
This was not your basic "believe me--because I am your mom!" kinda-thing, but EVERY ADULT in the community would share the same basic conviction (!), and there were publicly accessible records of these recorded events available to inspect--via the Levitical institution. It still was not "blind" faith at all.
That this process basically worked (even in seriously retrograde times!) can be seen in the life of Gideon (Judges 6.11ff):
The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior." 13 "But sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, `Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian."
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, "Let us not hear the voice of the LORD our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die." 17 The LORD said to me: "What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account.Here is the promise of the Messianic prophet--like unto Moses--of special stature with YHWH, and under special commission by Him. Also, it is important to note that there may be ADDITIONAL revelation--"I WILL put my words in his mouth...".
Thus, even within the fixity of this exodus/wandering revelation, there is a provision of ANOTHER authenticated messenger and authenticated message...
Summary of the Exodus/Wanderings revelation "set-up":