Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Blame the Messenger

So when Israel first set out on their journey through the desert toward the Promised Land, they rested on the seventh day because it was a holy day, a day set apart by the Lord who also rested on the seventh day. But by the time they reached the Promised Land, the seventh day had become a day of worship, for the Lord their God had delivered them from the hand of Egypt. 

The first consideration we have to make when evaluating this dramatic change in the message is the nature of the messenger. In this case, Moses.

Moses was the man God chose to speak for Him - to Pharoah, to Israel; he was also the man to whom God chose to speak. And certainly, we see Moses saying some powerful things. He speaks to Pharoah (with his brother, Aaron). He preaches to the Israelites. He teaches them God's ways. He brings down the stone tablets from the mountains and explains to them the Ten Commandments. He listens to their troubles, mediates their disputes, responds to their complaints. Throughout Israel's journey through the wilderness, we see Moses again and again using his voice, and God's words, to guide them. 

But there is a reason that Moses is not permitted to enter the Promised Land with Israel, and this reason is because at some point in their journey, his words took an unfaithful turn.

The people of Israel were complaining again about not having even any water to drink out there in that barren wasteland. What had Moses done to them? What was God's plan? Were they brought out into the wilderness just to die? They'd rather be in Egypt. The Lord spoke to Moses and told him to take his staff out to this big rock that everyone knew about. There, strike the rock, and the Lord would send water pouring from it for the Israelites to drink.

So Moses goes out to the rock, raises his staff high, and says, "What's wrong with you people? Do I have to bring water out of this rock for you?" But he forgot to say "YHWH says." Thus, the words he spoke sounded like they came from his own mouth, not God's. And God was not too happy with this.

All it takes is one subtle little shift like this. All it takes is one moment when the messenger doesn't quite get it right, and all of a sudden, we see Moses' words becoming something altogether different than they always had been. For the first time, we do not see Moses humbling himself before the Lord for his error. We kind of see him pouting. The time will come when he even asks God to reverse his decision, to let him enter the Promised Land, but even here, he does not apologize. He does not prostrate himself. He doesn't confess that the Lord was right. He just wants to see Canaan. He thinks he should be able to see Canaan. But God does not relent.

And then when Moses begins to tell Israel its own story, right there on the edge of the wilderness, he says something interesting - "Because of you, I can't go to the place where you're going. You miserable, grumbling people who made me bring water out of a rock for you...." Even here, we see him telling the not-quite-true story of what happened at the rock. 

When we see, then, that in his deuteronomic sermon reminding Israel of all they have been through and all that God has given them to do to be faithful, we have to determine which Moses it is that is speaking. Is it the Moses who faithfully speaks God's words? Or is it the Moses who has a personal axe to grind? Is he reminding Israel of what God has said, or is he getting in one last dig at their complete faithlessness? It is not only a fair question, but an important one. 

Is the Sabbath a day of worship or is it a holy day?

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