Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Mummy Part II: Exodus 13

Apologies for being a day late with this. My brain power, when mixed with prescription painkillers, does odd, odd things. You would not have wanted to read what I had written!

The children of Israel are headed out of Egypt. The plagues are over, the Passover has occurred, and Pharaoh with his people have told the Israelites to hit the road, and don't let the border gates hit you in the backside on the way out! Well, mainly the Egyptians have given the Israelites gold, silver, and other luxury items to get them to leave. So, they leave.

Exodus 13 (link) begins the departure process. It does not start, though, as one might expect. We would expect the departure narrative to start with either an organizational list or a routing plan. Yet it does not start that way. It starts with this: a reminder to remember the Passover and deliverance and to sanctify to Yahweh the firstborn of all the households.

This is important for us. We so often get started on a journey and forget where we were or how we got started. It is not unwise to set our mental and spiritual GPS for "home" before we start wandering about—there may be things to venture forth and explore, but we need to be able to get home. That's vital.

Consider, for example, people who begin an in-depth academic journey with theology and Biblical Studies. There are numerous varieties of opinions out in academia to study and consider, and many of them need studied. Whether it is newer scholarship on the Exodus or evidence related to textual issues for the New Testament, these issues need competent scholarly attention. Yet if our faith is in Christ and His Resurrection, which it ought to be, then that is a "home point:" whatever other things we find, that one is non-negotiable. If I find proof the Resurrection did not happen, then I must either reject that proof or reject "home" and find a new one.

God sets, for the Israelites, "home" here. They were delivered by the mighty, outstretched hand of the Almighty God, and not by their own efforts. This is not to be forgotten. Their sheer existence as a people is centered not in merit or heroism but in the unmerited favor of their God.

The next aspect is this: the statement of God that the firstborn are to be counted as His. They do not belong to the people, they belong to God. That's interesting, because in most cultures of the time, the firstborn were the ones that received the bigger portions of inheritance, the ruling authority, and basically all the respect. Yet here, God declares that those are His, not the people's. As such, the people should recognize that the traditional social structures of surrounding countries are not going to work for them.

The chapter ends with God leading the people not by the most direct path, but rather by a roundabout journey that takes them to the edge of the Red Sea. Now, if you've seen this movie before, you know what's coming there, but that's next chapter. First we have to have this moment: God knows that the people's spirits are not fully into the Exodus. Perhaps the slavery is not as bad as it has been reported. After all, many Egyptians worked a length of time for Pharaoh every year to satisfy their obligations. It was a form of taxation that involved labor instead of cash.

So, God leads them the long way around, because the short way will be too hard for them. The long way will not be much easier—the conflict, though, will come later rather than sooner and perhaps their hearts will be ready for it. At the very least, though, they have clear guidance from the Lord God in this as they follow the cloud by day and the fire by night.

Finally, though, tucked in the middle here is a little story that hearkens back to Genesis 50 (link). Joseph had ordered that his bones be taken up from Egypt to buried in Canaan, in the land of the Promise of God. Moses and the Israelites do just that: they take the coffin and move the body of Joseph. The text gives us a 430 year time frame for the time the Israelites are in Egypt, called the Sojourn in Egypt. Yet the command is remembered throughout.

Much to our discredit, we do not remember old promises very well. We just do not have the patience for them, and so we cast them aside when they become inconvenient. Perhaps we cover that up by finding the faults of the old promise-givers. That's easy, for example, in the Southern Baptist Convention, because most of our founders were wrongly convinced that slavery was a good thing. They made unfortunate promises about slavery, and it is good those have been broken and moved past.

Yet they made other promises of carrying the Gospel to all nations—those promises should be remembered and acted upon. Many of us attend churches that were founded on the promise of being God's light in the community. How are we doing with that promise? Our nation was founded on various promises? Do we keep those?

The world changes around us, yet we cannot simply take that to mean that all of last year's or last generation's ideas are useless or that their promises are to be discarded. Let's not forget our mummy—they had the foresight years ago to leave good things behind. Let's not forget that.

Today's nerd note: (short) There are some archaeological evidences for a possible residence of Joseph in Egypt, but the jury is still out, at least based on my sources. There is a villa found in what would have been Goshen that matches the style of houses the Israelites built in the Promised Land after the Exodus. Further, there's a high-quality sarcophagus that is missing its coffin and body. Tomb robbers usually took the things that had value, and bodies did not fit the bill.

It is surmised, then, by some that this household was the house of Joseph and the body was taken by Moses. It's hard to say. One big issue with archaeology related to the Biblical narrative is called 'confirmation bias.' This bias cuts both ways: someone such as me, who firmly believes the Biblical text to be accurate, will have a tendency to leap to a confirmation, or at least an explanation, that substantiates the Biblical text. A skeptic or non-believer in the text will tend to leap to the opposite. So, I look and see "Sure, Joseph's house" while another will see "Eccentric architecture, but the Iron Age houses it's compared to weren't Israelite anyway."

So be careful. If your faith is based on the text, then keep it on the God who provided the text. You do not need weak academics to hold you together.

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