Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Who/What/Where Is God? Exodus

What are your big questions for God?

A common one has to do with God's goodness and the existence of evil in the world.

It's really interesting that in the Scriptures there is a big story about God's own people suffering, of their oppression by an evil system of slavery. These people cry out to God for help, he hears their cry, and sends them someone to deliver them. It's the story of the Exodus.

There are layers and layers of insights and truths about God and life and humanity in the Exodus story. It's Israel's own story of their deliverance from Egypt and how they entered the Promised Land. What's so fascinating about the stories they retell about themselves is the raw honesty. Moses was a flawed leader. Israel was a stiff-necked and stubborn people. God got really, really angry with them. Within weeks of delivering them from Pharaoh's raging army, Moses had to talk God out of abandoning them in the desert of Zin.

There are five big stories that Israel tells about itself in the Old Testament, about their existence, about their covenant relationship with their God YHWH, and about what happened to them. Creation is the initial story of how they believe the world got started. Covenant is the heart of the story of how God brought Israel into existence. Exodus is the defining story of when Israel became a nation. Kingdom is a messy story of how Israel staggered it's way through political and economic realities. Exile is the fifth story, the very tragic story Israel tells of what happened to them due to their failure to keep the covenant they had made with YHWH.

If you want to know more about God, if you want to find better answers to your questions, you'll want to learn how to read the Old Testament. These are the stories about God that Jesus grew up with, stories about who he is, what he has done in the world, and where we can look for him to act next. Exodus teaches us that God always hears the cry of the oppressed. It also teaches us that God uses humans to deliver people from oppression. And we learn that there are humans who resist being used by God to rescue people from oppression, to help be part of the answer to their prayers. God's got to find a way to prevail using very flawed people in a very messed up world. 

Exodus is Israel's story of how God delivered them from an evil system of slavery that had oppressed them for a few hundred years. God rescued them from their demise by raising up Moses. It took eighty years for God's rescue plan to come to fruition. It would take another forty years to actually get Israel to the Promised Land. We learn that it often takes God a long time to answer prayers. Are you okay with that?

God also wanted to get his people back to the Promised Land, the ridge of mountains and fertile valleys that had been promised to Abraham all those years ago. God's work to deliver Israel out of Egypt was part of God's work to keep his part of the covenant. God proved his loyalty to Abraham by providing a rescuer like Moses to save Israel from Egypt. It's this story that helps us understand the story of Jesus and Israel and Rome.

In keeping his part of the covenant, in getting the ancestors of Abraham back to the Promised Land, God was giving his people a land where they could worship him and live according to his Way. An essential part of the Exodus story includes introduction of Torah, the Ten Commandments and all the statutes by which Israel was to live as God's community. Torah was God's gift to Israel, the instructions on how to live as the light, commands that would result in them becoming a blessing to the world. Exodus is deliverance from Egypt, but Exodus is also deliverance of Torah. 

We learn that not only does God hear the cry of the oppressed, but he responds. But his response is part of a bigger work in the world. Part of God's answer to their prayer for rescue is Torah. The people want freed from slavery, but what will they be freed TO? How will they live once they are delivered from bondage?

Torah is laws and commands and instructions on how Israel will live as a new nation with new freedom amongst the moon-worshipping, death-obsessed, empire-tyrannized nations. Keeping Torah would bring blessings for Israel and surrounding peoples. Rebellion against Torah would bring curses. For to rebel against Torah is to rebel against the God that rescued them - a real poke in the eye that cannot go ignored. 

Observing Torah helps Israel become the special nation God intended for them. If Israel became like Egypt, they would be cursed. If Israel enslaved aliens, they would become cursed. If Israel worshipped the sun and moon and idols of stone and wood, they would be cursed. If Israel stooped to justice stained by bribes and favoritism, they would be cursed. This helps explains some of Jesus' harsh words for the political and religious leaders of Israel. They were not living out Torah, God's instructions for how to live as a blessing to the world.

When you look around at the suffering today, when you look around at the prevalence of evil today, you might wonder what God is doing about it. The Exodus story reveals a lot about how God has worked in the past to relieve suffering. The Jesus story is another essential story about how God responds to evil in the world. One of the lessons we learn is that God answers prayers through the willingness of people to serve and save. Jesus is an example of someone who was willing to go to great lengths to be used by God to help set people free from evil. The big story of Exodus is still being written, it is still our story.

Maybe the next Exodus is depending on someone like you. God took eighty years to prepare Moses. Moses didn't know he was being prepared for anything until the eightieth year. God has to work in our world with people as they are, with nations as they are, with empires as they are.

God is always at work -  redeeming, rescuing, restoring. But it's a two way street - he can save us from evil, but he also saves us for good. Torah was his instructions on how to live a good life in a wicked world. If you want God's help - he doesn't just help you get out of a bad spot, he helps you get into a good place - but it's on his terms. Jesus comes to us, in our life, to both free us and to prepare us to help free others. Will you let Jesus be Moses to you? Will you let Jesus make you into a Moses for others?

Exodus is still the defining story for Israel. Do you need an Exodus? Do you need rescued? Do you need new instructions for a new life? God always hears your cry. God will bring people into your life to help answer your prayers. And God will have instructions for you to follow.

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