I am struck by Is.64:1-2, and its hope: “If only (or “O that you would…”) tear open the skies and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence…to make known your name to your adversaries, so that nations might tremble at your presence!” Such language is generated by a people who find themselves helpless in the midst of multiple trials that they cannot seem to overcome.
The Lively Lectionary Old Testament is a blog that reflects on the Old Testament text from the Revised Common Lectionary each week.
Using the imagery of Israel as sheep, and reminding them that only God is finally the shepherd, the prophet promises that the great shepherd will once again call all the sheep together, and give them rich Israelite mountain pastures (Ez.34:14), making them “lie down,” using a clear echo from Psalm 23.
The prose account of Judges 4, locked as it is into the unbreakable Deuteronomic pattern of Israelite sin, divine punishment, enemy oppression, and eventual victory by means of a savior, leading again to sin, would appear to undercut any possible literary artistry. However, a closer look reveals considerable flair within the straightjacket of the pattern.
Refusing to look at the contexts in which texts are ensconced is to run the risk of completely misrepresenting and misusing material for foolish or even dangerous purposes. Today’s reading presents such a problem.
In the central “resurrection story” wherein the Israelite slaves escape from their Egyptian captors by the power of YHWH and the servant Moses, sea and land are at the center of the story.
Deuteronomy 34 presents to us a kind of coda on the literary life of the great lawgiver, a portrait that Deuteronomy shapes throughout his lengthy book. For Deuteronomy, Moses is most especially a prophet, a role not particularly emphasized in earlier accounts in Exodus, though his calling at the famous bush becomes the very model of later prophetic calls.
In this final episode from Exodus, the question of a human conception of God is raised forcefully, and at the same time with traditional Hebrew delight.
Why is Aaron portrayed here as the enabler of human sin, as the purveyor of evil, as the maker of one of the Bible’s most notorious and memorable objects of sin? In other words, who wrote this story? On the one hand, that is a question we can never answer. On the other, a literary answer may be surmised.
Because all life is in fact God’s life, we humans take life at our peril. No killing, however it is done, and whomever is termed our foe, can never be the cause for rejoicing.
Given all that, I still must say that I have never had a “real” experience of the presence of God. I am hardly alone in my desire for some genuine evidence of God.
As the old spiritual said of Jesus during his final trial and death, “he never said a mumblin’ word.” To the contrary, the newly-freed slaves from Egypt are just full of mumblin’, more traditionally “murmuring” or “grumbling,” words, as they find themselves facing the terrifying and unyielding deserts of the Sinai.
Today’s text forms the very heart of the Israelite belief system; it is their resurrection story. On the west bank of the sea, they were Egyptian slaves, and on the east bank, after the miraculous defeat of pharaoh and his armies, they are the people of YHWH.