Friday, May 08, 2009
Exodus of the first year of Seminary
When I first approached this text in English, the story of Exodus seemed like a fairytale-like story telling of the mysterious God who wants to be in relationship with the people of Israel. After digging into the scriptures with the help of the Hebrew text and getting to fully know the record of the events that took place, the acts of the LORD became more real for me. As I now witnessed the striking visual images, I also felt and imagined how the Israelites experienced this interaction with the LORD not just through prayer and sermons, but through fire, water, and blood. The people act like children in their eagerness to be in relationship with God and their stubborn complaints when everything go their way. When I read about the Israelites complaining that they had no food or water in the desert at the same time they complain about the food they do have, I saw myself, complaining about what I did not have amidst the many blessings that God has given me, despite my circumstances. Often his people ignore the miracles that the LORD does for them, just in the way that we continually forget how impossible the many blessings in our lives would be without God. After thoroughly going through the text, I began to see how valuable this book could be for a people who had lost all hope and could not see the LORD in the world around them. The book of Exodus calls to us as well as the many generations that came before us and will come after us, to read and hear of the mighty acts of the LORD so that we will know the real existing and present LORD, obey the LORD’s commands, and come into relationship with the redeeming LORD our God.
The book of Exodus serves as a physical transport through time into the history and lives of the Israelites who were delivered out of slavery in Egypt. The narrative accounts of the events that took place between the land of Egypt and the community’s approach to the Promised Land pass down through the tradition of Israel and remind the people of the relationship that exists between their nation and the one true God, YHWH. Throughout the canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, prophets, psalmist and scribes describe YHWH as the one who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. Since the LORD forbids the people to create and worship graven images, the book of Exodus was forged so that the Israelites might have sensory images of the LORD and know Him through His acts of creation and blessing.
The LORD displays His physical power in the instantaneous creation of the plagues, clouds and fire, and judgment. When the LORD first appears to Moses, He provides not just a visual distraction to get Moses’ attention, but a bush that burns with fire, expelling heat and surely sounds of cracking (Exod 3: 2). This tactile and aural visual of fire appears even so much in a huge pillar of fire and cloud which protect the Israelites from the Egyptians (Exod. 14:20) and leads them through the desert by day and night (Exod: 13:21). From the stench of a bloody Nile (Exod 7:18) to the deathly hail falling from the sky and striking the land, people and livestock (Exod 9:19), the plagues against Egypt demonstrate God’s wrath with all five senses. Finally, when the people claim that they want to see God present in an image and they create a golden calf, their judgment comes not only in harsh words from Moses, but it also comes in the blow of a sword from their fellow Hebrews(Exod 32:27) and a plague of illness from the LORD their God(Exod 32:35). The people cannot say that they have never seen the works of God.
Nevertheless the Israelites doubt the power of the Lord throughout the story, amidst the ever present signs that the LORD continually plans for the blessing of His people. When their cry rose up to God as they were slaves (Exod 2:23), the LORD provided a living soul, Moses, to come and lead them out of Egypt. When the LORD provides water in the desert, he does not just provide water out of the blue, but instead He orders Moses to strike a rock creating a visual, aural and tactile experience of God’s providence(Exod: 17:6). When they officially commit to a relationship with the LORD, Moses dashed the blood of the covenant over the people, so that they heard and felt it hit themselves and their neighbors, seeing and smelling the evidences of their agreement(Exod 24:8). Moses brings the laws to the people not just in speech but also carved onto tablets by the very finger of the LORD (Exod 31:18). Almost in response to the people’s ever present need for a physical presence of God that they can see and take with them, the LORD gives Moses the plans for the construction of the Tabernacle, which provides a mobile place for the LORD to dwell and be ever present with the people. The Lord provides for the people to construct the Tabernacle with their own bare hands and gifted talents (Exod 36:13).
Although these people never make it to the Promised Land, they fully experienced the acts and the presence of God. God was not just something they heard about from their leaders, but someone who took vivid action in the presence of their enemies and in their needs for physical nourishment. God was not just some mysterious god who controlled the weather and their luck, but someone who provided sudden destruction, sudden gifts, and drastic miracles for redemption. The generations that followed may have felt like God abandoned them, but the book of Exodus reminds them that the LORD exists and plans for the blessing of His people and not their destruction.