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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Easter 6: Why Love?

John 14:23-29
"Those who love me will keep my commandments," Jesus begins today. Love and obedience are a unified reality in the Bible. Jesus does the will of His Father because of love. True love is more than a feeling; it is a decision in the heart which shapes behaviors. But 'love' is more than 'obedience'!

If we love Jesus and keep His word then He and the Father will make their home in us [the Greek word 'mone';occurs only in John 14:2 where Jesus says the Father's house has many dwelling places and He goes to prepare one for each of us]. Love is a relational bond. Obedience can be based on fear or self-seeking. It does not always form a life-giving bond. Love does bond. It changes us into a Temple where the Father resides with the Incarnate Word and Holy Spirit.

Hebrew has only one word for obedience: shama. However 'shama' also means 'hear' or 'listen.' To obey God one must hear. We listen to the Beloved to know His desire. The Father speaks His Word (Jesus) into us. When we listen to God, hear God, and obey God, His Word finds a home in my heart. This is what Jesus is saying; loving obedience opens us to a transformational-relationship.The Love opens us to Jesus Who desires to unleash the fullness of life and salvation. But the gift of the Kingdom is like a seed. It is an organic process that can move slowly and requires trust and faith. 

Two gifts of God's Kingdom are mentioned today. Jesus promises the 'paraclete'--the Holy Spirit Whom we will hear about more on Pentecost.

The other gift is peace. Kingdom shalom is different from what the world calls peace. Peace in the world is based on outward circumstances. It is often a function of power and control, even oppression. The World says peace is based on what I have or possess. The kingdom shalom-peace is different, it is the internal peace of being had by the Lord and possessed by God. It is the peace of the indwelling Holy Three in the power of the cross. Filled with the Holy Three, peace within us then flows outward to create the abundant society where all have a place, all have their needs met. Peace is the gift of God which creates an attitude of trusting love. When we believe that Jesus speaks truth, we have hope that all will be well someday.

The love of God is "soteriological"--it saves, rescues, heals, renews, strengthens, beautifies, sanctifies. It heals the illness of body, soul and spirit. It makes us holy vessels containing the Holy Three.

Why does love matter? Because it connects us to one another and to God. And that connection to God opens us to possibilities beyond our imagination.

Love, (obedient hearing) creates a new environment. The Holy Three change our hearts and our vision. The amazing promises of Jesus sound less like a fantasy and more like a mission mandate. We will see ourselves as Word-filled, Spirit-filled; chosen by God, Holy and Beloved.

Why is love so important? Because it creates a God-friendly environment where He can rescue and renew His people....
Why is love so important? Because love is obedient and when we obey Jesus we are open to receive and give abundant blessings...
Why is love so important? Because it makes us a Temple--home for the Holy Three...
Why is love so important? Because Love makes us the powerful apostles who forgive sinners, teach the nations, heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead and proclaim with steadfast faith the Good News.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Exodus 7

The chapter begins with a stunning simile: God says Moses will be a god to Pharaoh, and Aaron is his prophet. Moses status is remarkable. It is important to remember that the Pharaoh was thought to be a representative of the god Ra (in a special relationship, like a son) so the confrontation is between YHWH and the gods of Egypt. That Moses would be a 'god' to Pharaoh reminds us of the ancient theological meaning of the events (which would be more important to the ancient). The revelation of YHWH as God to the world is a key component to the entire story. This is a long unfolding theophany! 7:2 serves as a spoiler; Israel will leave the land. Then next verse provides fodder for ongoing debates for thousands of years. What does it mean God "hardened" Pharaoh's heart? We will take a look at that question at length as an independent discussion. For the narrative, the interplay of plague and hardened heart provide that tension which require ongoing plagues. The point, as we have seen, is the revelation of YHWH as (true) God.

The Hebrew word, qasha, is one of three used to describe Pharaoh's heart being hardened (with assorted different nuances: made fierce, made dense, made heavy, reinforce, make strong). Note, the reason given (v5): to increase the signs and let all Egypt know who is God. In stark contrast, Moses and Aaron obey God and do as He told them (no more arguing with God).

Verse six suddenly announces the ages of Moses and his elder brother. This continues the recurring pattern in the Torah of a younger brother usurping the place of honor from an older brother. It is a reminder (more for the ancient reader than us) that God acts outside the expectations of human beings. The ages (40x2 and 40x2 +3) are also symbolic. They mark as turning point in the life of the two heroes.

The Lord tells Moses what Pharaoh will say. It's interesting that Pharaoh's request for a sign is not written. [From a Christian/typological perspective, the demand for a sign echos the same request of Jesus by His adversaries.] Now the staff is called Aaron's. There is, however, a change in the Hebrew. The nahas (snake) of Exodus 4:3 (when Moses threw it down) is now a tannin (serpent, but a sea monster in Genesis 1:21). The implication is that it is no ordinary snake and it portends the final disaster for Egypt (it will swallow bala' the Egyptian snakes; connecting it to Exodus 15:12, the only other time this word appears, when the Egyptians are swallowed by the Sea). There are three categories--wisemen, sorcerers and magicians--who engage in lat (root is either 'secret' or 'wrapped' or 'cast'. The implication is some sort of mysterious trick is used to conjure up the snakes). A second Hebrew word (chazak) is used to describe the hardening of Pharaoh's heart (with a connotation of strengthen, to be heavy). 7:14 kabed (meaning heavy, great, massive, difficult, burdensome) is used to describe Pharaoh's heart. It is applied to the refusal to let the people go. This word is the same root as Moses' heavy tongue and the heavy labor imposed upon the Hebrew slaves, subtle connection.

7:15 the next step happens to the Nile River. Rashi, the great medieval scholar, believes Pharaoh was going to relieve himself. Other theories include rituals or state functions, that he went to bathe, or that he was checking the river level. The location resonates with the plague itself, and also hearkens back to the daughter of Pharaoh who found Moses in the river. The "strong-heart" of Pharaoh is resistant and resilient.The threat is to make the river change (like the rod changed) into blood (blood will loom large in the final plague as well, blood on the doorpost will save the people from death). The result will be the fish die and the river will stink (the Hebrew slaves used the same Hebrew word in 5:21 "You've made our smell stink in Pharaoh's eyes). However, the event itself is revelatory--"by this you'll know I'm God." This is a direct assault on the primary resource for life in Egypt. God (YHWH who is, who was, who will be, who makes things be) is revealing Himself to the world as a creator God (who is concerned with justice for His people).

[Many speculate on the meaning of the plagues--connecting them with various Egyptian gods, for example. In addition, some scholars detect the possibility that there are numerous traditions brought together from different sources and woven together in the current form. In depth analysis of the element of the plagues (cf Everett Fox, Torah, p253) allows for divisions into groups based on themes, verbal content, time of day when threat is made, etc. He sees numerical considerations in play 3+3+3+1=10 (3, 7 and 10 are holy numbers) in some of the divisions. While interesting and important for understanding the Hebrew author, analyzing the twenty different 'words, phrases and motiffs' becomes too technical for my concerns.

The narrative continues with God telling Moses to tell Aaron what to do, and Moses and Aaron do it. Not only the Nile but also the "wood and stone". Most translations add the English word "vessel" assuming it is reference to storage, dishware or utensils, however Fox (295) remarks that "virtually everywhere in the Bible that "wood and stone" occur as a pair in the singular; they refer to idols"--hence, following Cassuto, it may be a subtle reference to Egyptian gods and idols and indicates that YHWH denigrates them! The plague extends throughout the land [making v22 "the magicians of Egypt did thus with their occult-arts" very confusing. What water was left to turn to blood?]. Pharaoh is chazak (means resolute, strong willed, firm) in resisting God, and pays it no mind (the Hebrew words leb gam--literally mean to lay + the inner man/the heart). This is in marked contrast to the people of Egypt. In a sense, the battle is now brought to bear on those who have benefited from the slave labor. The Egyptians are reduced to digging for water along the banks of the river. The period of time, seven days, recalls creation. The Hebrew word, "fill up" recalls that the Hebrew slaves filled up the land.

Next YHWH says to Moses, go to Pharaoh and say to him, "Thus says the YHWH (Lord)" This is classical prophet language. The frogs will be everywhere, ten different recipients are identified (seven places: house, bedroom etc. and three people, "you, your people your servants")

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Praying: Fill Me, Use Me

Sunday School on Prayer

The desire of the Holy Three (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is an intimate relationship with humans. We are created, redeemed and in covenant with the Lord God. Prayer--talking to and worshiping God--is a formal and informal way to nurture that relationship. It opens us up to the "life" or "energy" of God's Word (Jesus) and Spirit (Holy Spirit) to flow into us. It opens us up to receive from the Father what He desires to give us for ourselves and for our mission to others.

Today I want to share an exercise in prayer. Much of the language and the concept is Celtic, the ancient Christian church associated with Ireland and the British Isles. One image is (en)circling prayer. Jesus called the disciples to follow Him, but also simply to be with Him. Companionship. In John we read Jesus say, "I am the vine and you are branches. Abide in Me and I abide in you." To remain, stay in and be with Jesus--to abide--is a central feature of Christian spirituality. Salvation is not a moral or legal obstacle course or a puzzle to be deciphered. It is, first of all, a relationship--being with in loving holy communion.

When I use the word "pray" I mean a trusting, intentional, focused communication with God. The intent is to be open to the outreach of our Triune God.
So we pray:
Holy Three encircle us/me.
Father God breathe your Spirit in us/me
Lord Jesus flow out of us/me

There can be additional petitions. Inviting God's presence into the circle. Asking Him to fill it (us) with Faith, Hope, Love, Mercy, Joy, Peace, Wisdom, Strength, etc. Then, there can be a prayer of "freedom from", keep out doubt, despair, indifference, selfishness, fear, confusion, illness, hurt, conflict, etc. [This is a sacramental worldview. God is incarnate--the material world is drenched in the Spiritual; people, things, places and events are "windows" through which God can be seen. God is active in the real world we live in. The Celtic expression of faith includes the natural realm, seeing God's creation as a font of blessings. "Bathe me Lord in your sunlight, cleanse me in the rain, whisper in the wind, be with me in the calm." Additionally, they believe in the heavenly realm and would ask "Saints of heaven walk with me. Saints of heaven be my companions this day. Angels guard and guide me. Angel worship fill my heart." There would be protection prayers as well "light of God keep out the dark, break every curse, keep my free from Satan snare, disperse the demons, keep my body from harm.] Imagining God as the Friendly Three is an especially beautiful concept to me.

The key to prayer is thanks and praise. It is a gratitude which looks not only to the past benefits, but confidently trusts the Three for future blessings. "You have blessed, thank you, You are blessing, thank you, You will bless, thank you! Thanks is the best soul treatment as well, it changes our attitude toward the world, from whining, worry and 'woe is me" to an awareness of how wonderful life really is. Thanks focuses on the blessings of The Holy Three, but praise is higher still. It is pure worship of the One Who is worthy, The Three Who is worthy. Praise looks directly at God, not at any benefits I receive but at God as the Perfect Beauty, Perfect Light, Perfect Love, Perfect Source and Eternal Goal and Fullness of Life....

To open and receive His presence is 'active passivity.' It is letting go of control and just opening to receive. Perhaps a verse of Scripture or a prayer. Maybe a word. However, at some point one must enter the place of silence. At some point one must cease trying to reach God, find God, create a prayer experience, become holy--at some point one must simply understand that the Holy Three is the One Who creates and saves. We are active partners in much of that, no doubt, but in the end it is God's work alone. So deeper prayer is silent trusting love. Quiet reception. The infilling happens, whether we feel it or not (its probably more fun to feel it though!). If we (honestly) say to the Lord, "Here I am, I am yours, fill me and use me" then He does. Most importantly, He fills us with the Holy Spirit.

Ministry, being the Body of Christ in the world. "Do you love Me?" "Feed the lambs, tend the sheep." What we offer people in need is our Spirit filled self. We are present to them with time, talent or treasure. To hear them speak and wipe away a tear. To hold them and comfort. To give them food or drink. To provide for sustenance. To bring joy. To heal and set free. But the single most important gift we give anyone is being a conduit of relationship with the Three: The Creator God, the Rescuer Who is Love. If we are tapping them into the Lord then all else will eventually flow.

So praying with and for another is centered there, not on "worries and needs," but on the one thing that is needful (or better, "the One Who is needed"!). If we start and finish in focus on The Father through Jesus in the Holy Spirit, then we can pray without doubt or fear. We can pray with confidence and that is the framework for other prayers (including intercession, deliverance and healing).

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Easter 4 "Raising the Dead"



Now in Joppa, there was a woman disciple named Tabitha. She did good works and gave alms. (Alms, or "works of mercy", were considered redemptive in the Jewish faith and early Christian church. see below) So Tabitha was faith filled and faithful. She was also dead; a tragedy for the poorest of the poor, the widows and a loss to the church. Peter was summoned, so he went to the city. He came in, he prayed and then he said, “Tabitha, get up.”She did!

How did it happen?
*Peter had seen Jesus do the same thing on several occasions. So he truly believed it was possible.
*Peter believed Jesus had given him power and authority to perform signs and wonders in witness to the Kingdom of God. Jesus said, "If you love me....Care for the sheep.” So Peter is obedient. He is shepherding the church.
*The Kingdom is central. The miracles produce faith. They bring people to the Father. God’s will is health and salvation for all people. Peter believes this and prayed. I do not know what he prayed but I know he was aligned with the Father’s will. He wanted what the Father wants: yeshua (YHWH rescues). 
*So he prayed in faith, said with authority "get up" and it happened.

But why was Tabitha raised when so many die and are not?
I think the alms play a part. Acts 10:4 says that an angel told Cornelius "your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God." God is merciful. Alms are acts of mercy. Mercy is godliness; it is to love, to feed and to care for others. God likes when people give alms.The poor widows needed Tabitha and cried out. God hears the cry of the poor. Peter prayed. They all believed. Their hearts were aligned with God's heart. All this loving faith and trusting love opened a window for God to reach in and snatch Tabitha from death.
God's desire is health and salvation--holy, abundantly life. Hear Revelation 7: no more pain or sorrow or tears, only joyful worship and praise. Someday Death and Sin will be banished; Life and Love will reign. But until then, we have the mission, power and authority to free sinners from sin, the sick from illness and the dead from death. Most often figuratively but sometimes literally--we are told to raise the dead.

God’s desire is always the same. He is always available.
If we do not have the same results as Peter, it is not because of God. 

Do we want what Peter wants?
Do we trust as Peter trusts?
Are we aligned with God as Peter was?
Do we truly desire signs and wonders for God's glory and to bring others to faith?
We have the same spirit in us that was in Peter---the Spirit of God.
We have the same mission as Peter and the same resources.

God can reconcile sinners through us!
God can heal the sick through us!
God can feed the hungry through us!
God can set people free from demons through us!
God can raise the dead through us.


And if that sounds impossible then let me remind you, the lack of faith is sufficient to prevent it. And, FYI, someone in this parish has raised the dead.

For those interested in further study see "Redeem Your Sins By the Giving of Alms: Sin, Debt, and the "Treasury of Merit" in Early Jewish and Christian Tradition" Gary A. Anderson in Letter and Spirit 3 (2007):39-69

Found at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology in Steubenville.
www.letterandspirit.org

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bible Reading

Today in class I reviewed the first few chapters of Exodus. I reminded the class that when we approach the scripture it is literature--ancient literature--which means it is communication. Understanding the author's intent and marveling at the author's skill is part of reading. Listening for God's voice is fundamental.

Exodus is literature about the saving events of Israel in Egypt. However, it is written long after that fact and there are many layers of meaning in the text as composed. The literature is "revelation", God pulling back the veil so we see His face. At one layer, there is the narration of the slaves rescued from Egypt. This is the definitive foundation of Israel's understanding of God.

However, as Paul makes clear ("the veil is lifted in Christ") the Bible finds its deepest meaning in the person of Jesus. Hence, we say that Jesus fulfills (Greek word means 'to fill up') Scripture because in His life we come to truly understand what the Jewish Bible is telling us. Exodus is about more than the escape from Egyptian oppression. In Jesus we find out how much more.

Lastly, and in a sense the more pressing approach, is contemporary application. This is where you and I encounter the text not as communication about or to another, but as a direct address to us from God. We encounter ourselves in the text as well.

The land of Egypt becomes a paradigm for any place where freedom is trampled and oppression and violence hold sway. It is a place of slavery--physical, emotional or spiritual. We can look at the Hebrew slaves and recognize not a person in dire straights, but an entire people. The dire circumstances are all the worse because it encompasses the whole group. No one has a reason for hope. It is into that situation that God enters, declaring "I have seen, I have heard, I know, and now I remember my promise and commitment (covenant) and act to rescue you!" This is a word of God to us in our time. It reveals the character and nature of God; we know Who He is and how He acts. It is a source of hope. This is not idle gossip about the good fortune of another or the details of a disconnected history lesson---it is also our encounter with The One Who rescues His people! One of the Hebrew words for this, jeshua, YHWH rescues, is also the name of Jesus. It is the deeper meaning of the text.

Moses is an example of sin in this first encounter with God. In the face of his calling Moses offers doubts and reasons why it cannot work. He focuses on the problems and the obstacles, clearly ignoring the key component of the entire process: YHWH God is with us. "I am with you" means Moses is not alone. Moses serves to illustrate our own inner vacillation and failure to believe. He illustrates the face of sin; not murder or rape or theft--nothing dramatically criminal. Instead Moses illustrates the most nefarious of sins: to not believe God. From unbelief springs up every other malady. In seeing Moses here we see ourselves--our reasonable, rational, calmly calculating selves, as we embrace the sin of doubt and unbelief. Moses is me. And you. Moses is the metaphor for the "flesh" (fallen and sinful--self centered). This "reading" of Exodus 4 runs counter to the general image of Moses, and well it should. We are looking at the text and applying it to our contemporary setting, which means, in this instance, it serves as a parable, a story to give insight into the Kingdom. In a real sense, when one approaches the chapter in the third way, the historical aspects are irrelevant. Moses serves only as a literary model when we apply the reading to our contemporary situation to hear revelation.

Yet if Moses serves a the model of sin, so also he is the model of faith. Moses does, finally, do as God commands. He encounters Pharaoh. Pharaoh, the representative of Egypt's gods and a man whose own status totters on the brink of divinity, is the type of the other two dimensions of the "unholy trinity": the world and the devil. As representative of the gods of Egypt (which Paul says do not exist, although the gods 'do exist' in that they are demons), the oppressive power of Pharaoh is the world in all its horror. Standing against God (antichrist) and threatening the faithful. Pharaoh does not know God, he will not obey God and he makes things worse for God's people. That is part of the curse of creation. Human dominion is twisted at cross purposes with God's plan. His rule is subverted by the powers of the kingdom of darkness. He is "forced" to intervene with rescue (salvation, redemption) from heaven through His emissary (Moses in this case). The powers that do not know God work against us in our journey of faith. And when things get worse, and they got much worse, the faithful ones are at risk of losing faith. As the Hebrew slaves suffer under more intense demands (gather the straw to make bricks but continue production at previous levels) they turn against Moses and Aaron. Moses then utters a most honest prayer, but not an ideal one. "Why?" he asks God. Why are things worse? Why did you send me? Why aren't you doing anything?

This, to me, is why the contemporary reading is an important addition to the reading of the text in terms of ancient Israel and as prophecy about Jesus. One can know the former but reduce the narrative to empty gossip about other people in other times. Look at how Moses fails. Look at those faithless Jews! Or one can enjoy clever exegesis and make all sorts of beautiful connections to the story of Jesus, which has great value theologically, but can remain head knowledge and ideal. To see myself (in Moses) as the servant of God who is easily discouraged and blames the Lord is existential. I feel the sense of worry or fear. I understand the impatience, the expectation of a magical God who will flatten every hill and raise every valley and make the rugged way easy. Easy. That is the temptation of believers (running contrary to Jesus who makes no such promise, carrying His own bloody cross ahead of us). If Moses expected the prophetic task to be quick and successful, he was disappointed. As he blames God for the failure, we see and hear our inner self. Impatience is a function of unbelief. Anger at God is a sign of loveless and untrusting spirits. Yes, we understand the human emotions and reactions in the face of unexpected hardships and challenges, but we must also be clear. Our struggles are a function of thinking God cannot be trusted, that He is not true, that present circumstances are in fact an indication of His ineffectiveness. Moses accuses God (much as Adam did in the first sin-- "the woman YOU gave me did it"). We must be aware of our own expectations about things. We who serve God must hesitate to believe the happy-clappy stories which would have us think that if we are on God's team it will be smooth sailing. Exodus shows us that initially, God on our side made things much worse for our side.

But there are more chapters, things tend to change...
another lesson from Scripture; "better days are coming!"
And Scripture, while it is primarily about God and Israel and about Jesus, is also about us, today. God's revelation.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Loving Jesus

In John 21:1-19 we read that Jesus showed Himself again to the apostles.The account provides us with a reminder that while Jesus is among us, risen from the dead, we do not see Him. He must manifest Himself. The resurrection appearances are different from the rest of life. The Lord is not present in the same way at all times. In fact, seeing Jesus is not the norm, then or now.

The Lord's resurrection appearances are often connected with food and eating. Here Jesus laid out fish and bread for their breakfast--is it a reminder of the multiplication miracle and metaphor for Eucharist? Clearly it demonstrates God's Providence--Jesus provides food. Feeding is a fundamental image of loving; a nursing mother is the iconic expression of that truth. The child literally consumes the mother, even as the Believer consumes Jesus in bread and wine at eucharist. It is a mystery, but a very mundane and ordinary mystery. To love is to feed another. 
****

"Do you love me?" Jesus asked Peter. Once, then again and again...
Is Jesus letting Peter balance the books for the triple betrayal? Is it a solemn ritual establishing Peter as chief shepherd? Probably both. Can it serve as a metaphor for the larger church; including you and I? Yes. in John's Gospel there are always levels of meaning. Like Peter, we betray Jesus, yet He entrusts us with an apostolic ministry!

Do you love me? Jesus asks us.
"Yes we love you!" we correctly respond. We know the right answer, so we say it: "Yes, we love you Jesus!" But it is the answer of unreflective piety.

The second question gives us pause. It invites us to ponder. Repeating the question confronts our hearts, "do I really love Jesus?" The second time the answer is more humble, even tentative. "Yes, I love you, or hope I do."

Then the third time... Peter was hurt to be asked a third time. What caused the pain? Was he hurt because he thought Jesus doubted, or was he hurting because he felt the love deeply---with all it entails? The third response is the authentic response.

"I love you. I really love you. I love you so much it hurts!"

So each of us is also invited into a level of personal relationship far beyond the safety of religion. It snatches out of the business of "going to heaven?" and places us in a face to face encounter with Jesus, who proceeds to turn our world upside down.


"Yes I love you Lord" receives no promise of salvation. It is not an invitation to intimate encounter or mystical bliss. This is rather unexpected really, especially when I think of the way most Christians view Jesus. Loving Jesus becomes not an end but a starting place! "If you love me feed my sheep."

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He loves His sheep. Why would we think that loving Him would ever be a 'one on one' relationship? If the Lord "lays down His life for the sheep" why would we think He then abandons them to provide us spiritual peace and comfort, or private salvation? What most of us think about responding to Jesus may be unbiblical, even if it is rather appealing to the western individualism which blinds us to so much in the Middle Eastern language of the Gospel (and bible).

One confusion in our society is the idea that my personal relationship with Jesus is not related to others. I hear it all the time from people who prefer churchless Christianity. It is currently almost viewed as noble to love Jesus and disdain the church these days. The sinners inside the church are somehow seen as justification to abandon the church; as if the world had no sin... "Me and Jesus are good" people say to me regularly, as they live lives in isolation assuming that they love Jesus so He is satisfied.... Peter is told each time: if you love Me then love others. To love Jesus is to feed and care for the sheep. Feed them. Watch over them. Lead and guard them. And let's be clear, the sheep are the church and the sheep are Israel.

Loving the invisible Jesus can be a fantasy. Feeding and tending the flock is completely real. Like a nursing mother we give our own selves to them--our time and energy. They consume us. It costs us. It makes us weary. It is the role of the church as defined by Jesus!

As Jesus promised, Peter lost control of his life. So have we. It is a strange blessing. Jesus loves us beyond our imaging. Jesus wants us to love Him, but He knows the best way to love Him is by loving others. We are called to a life of sacrifice in imitation of the One Who was sacrificed for us. At least in this reading, the Good Shepherd wants us to feed and tend the sheep. This is why outreach matters. It is what Jesus wants from those who love Him.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Exodus 6

If chapter five ends with worry about God's actions on behalf of Israel (seems worse now that God is involved!), chapter six begins with a promise that all will be well. In 3:19 The Lord tells Moses that He knows Pharaoh will not allow the people to go with out a chazak yad (strong hand), here that expression is repeated twice; however the ambiguity of Hebrew means that the Pharaoh may drive Israel out with a strong hand (meaning he can't get them out fast enough) or that a strong hand (God's or Moses') will force him to release the people. (this type of verbal ambiguity is a common feature of the Hebrew text)

Verse 2 seems to introduce a different version of the story, including a claim that contradicts Genesis. (Scholars theorize that this is part of the Priestly account.) The Lord confronts Moses and tells him His Name. One reason scholars see another hand at work is found in v3 where He says, "I was not known to them by my name YHWH. Friedman points out that Genesis 13:4 ("There Abraham called out the name YHWH), 15:2 (Abraham said, "My Lord YHWH..."), Gen 22:14&16, Isaac in Gen 26:2 and 26:25 (Isaac build an altar and called out the name YHWH) and, finally, at Jacob's vision of the ladder Gen 28: 13 (YHWH was standing over against him. He said, "I am YHWH, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac) and 28:16 (Jacob said, "YHWH is in this place and I did not know it.") In the Priestly account the name is revealed to Moses but not the Patriarchs. From Friedman's perspective, the covenant with Noah is with elohim (GOD), with Abraham it is El Shaddai  and henceforth, the covenant name is YHWH (see the next verse!).

"I am YHWH" follows a common verbal pattern found in ancient Near East documents in reference to kings and deities. (Alter) It concludes with the affirmation that Israel will know He is YHWH God when He delivers them. As in 2:24, this account connects the intervention of God to the three Patriarchs, here identifying Himself as El Shaddai (translated as "Mighty God"--it occurs six times in Genesis. Half of the 48 OT uses of the word occur in Job. It comes from the root to destroy, powerful destruction. Jeremiah has this term many times). Here God hears the cries and remembers the covenant. The second of the three declarations ("I am YHWH") follows, using four active verbs to express what His powerful presence will mean. YHWH God will "bring you out from under," "rescue" (natsal-snatch away, rescue, save), "redeem" (ga'al- next of kin who redeems a slave) and "take you" (this verb will occur in the genealogy indicating marriage). The special relationship (My people//your God) is often expressed in marital, adoptive, or parental terms.

6:9 The narrative has a different explanation of events. Moses speaks to Israel but they do not listen because they had "short spirit" and heavy labors. Undeterred, YHWH speaks to Moses and to Aaron and tells them to speak to Pharaoh. Moses response is similar to previous account, although here he says that he has "uncircumcised lips." The exact meaning is unsure and much debated--with a wide possibility of meanings. Generally, uncircumcised is an indication of outsider status (not part of Israel) and when applied to "other" body (e.g. uncircumcised heart) refers to a lack of openness and faith/faithfulness to God. It does seem to function as an expression of a "barrier" to success which explains Israel's failure to respond (and a worry Pharaoh won't either). Without direct response to Moses. YHWH then addresses both he and Aaron. God tsavah (command, used 517x in Bible) them both to Israel and Pharaoh to bring the Children of Israel out of Egypt. The entire section seems to be another version of the call narrative in Exodus 3, (identified as another source) but functions now as an intensifier.

Suddenly a genealogy appears, which begins with Reuben and Simeon (first two sons of Jacob) but focuses on Levi. The purpose is to explain the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. The wording "this is the Moses and Aaron who..." (6:26-27) makes it sound like the genealogy came from another place. The names of the parents are given (Amram marries his father's sister Jochebed) finally. The function of genealogy is to legitimize the person based on their lineage.

The chapter concludes with a reiteration of sort of the verses prior to the genealogy, with the exception of Aaron's name. The "I am YHWH" and 'uncircumcised lips' is repeated. The flow of the story continues into chapter 7.