bible blog 693

This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:

ALL FAITHS IN FRANCE UNITED IN GRIEF AT KILLINGS

EXODUS 3

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ 11But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’  

The Divine Name Revealed

13 But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ 14God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’* He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ 15God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord,* the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:
This is my name for ever,
and this my title for all generations.

All that is good and much that remains bad in the faith of Israel is revealed here. Here is the personal God who communicates his holy will to human beings. God is present but not available. Moses has to respect God’s otherness. God communcates through an object but the object is not to be confused with God. God remembers the faith of the ancestors but his faithfulness to them is shown in his intervention now, in the present, to create a future for his people. God has seen the suffering of his people and has  come down to rescue them. God risks his honour by “coming down to rescue,” but by that very act displays his otherness: his godness is epressed in justice. When Moses asks “who am I?” God answers by revealing who He is. The hebrew “ehyeh asher ehyeh” is difficult to translate. It could mean “I am who I am” or “I am who I will be” or “I will be who I will be.” In all cases God’s freedom to be God is asserted. He will not give a name which offers his people power over him but rather an ambiguous name that promises surprises, one of which is his summons to Moses.

The name God gives is linked to the sacred Hebrew name for God, “Jahweh” which came to be so sacred that it could never be spoken. When it was written the vowels of the Hebrew “Adonai” Lord, were attached to it, so that even in the reading of scripture the holy name would not be spoken. This is, as it were, the personal name of God, whereas other terms used in Scripture, like God and Lord are designations. The keeping holy or hallowing of God’s name, that is, God’s character as revealed to humanity, remains a special concern of Jews, Christians and Moslems. The first petition of Jesus’ prayer is, “May your name be hallowed.”   

The Hebrew name of God, the "four letters"

All this is profound revelation which emerged from generations of passionate reflecttion by Israel on the Moses stories, and is now packed into this narrative in Exodus. But the promise to Israel is there in all its bluntness: God will give to his people a land which belongs already to others. How can the promised land be God’s to give away? How can the God who rescues people from injustice commit a new injustice by guarranteeing them a land which is not theirs? The brutal assertion of modern Israel’s right to Palestine and her right to displace Palestinians, is rooted in this scripture. Historians tell us that Israel’s occupation of Canaan was neither as swift nor warlike as the Bible relates. Maybe not, but this narrative depicts God as the One-who-favours-Israel’s-land-grab.

When theologians tell me that the book of Exodus reveals the God of liberation and justice I remind them that it also reveals the God of  conquest and ethnic cleansing. Only by reading Exodus in the light of Christ, that is, only by criticising its revelation of God in the light of the Crucified One, can I receive it as a word of God.

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