Monday, January 24, 2011

Holy Moses!

We are now several chapters into second book of the Bible entitled Exodus, so named because it chronicles the exodus of the people of Israel out of Egypt. The central figure of the book of Exodus is Moses. Although Moses was born of a young Hebrew woman, he was raised by the daughter of Pharaoh in Egypt. After murdering an Egyptian who was harassing and mistreating a Hebrew, Moses fled to Midian where he worked as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro.
The call of Moses occurs on "the mountain of God," which is referred to both as Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai. As we will see, this is same location where God will hand down the ten commandments to Moses and the people of Israel. The most memorable feature of this story is the spectacular appearance of a bush that was burning, yet was not consumed. In theological terms, this is referred to as a theophany, which is simply the appearance or manifestation of the presence of God. The burning bush is an outward and visible sign of God's power and presence. Throughout the book of Exodus, fire remains a sign of God's continual presence among the people; they are led by a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.
The most notable feature of this story is the revelation of the divine name to Moses. God refers to himself as "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," which indicates that the ministry of Moses is connected to the covenant relationship established by God through Abraham. However, when Moses specifically asks the Lord "What is your name?," the Lord responds, "I AM WHO I AM." This divine name is written in Hebrew using only four consonants - YHWH, which is referred to by scholars as the tetragrammaton (Greek = "four letters"). The divine name is usually transliterated into English as Yahweh; however, for the ancient Hebrews as well as modern Jews, the divine name is so sacred that it is not to be spoken out loud.
Another important feature of this story is the theme of imperfect leadership. Moses, like his ancestors before him, is flawed and exhibits fear and self-doubt as he wrestles with God's claim on his life. Moses has a sordid past; he is a murderer and fugitive, and by his own admission he is not an eloquent or persuasive speaker; and yet God has chosen Moses to lead the people of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt and into the promised land, the land sworn to his ancestor Abraham. As we have already discoverd in the book of Genesis, the bible is not filled with perfect and powerful heroes, but rather God chooses what the world sees as weakness in order to display his sovereign glory.

1 comment:

  1. I have a difficult time with names in the Bible, way beyond the fact I can't pronounce most of them. Your 3rd paragraph above and my Life Application Bible footnotes help and I thank you. (1)It seems to me naming a baby something that is negative just sets that child up for failure. (2) I see that God special name was needed because of all the names for the many gods back then would be confusing. The not spoken out loud seems very Harry Potter-ish. I'm not making light of the importance of the divine name for God -- just happily seeing another piece of literature pulling from the Bible and indirect as that may seem -- I think it is good.