Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Slaves in Egypt

So by the time Israel reaches the Promised Land, the Sabbath has transformed from a holy day of rest because the Lord your God is holy to a sacred day of worship because the Lord your God brought you out of Egypt. Yesterday, we looked at how a man like Moses could potentially change the message, depending on which heart he was speaking out of.

But can we really blame Moses?

If we watch carefully, the longer Israel is in the wilderness, the more reminders of Egypt become a part of their story. God frequently reminds them of the place where they have been, perhaps because the generation that left Egypt is passing away and their children are coming up to take their place. These children (all of those who were under twenty years of age at the time of Israel's rebellion with the twelve spies) would have only a limited understanding of what was going on in Egypt. 

Like all children, they heard the whispers. They saw their parents' frustration, anger, exhaustion. They knew their fathers came home broken and tired, perhaps even bruised and bleeding. They knew their mothers felt helpless to care for the family. They knew the fervency with which their parents prayed, and then, perhaps, even stopped praying, since things never seemed to get better for them. They may remember the night that they slaughtered the lamb and painted its blood on their doorposts, for the first time ever, eating with their sandals on, bags packed and leaning, waiting, against the door. They would have had faint ideas about all of these things, but they may not have understood them.

They would have known better the difficulty that they faced in the desert. They would have remembered the morning that manna first appeared on the ground, the day that quail started to rain out of the sky. They probably remembered the day that they ran out of new recipes for quail and started to feel what God had predicted - complete disgust at the meat. They would know intimately the grumbling of the community of Israel all along this journey, and maybe here, they, too, would stop praying. Who is this God who brought them to this wilderness to die? What had He ever done for them?

This is why the longer they wander, the more reminders we see of God being the God who brought them out of Egypt. They don't remember, or perhaps they don't even know, what a big deal that was. 

And here's what I really think was happening: the closer Israel got to the Promise Land, to becoming the people of God that He had called them to be (and Moses makes reference to their becoming the people of God in Deuteronomy 27-28-ish), the more God was trying to establish Himself as their God. 

That's what makes Him different from all of the other gods that they were about to encounter.

It's great and all that God created them in the garden of Eden, in the image of Himself He created them. It's great that He put this whole world together and orchestrated everything just the way that He wanted it. It's great that He saw that it was good, then very good, then rested on the seventh day. But none of this essentially sets Him apart from any of the other gods, who also claimed to have created the world. Who also claimed to have a design in mind, great power, and an awesome plan. 

What sets God apart from the other gods is that He alone can claim to be involved in the lives of His people. These other gods? They required worship, but their interaction with the faithful was severely lacking. Their worshipers might say that they provided fertility or increased the crops, but that was only when the worship was just quite right. This is not the testimony of YHWH. His story is quite different.

So as Israel is set to encounter the Baals and Asherahs and Molechs, as they stand on the edge of what other nations claim as sacred space, their story of God transforms into the testimony of Him. No longer is He simply the force, the power, to whom all things must be credited. That's too easy; that can be said of any god. This is the God who brought them out of Egypt. This is the God who intervened for them of His own volition. They didn't ask to be brought into the desert; they didn't pray for the Promised Land. They grumbled about Egypt, and God said, "I got this." So slowly, but surely, as they wound their way through the wilderness, the story of God was quietly becoming the story of their God. 

And by the time they stand on the edge of the Promise, no longer is the Sabbath holy just because the Lord your God is holy; now, it is sacred because the Lord your God is your God. 

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