Monday, September 19, 2011

Exodus Paper

Well, For those of you hoping I would post something soon, I figured I'd go ahead and give you a taste of what I'm working on in seminary. We're currently studying the history of Israel and were just assigned a seven page reflection on God's system of deliverance... well slightly more complicated than that. I figured, since I haven't posted in a while, I'd go ahead and put the rough draft I just finished up for you to read. Perhaps not many of you will be interested. Don't worry, I won't be hurt if you don't finish it... not that I'd know. Anyways, here you go:

The Old Testament is an invitation. It is an invitation to watch a series of successes and failures in the life of Israel. Yet, just what are these successes and failures? What is it that their God requires of them? One of the key concepts that we have learned in class so far is that God does not require good works. He does not require self determination. What he requires at every major turn is trust.

As we look throughout the Old Testament and see the laws and requirements that are laid out, this concept of trust is not always intuitive. We see many lengthy passages where God makes clear the many behavioral expectations he would like the nation of Israel to fulfill. However, with a closer look at the commandments themselves, we begin to see that they are all opportunities to fulfill this key desire of God. In this paper, I would like to point out a few examples of this as it stood out to me in the Ten Commandments. Beyond the commandments themselves, I also hope to take a look at a couple of major characters in the Old Testament, both before and after the exile to see how they exemplified either success or failure to meet this basic desire of God for their trust.

Israel's Failure To Trust
From the very moment of the Exodus, God begins giving opportunities to Israel to put their trust in him. We see this long before any official covenant is made with the nation under Moses in the form of laws. One obvious example of this would be the parting of the Red Sea (Exod. 14). It is with a few very dramatic examples of his miraculous presence that God brings Israel to Mount Sinai to make a covenant (Exod. 19).

With this in view, I would like to take a look at just two of the Ten Commandments that Israel is tested with after they are given. One is put to the test before Moses even walks the tablets of the Ten Commandments down the mountain. While Moses receives the word of the Lord, Israel's trust and patience with the Lord wears this very quickly. It is at this moment that a graven image is made under the temporary guidance of Aaron (Exod. 32).

There is one basis concept that I could see coming out as I looked at this incident carried out by Israel. Trust and obedience are not concepts that can be separated in our relationship with God. This is at least the way God ensures that the commandments are tested. He only applies them in a way that will expose the heart of those required to obey them. Humans may try to look at the commandments as a way of ensuring that they are righteous in their own eyes. We may try to distance our hearts from God while at the same time trying to obey him mechanically. However, we see that God's sovereign hand over Israel did not allow this form of dichotomy.

Another example of the testing of Israel's trust was in the honoring of the Sabbath. It was made very clear when God provided manna (Exod. 16). God would not allow the Israelites to gather any more than they needed for the first six days of the week. If any was saved, it would rot. This forced them to trust that God would provide the next day. However, on the sixth day, they were to gather provisions that would last into the Sabbath in order that they would not work. This forced them to trust God not to allow the manna to rot as it usually did. Unfortunately, the Israelites refused to trust God in both of these situations.

As I look at Israel's failure to trust God in all of these situations, I cannot help but wonder why. I am then reminded that so much of Israel's plight is merely a picture of the spiritual bondage that they have internally. Just because they have been freed from the bondage of the Egyptians does not mean that they are ready to think in a manner worthy of a free people. This is why we see them long for their days in Egypt whenever they think that God is not providing (Exod. 16:3). This may be strange, yet we must realize that this is the nature of humanity as a whole. We may be given a blessing or a new level of freedom, but we are often more interested in what we have experienced in the past. It may not have been pleasant, but at least it was reliable.

Saul vs. David
In the generations following the days of Moses, when Israel began to be ruled by kings, King Saul (Israel's first king) turned his life into yet another example of a lack of trust in God. There were moments in the beginning of his rule where he walked in great power and authority, however, when he was at war with the Philistines and his people began to scatter, he disobeyed the command of the Lord and offered a sacrifice that only Samuel was permitted to offer (1 Sam. 13). Why would Saul do this? What was his excuse when Samuel questioned him? “When I saw the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, and that the Philistines had mustered at Michmash... I forced myself and I and offered the burnt offering” (1 Sam. 13:11-12).

What does this passage tell us about Saul's failure? What was the root of his disobedience? It seems very clear to me that it was impatience to the highest degree. Where does impatience spring from? Well, if we are impatient with God, then clearly we do not trust him. Yet again, we see the original failure of Israel springing up again. Saul may have trusted in his armies when they were present. He may have trusted Samuel when he was present, but when either were not there at the moment Saul thought it was necessary, his courage failed him. He trusted in man rather than God (Ps. 118:8).

In direct contrast to Saul, however, King David is one of the best examples of one who trusted in God. David was most certainly not without his flaws (2 Sam. 11), but he is still presented in scripture as one who showed the trust God desired where it really counted. While Saul lost his wits when his people began to flee, David showed courage in the midst of a frightened nation before he was even king. This is made clear in the classic story of David and Goliath (1 Sam. 17).

An Exodus in Exile
A concept that many Christians don't see in scripture is that the Exodus and its power to bring trust into the hearts of the people of God is paralleled throughout the rest of the Old Testament. This is seen in many of the other trials that Israel goes through as a nation. While the nation's return to the land of Israel after the exile in Babylon is an excellent example, there are also examples of deliverance in the midst of testing in the lives of individuals during the exile itself. This is shown in yet another story greatly loved by Christians, namely, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's deliverance from the fiery furnace (Dan. 3).

As I read this story in the light of the Exodus itself, I can't help but think that the three main characters must have been steeped in the history of their people. The threats of Nebuchadnezzar which lead to the cornering of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego immediately bring to mind the cornering of the Israelites at the Red Sea. However, while both situations look equally hopeless, God's three servants remember his delivering power and choose to trust where their ancestors did not. This leads to a miraculous deliverance that even causes Nebuchadnezzar to bow down in worship. At the center of this story, yet again, is trust in God. It shows God's servants obeying the first commandment, but not only are they worshiping their God in peaceful times, but they are choosing to do it when the entire community around them and government above them are opposed to the path they are choosing to take. Yet again, God is not allowing them to obey his commands with their hearts far from him. He is testing their obedience in a way that penetrates every mask they may choose to wear.

Key Observations
There three of observations I would like to take from this basic theme of deliverance. The first one concerns this concept of the need for deliverance. As I briefly mentioned earlier, Israel did not merely suffer from physical slavery. It should be obvious to any reader that there was internal bondage that kept them from enjoying all that God intended for them. While one would think that being so miraculously delivered from bondage would inspire trust and obedience, it is almost as if the opposite is true.

This leads to to my second observation. As I've now said a couple of times, trust and obedience in the commands of God cannot be separated. We may delude ourselves into thinking our raw external actions are enough to please God, but his refusal to allow his people to grow complacent should make it obvious that this is not the case. God allowed his people to go all the way to the Babylonian exile to show them what it meant to truly trust him. At the same time, however, we shouldn't be so foolish as to think trusting in God internally should not result in obedience externally. As I said, trust and obedience are inseparable. A person may be able to carry out the commands of God without their heart included in the process, but a person cannot love God with their whole heart without carrying out his commands.

This leads to my third observation. While trust empowers obedience, mistrust empowers disobedience. It should be obvious that this third point is nearly synonymous with the second. When we look at the Israelites in the wilderness, what happens when they do not trust that God's manna will last until morning on the seventh day? They go out and attempt to work on the Sabbath. Mistrust perpetuates disobedience. What about the reverse? What happens when Shadrach Meshach and Abednego worship God in the midst of persecution? When they are delivered, what happens? It most likely resulted in a greater worship on their part to be sure, but it also resulted in the worshiping of God by Nebuchadnezzar. Trust perpetuates obedience. This is not only true for those who obey, but often for those who see the obedience as well.

Application for Christians Today
For Christians who are familiar with the New Testament, many of the parallels of the Exodus to out faith today should be obvious. The Exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt is a direct parallel to our delivery from sin by Christ. Jesus makes it clear that sin itself is slavery (John 8:34). Accordingly, the writer of Hebrews points out that our need to have faith in Christ is what makes us righteous before God. He makes it clear that this was what was required by the patriarchs and the people of Israel from the beginning (Hebrews 11).

Another important point that Christians often forget has also been mentioned already. It is too often the habit of Christians to force a disconnect between faith and works. I have often heard it said by Christians who wish to update the faith to our modern societal norms that love trumps the law. In other words, if loving our neighbor ever requires us to break the law, the law in overruled. They tend to think they are quoting Jesus when they think this way. However, the verse they are referring to has a very different meaning if we look closely: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). Is there anything in this passage that speaks of these two commands trumping the law? I certainly do not see it. What we see is the law depending on these commands. In other words, obedience of the law is true evidence of a love for God and neighbor.

In summery, I think that it is important that we remember to avoid two extremes. Christians are in the habit of taking a favorite saying or teaching in scripture and carrying it to the limits of their imagination, even when it contradicts another passage. The first point is never that we should never use God's pattern of deliverance as a license for passivity. Grace is an enabler, not an excuse. Second, we should never in turn depend on our works. The fact that grace empowers works should cause us to trust even more.A Christian who understands this balance will be a Christian who can live their life as God intended from the time of Abraham. We were not made to be autonomous or independent from God. We were made to walk with him.

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