Lesson 14: “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Learning Outcomes:
To encourage class members to partake of the Lord’s spiritual water and bread, sustain his chosen leaders, and obey his commandments so he can make of them a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

Readings:
Exodus 15-20, 32-4

So here we are, entering that vast swath of the Hebrew Bible Mormons (hardly alone among Christians) pick their way warily around the margins of, gazing uneasily at the monumental obscurities that lie inside its verses, clinging to clichés like “The God of the Old Testament is cruel” or “Jesus did away with the Law” in order to avoid any serious grapple with the ancient strangenesses within.

In the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), 68 chapters take us to the foot of Mount Sinai. 119 chapters remain before the Children of Israel re-enter the promised land. If we wish to be a people who take scripture seriously, the very structure of the book demands we deal with those lost 119.

So: In Exodus 14 God recreates his world. In Genesis 1-2 and in Genesis 6-8 God parted waters and brought forth a new creation: here he does so again. This will happen once more when Jesus is baptized. This iteration of God’s creation is a people and a nation. In this creation, God’s salvation of his people from slavery is expanded into God’s work of justice among his people: the slavery of Egypt, God determines, will not be perpetuated again.

A few examples of this:

First: In Exodus 16, God sends Israel manna. Note how this occurs. In verses 1-3 the Israelites recall Egypt: where ‘we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted.” (A comparison to Exodus 1:11-14 makes clear this is a case­—so common—of fallacious nostalgia.)

In response God teaches them. In verses 6-8 Moses tells the Israelites that God has heard their grumbling, but his response is not punishment, but rather, gift. The Israelites will find quail and bread freely given every morning and night around their tents. Note Moses’s interpretation here, in verse 6-7: “you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord.”

The manna is the first of many, many reminders that the Israelites—as are all believers—the recipients of the unearned grace of God. God saved them from Egypt because he loved them; he gives them manna because he loves them, and that love is not earned; indeed, as verses 19-20 make clear, the Israelites are specifically forbidden from doing any work or any saving to horde or preserve or earn the manna and the quail.

This is a difficult lesson for them to learn, because they are accustomed (as per Exodus 1:11-14) to working for their food, working to preserve their lives, working to avoid the punishment of their captivity. The Israelites have absorbed the ethos of Egypt, one driven by fear of retribution and fear of failure; they believe that their work will be their salvation. God must teach them rather that God is that salvation.

Second: In Exodus 18 Moses’s father in law Jethro gently instructs Moses that the kingdom of God is not to be authoritarian. Throughout his life we have seen Moses assuming responsibility; indeed, in Exodus 2:14 he intervened to save an Israelite and is rebuked with the question “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?”

By Exodus 18 the Israelites want a ruler and a judge. “From morning to evening” (Exodus 18:14) Moses has gathered about him people seeking direction, resolution, mediation. Such did power accrue to him. Jethro is clear about this: “What you are doing is not good.” He worries that this work is too heavy for one person; he worries that Moses cannot handle it alone.

Jethro directs Moses that “You must be the people’s representative before God”—an interesting formulation. He brings their pain to God and brings to the people God’s response. But he needs about him many “capable” people with whom he can counsel and whom can help bear his burdens.

Unlike Egypt, where Pharaoh ruled absolutely, the children of Israel are to have council.

Third example: The crowning verses of this section are the Ten Commandments, in Exodus 19, and again we see God pushing the Israelites to conceive of a community distinct from the tyranny of Egypt.

Contrasting the Ten Commandments with life under Egypt makes clear the distinction. While in Egypt Pharaoh had forgotten the past and “knew not Joseph,” the Israelites are commanded to remember the one who had saved them—that “I am the Lord your God,” who brought them out of Egypt.

While Pharaoh tore families apart, the Israelites were commanded to honor the relationships between parents and children, to keep them holy.

While Pharaoh stole from the Israelites their time, their property, their labor, God commands the Israelites that they were to respect each others’ persons, each others’ lives, and each others’ property.

And, perhaps most critically, while Egypt was a land driven by gain, by work, by the creation of monuments and grandeur and glory, the Israelites are commanded to rest on the Sabbath. Their lives will not be  dominated by the ceaseless demands of work and labor; their lives will be free in the sense that there are portions of it which the market and the hunger for more cannot touch. They will have peace, while in Egypt there was only stress.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    An excellent approach to the reading; many thanks.

  2. Thanks, Matt. Excellent tips on reading the HB.

  3. Thanks. I really like this approach (which becomes “what was the lesson to the Israelites?” as the memory hook for me).

  4. Matt, this is awesome! I’m very interested in knowing how else the creation story was recreated in the New Testament. I see alot of parallels between the Fall and the Crucifixion, but have never really connected to the dots on the Creation and earlier in Christ’s life. Know of any others?

  5. Great work, Matt. Thanks for this!

  6. RWC: Sure. Matthew is packed with this sort of thing; he sends the Holy Family to Egypt so they can return, a conscious echo of the Exodus – indeed, much of Matthew’s gospel is a retelling of the story of Moses with Jesus as the progenitor of a new Israel (Herod, like Pharaoh, slaughters innocents; Jesus, like Moses, ascends a mountain to bring the law; etc). Paul similarly draws parallels between Jesus and Adam in 1 Corinthians (to show that in Jesus God is re-creating the human family) and with Abraham in Romans. And of course, the book of Revelation is packed with allusions to Genesis, from the undoing of Creation in the early chapters to the re-creation in Genesis 21-22.

  7. This is beautiful; thank you for sharing. That last paragraph really spoke to me; I’ve never grasped how the Sabbath defies the notion that everything that matters in life can be attained through [my] work and effort.