Thursday, March 29, 2012

Yeah, that went well: Exodus 5

Exodus 5 (link) represents one of our greatest fears of following God: that we will do what God has commanded and the results will turn out badly. There is a tendency to expect that if we do what God tells us to do, everything will turn out somewhere this side of better than expected. That rainbows and butterflies will surround us and life will go swimmingly.

Except it does not work that way, does it? Real life is so much messier. Look at what happens in this situation and then we’ll come back to ours.

Moses and Aaron connect and stand before Pharaoh together. They present their case to him, and he shoots them down. He’s fairly dismissive about it, at that, with his comment of “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice?” (see today’s nerd note at the end regarding the all-capital letters)

Now, if you’ve seen this movie before, you know that Pharaoh is just tempting God by doing this. After all, how many times does the antagonist of a novel or film mock the protagonist? Especially any source of power that the protagonist claims? And then it comes right back to bite the antagonist in the end of the story. Whether it’s Humperdinck falling to the power of love or the Emperor discovering that there is still good in Vader, you just see it coming. Hobbits turn out to be the most important race in Middle Earth, Jack Ryan can save the day, and so on..

Pharaoh is the basis behind those stories, I think. Consider how often that archetype appears in Western Literature (which does include modern movies: they have as much of a place in literature as plays of the 17th century) and you’ll see just how much our world is shaped not by only the morality of the Bible but the narrative itself.

He sets himself against God here. He does so by pleading an ignorance of this particular God, that the name is not one he’s familiar with amidst all of his other gods. Then he goes out and decides that a desire for freedom of worship is a sign of laziness and that it’s time to get those blasted Hebrews back to work. In addition, he’s going to fill their spare time by requiring that they gather the raw materials that, previously, have been provided.

It just does not go well. The Hebrews are punished for missing their brick quota, Moses and Aaron are castigated by the Hebrews, and Pharaoh will not let the people go. The whole trip is just a waste, Moses might as well head back to the sheep.

Ever feel that way? That you might as well just head back to the sheep, to the old life, to where you were before you tried?

After all, you expected that standing up for God’s truth would be a good thing. That people would embrace your efforts, cheer you on, be encouragers. Then, they weren’t. Your family, though religious, was hardly supportive. Your friends now think you’ve joined a closed-minded hate group. Your bosses have suddenly found work for you every time you want to gather with the church. Oh, and now you’re starting to see politics and international relations in a whole new light and that’s not making you happy either.

This happens when we are obedient: we throw ourselves fully in reliance on God for the outcome. We are trusting Him with the results, though we may not like those results for a time.

It’s a challenge. People will mock us, even the people we thought we were helping may turn on us. Yet in the end, the question is not whether or not it works. The question is simply: Has God spoken?

He has. We do. That’s it.

Today’s Nerd Note: English translations of the Bible tend to translate the Hebrew word YHWH as LORD, although often with small capitals for the ORD. This Hebrew name is the source of Jehovah, though we generally now find that first letter should be pronounced more as a Y than a J in English. German-speakers still tend more to the J. The Name is the “covenant name” of God, used to refer to Him as opposed to the individual named gods of other religions and used specifically in many cases referring to His covenant (like a promise only bigger) with the people of Israel.

Along the centuries, for fear of violating the commandment to not take the name of the LORD (there it is again) in vain, the Hebrews took on the practice of not pronouncing the Name and substituting the word “Lord” when reading aloud. English translations borrow that practice but use the small caps to differentiate the original word.

This is slowly going away. One reason is a recognition that under the New Covenant, we do not fear the Name very much. If God revealed Himself as “Jesus” and it’s okay to use that name, why not this one? Moreover, we see YHWH used more than 6000, and nearly 7000, times in the Old Testament. Why would we not call God what He calls Himself?

The other reason is less spiritual. Rendering the traditional small-caps on webpages is not very easy, so internet sites have to either go all caps “LORD” or just “Lord.” One looks funny and the other looks no different than adonai, which means just “Lord.” It’s odd that this reason will probably be what accomplishes using the name YHWH, or Yahweh, pronounced as “Yah-way” more than the sound, theological reason.

One other aspect: there are no grounds to translate any portion of the New Testament with the Name. It’s only in Hebrew: Greek has no equivalent. No, you’re not being spiritual or clever—you’re changing the Word.

I am personally divided on this one. I recognize the need to leave behind superstitious behavior: I don’t genuflect, I boil water on worship days, I don’t typically actually “kneel” when I pray and I certainly don’t greet every brother with a holy kiss at church. So, I can see the reasoning and logic of using Yahweh.

There’s just a part of me that can’t quite get over that line. What if it really is a bad idea? There’s nothing in the Gospels that indicates Jesus told the Pharisees they were wrong for not pronouncing the Name, Paul does not list specifically that the church shouldn’t be worrying about it, and so on. I am torn in the same way, only of greater magnitude, as I was in college when Dr. Buckelew told us in an advanced speech class that we were to be equals and call him “Roy.” I didn’t do it then out of respect for the man. If I finish my academic journey and go back to OBU as a teacher with a Ph.D., I won’t call Dr. Hays “Danny,” either.

It’s a respect thing and I don’t want to act like the Holy One of the Universe has been torn down to my level. I know that He emptied Himself in the Incarnation and I can call Jesus, Jesus, but I have trouble just tossing a “Yahweh” out there. There’s my take on that.

If you want a more driven-to-change take, see Dan Phillips’ excellent treatment on this at his blog, here. Dan’s a pastor in Texas and pulls no punches with anyone, anytime.

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