Questions for going deeper with the Scriptures for Sunday, September 30th
Is God really there for and with us? If so, shouldn’t life be easier? Shouldn’t we not suffer? Since we still suffer, struggle and live in strife, does that mean that our hope is misplaced in God? That God is unloving? Or that God is impuissant to save, protect and heal us? Theologians call this existential question that of THEODICY: is God good? Is God all powerful? If so why is there evil? If not, how can God be God? Today’s passage tells the return of Moses to Egypt, his initial confrontation with Pharaoh, and what seemed to be a great failure in the eyes of the enslaves Israelites. The Israelites only see the bricks their made to make. God sees something else: the bricks with which God wants to build a new land, a new people, a new hope.
The passage deals with Pharaoh not knowing the God of which Moses speaks. Pharaoh was himself seen as a god by the Egyptians. So his claim of ignorance is actually a claim of superiority. Pharaoh’s wisdom is based upon production. To allow the Hebrews three days off to worship their God in the desert would be a loss of production, a shut down of the production line generating the power of Egypt. For Pharaoh idleness is an expense and a liability. Granting them time off would be like giving them the straw they need to make the bricks: an added expense that reduces the bottom line of profit. For Pharaoh there is a clear hierarchy: certain people are in charge and above the others who must serve their superiors. The God of Moses is different, calling the people to Sabbath rest, structuring human life and society around rest time. For God, there is a different kind, or nested hierarchy in which greater authority and power are used to undergird those with smaller spheres of responsibility and influence. In a sense God is more about quality while Pharaoh about quantity. God is more about the process and the workers, while Pharaoh is focused on the end product. To reread this story through the lenses of unionization, Marxism or capitalism is mistaken, forcing our worldview upon an ancient story. The two opposing worldviews, that of Pharaoh and that of God, articulate different ways of valuing human life, defining the worth of life, and articulating the meaning of life. One system seems to be a catch-22 while the other points to the promised land. One has to wonder if God is seeking only to free the Israelites from physical slavery, or if there is more going on here?
In the ancient worldview of the Hebrews they thought of the heart as the center of one’s being: the place and space where the thoughts, feelings and passions of human existence come together – for us we divide it up as the soul, heart and mind.
5:22-6:9 is a linguistically rich text. God is called “El Shaddai” (or God Almighty) in verse 3 and Yahweh (or LORD/YHWH) in verse 2 and the end of verse 3. There is an implication that until now [that moment] God has only been known as El Shaddai [the God who gives blessings: life, birth, the creating God in the cosmos and the God of salvation who saves from the enemies]. But now in the time of Moses and the future liberation and exodus of the Hebrews God will be called, experienced and known as YHWH: the GREAT I AM, I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE.
Blessing often works like yeast in the world, gradually, secretly and undeniably (think of the parables of Jesus in Mark 4:26-32). Salvation is portrayed as a dramatic intervention.
In 6:6-8 there is a connection between God the GREAT I AM – and what God will do … I will fee you … I will deliver you .. I will redeem you .. I will take you to me … I will be with you …. I will bring you …. And I will give to you. Is the text implying that a new side of God will be known through the Exodus then was known before? Is it implying that it’s a different God? Will the Israelites be free when they escape from slavery in Egypt, or is in not complete until they are brought by YHWH into this new land?
Why is the expression “I am Yahweh” repeated so much? Did you notice that it frames the whole of God’s speech and occurs at the core of the passage in verse 6 to identify the purpose and result of God’s action? What is that saying about God?; about Pharaoh?; about Moses?; the Israelites?; and by extension us today?
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in this text?
2. How have you experienced God, come to know who God is in your life? As El Shaddai?; as Yahweh? As Jesus (which means God saves)? As the Spirit of God (which linguistically means the breath or wind of God)? What name do you call God? Why?
3. How is God trying to free the Hebrews? How is God trying to free us today? How might we also be enslaved in the land of bondage (what the Hebrew for Egypt means)?