Friday, September 08, 2006

God's Authority in the Exodus

Well, at this rate I should be through the Bible within a few years. Anyway...

In the story of the Exodus the whole theme of human action versus the will of God breaks into open conflict. In the first couple of chapters, we get more of what we saw in Genesis. God promises the increase of Israel. Pharaoh decrees that they be kept in check. Not only does God prevail (in part due to faithful human actions), but Pharaoh's very decree leads to the positioning of Moses for his future calling.

Fast forward to Moses in the desert and we see a different mode of God's authority -- one that I passed over with Abraham when God wanted to destroy Sodom and Gommorah -- dialogue! God wants Moses to go to Pharaoh to deliver God's people. Moses doesn't want to. But rather than imposing his will (as he will with Pharaoh) God talks to Moses about it. Ultimately, Moses (like Abraham before him) gets a concession.

Then Moses goes and speaks to Pharaoh. There we learn that God's people talking to unbelievers isn't the way God exerts authority over them -- at least not in this case. So now the behind-the-scenes God of the Joseph story steps forward for an all-out smackdown.

In the Passover narrative, we get for the first time a hint of scripture making a self-reference. I've been studiously avoiding consideration of the implication of the author writing with the intention of having authority, because I wanted to wait and consider what the text itself says about itself. Exodus 12 doesn't quite give the people scripture but there is the first explicit reference to future generations being told of the things that are happening.

So, in what way does the tradition established mean to exercise authority? It says, "when your children ask, 'What do you mean by this observance?' you shall say, 'It is the passover sacrifice of the Lord, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.'" (Ex. 12:26-27) So, the intended use of the tradition is to cause future generations to remember the story of what happened. The next sentence is interesting. Moses has just finished speaking, giving instructions for the establishment of this tradition. As soon as he finishes speaking the next word of the text is this: "And the people bowed down and worshipped."

As the exodus proper comes to a close, I see this pattern developing: God's authority among the people of God is exercised primarily through God's words, whereas God's authority among the other peoples of the world is exercised primarily through what happens. This isn't always the way it works. God's authority among the sons of Jacob in the Joseph sequence is exercised through providence, and God's authority against Moses is asserted in word as well as deed. But it seems like a general trend.

God's words to the people have so far had the following basic forms: teaching (Adam and Cain), promise (Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, Joseph), dialogue (Abraham and Moses), and narrative. Of these, the narrative is the form most explicitly intended to influence future generations, and the intended influence is simply remembering of the story.

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