Browsed by
Tag: Exodus

Exodus 31:12-17 – Daily Bible Study

Exodus 31:12-17 – Daily Bible Study

As I continue my posts on the Daily Bible Study readings for this week’s Sunday School lesson, I come to what may be, for many, a somewhat more troubling passage. It’s not that the passage mandates no work on the seventh day of the week, though that bothers some, but more that the penalty for violating this law is death.

This frequently brings on the standard Christian response, which is dismissal: This is from the Old Testament, so we don’t have to worry about it. The big problem with that is that, by incorporating themes from Hebrew scripture into the New Testament and by basing any number of beliefs on it, Christianity has accepted this as part of our history, and part of our scripture.

We face the fact that most of us work on the seventh day. Certainly by rabbinic definitions, but also by practically any definition, I have already worked on this seventh day. Some of the actions involved in posting this blog count as work. So I have violated a law from the scripture.

I grew up as a Seventh-day Adventist, so I have another perspective from which to look at this. I grew up refraining from work, as we defined it (which differed from rabbinic definitions). Some Seventh-day Adventists have told me they believe I left the church because I didn’t like the Sabbath. This is quite incorrect. The Sabbath is one of the things I miss about the Seventh-day Adventist community. I don’t actually believe this is a command applying to Christians, so I do not feel obligated, but there was a great value in the obligation to rest at specific times.

I believe the New Testament view would make all time sacred to God and all time to be used by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I see a violation in failing to take the appropriate rest, not in the keeping of a specific day. This is because there has been a revolutionary shift brought on by the death and resurrection of Jesus. But this is not my primary topic.

The focus of this statement of the Sabbath command is on God as the creator. This is quite frequently the case, such as in Genesis 2:1-4a and the Sabbath command in the Ten Commandments. The rest is tied to the creator. The authority for the rest is tied to creative activity. This is a theme repeated from most of our scriptures this week. God, as creator, asserts God’s power as legislator.

In Israel, this law was particularly tied to idolatry, which, as we have seen in other scriptures this week, is a fundamental sin. The most attractive form of the temptation to idolatry is the temptation to attribute divinity to what is created. The sun, for example was seen in much of the ancient near east as the god of justice. This is why Psalm 19 asserts God’s authority over justice, and his creative and controlling power over the sun itself.

I could discuss the nature of and use of the death penalty, but I’m going to avoid that on this occasion, except in the sense that it emphasizes the importance of the command in question. Idolatry separates one from God in a way that nothing else can. Nothing else can do so — logically — because all the other ways we might think of separating ourselves from God turn out to involve idolatry.

When, for example, I do not rest as God would direct, and do not maintain my health, I am putting my own labor above God. This is a form of idolatry. I am more concerned with my own activities than I am with that Ultimate Concern.

Thus the Sabbath command was very much central for Israel, and the thing to which it points—constantly reminding ourselves that God is Creator and the true Ultimate Concern, remains central for us.

A Moment with Brevard Childs on Exodus

A Moment with Brevard Childs on Exodus

I’ve appreciated the work of Brevard Childs since I first encountered him via his Isaiah volume in the Old Testament Library series.I just finished with the first section in his Exodus volume (see below), and I have to say that I find it even better. Childs takes note of source and redactional issues, but subordinates them to hearing the text as a part of the canon.

Sections view the text in its Old Testament/Hebrew Bible context, its New Testament use, history of exegesis and finally theological reflections.

Admittedly, many pastors would find it difficult to follow all the material, but the time taken to think both broadly and deeply about a passage will produce a reward in understanding and the ability to share one’s reflections with others.

I may review this book when I have read it through, but the start was so rewarding that I wanted to comment immediately.

When Theology Overrides Story

When Theology Overrides Story

Jody and I were reading the Lectionary passages for next Sunday this afternoon, and I was reminded about how our theology can keep us from reading Bible stories. I think it’s also easy to let our theology trump the theology of a Bible writer, but stories don’t have a one-to-one relationship to theology in the first place.

The story in this case comes from Exodus 32:1-14, in which Moses is on the mountain talking to God and the Israelites decide he won’t becoming back. (The story is repeated in the reading from Psalm 106.) So they make and worship the golden calf. God becomes angry with Israel, but Moses steps in and persuades him not to destroy the Israelites, even though the alternative is that God will make a great nation of his descendants instead.

There are two points here that bother different people. Is this picture of God true and/or helpful? Do we serve a God who becomes angry at people and determines to wipe them out? There are, of course, many other stories that raise the same questions as well. On the other hand we are presented with a God who can be persuaded to change his mind. Moses calms God down, so to speak.

If you’re of some sort of Calvinist persuasion, you’ll likely be OK with the angry God who wants to destroy the Israelites. God’s anger against sin is a key part of that theology. But what about God changing his mind? It’s very likely that this will be dismissed as somewhat of a ploy, perhaps a test of Moses. Will he stand for the people he leads? And of course God knows the results of that test. But actually calming God down or making God actually change his mind is inadmissible.

On the other hand, if you’re like me, and tend to favor something along the line of openness theology, the latter point is easy to accept. God repents regularly in scripture. So this experience tends to mesh with my own theology that has God interacting with human beings in deciding their destiny.

Yet many people who share that theology are very uncomfortable with God becoming angry with his people. So in this case one accepts the changeability of God, but not the anger. The anger is dismissed as coming from an excessively primitive view of God.

I would suggest that in both cases theology prevents an authentic reading of the story. We need to let the story speak first. There is a sense of tension here. God has brought his people out of Egypt, only to have them credit that to an entity they themselves have created. God is, in the terms of the story, rightfully angry. There is the real risk, from the storyteller’s point of view, of the people being destroyed. In fact, it might well be quite reasonable for God to do that.

There is also a real test of the character of Moses. If our theology didn’t interfere, we’d feel the tension better as Moses has a choice to make. Will he be the leader who identifies with, and serves the best interests of those he leads? If he does so, will God change his mind?

How we work the story into our theology is another matter, but must come later. Let the story speak first.