Put your behind in your past: Exodus 33
Back in the dark ages, when animated films were made by drawing picture after picture (well, cel after cel) and those were all strung together to make the movie, there was a great film called The Lion King. Now, much of the film is fully steeped in traditional, animistic religion. And there’s the idea that Darth Vader became the king of a pride of lions, only to be replaced by a Die Hard villain who has to be taken out by Ferris Bueller, but that’s another discussion.
However, in the midst of the film, there are a couple of good scenes about the idea of a person’s past. Ok, a lion’s past, but it’s an animal allegory. The story centers on a young lion who is running from his past, and how he deals with both the wrong things and perceived wrong things in that past.
The first is the wisdom of the warthog, Pumbaa, who initially tells the young lion, Leo (no, Simba) that he must “put your behind in your past.” He is corrected by the meerkat, Max Bialystock (no, Timon) that the proper phrase is “to put your past behind you.” Now, these two goofballs then give Simba the bad advice of just completely running away from the past. This is corrected by Benson (no, wait, Rafiki), the mandrill, who points out the need to learn from the past and move on with the lessons gathered there.
This combination of advice is also what we find in Exodus 33 (link). Keeping in mind that this is a blog post and not a full treatment of all of the theological ramifications of the chapter, I want to reflect on just this in the overall plotline of the narrative: for Israel, it is time to move on.
They are currently at the foot of Mount Sinai. They have had the greatest moments of direct revelation from God in those times, though they haven’t heard the half of it yet. They have seen their God, YHWH, descend on the mountain and heard His voice. It has been marvelous.
They have also failed miserably where they are. They have had the Golden Calf. They have the drunken orgy around said calf. Arrival to this place was marked with complaining and whining. In all, it’s been a mixed-bag to get here and be here.
So we find God giving the command to prepare to leave. He is dismissing the people from the mountain and sending them on to the Promised Land. This is a point, though, where Moses says “WAIT!”
Why? Because God is telling him to take the people and go. Moses, though, knows that they cannot go without God. Well, unless they want to meet utter and complete failure, they cannot go without God. He intercedes, he prays, and God states that He will indeed go with the people.
What does this have to do with us? Here it is: there are times that we must move forward from those moments in our past. There are good moments and bad moments, but we cannot always stay in the same place, whether that’s physical or symbolic. We have to move forward.
The one thing we cannot do, though, is go without God. No matter what transpires, do not attempt to move forward without the presence of God. How do you make sure of that presence?
#1: If you have never sinned, then you’re in good shape. Don’t leave His side.
#2: If you are human, then you have sinned. You need the mercy and grace of God. Guess what? So do I—there is no one who is mentally competent and an exception to this statement.
Yet the Lord God is gracious and merciful. This is one of the dividing issues between Christians and people that are not Christians. Most not-Christians see us as focusing on sin and calling people bad and evil, while most within the faith see this differently: our main view is about how gracious and merciful God is to us, even though we are all sinners. He shows that grace in Jesus dying for the sins of mankind on the Cross, and the offer of grace and forgiveness to humanity.
Whatever your past is, there is grace enough that God will go with you as you move forward with Him.
Likewise, though, however triumphant your past has been, there is a time to move forward and stay in a place where you are totally dependent on Him to make it through.
Whatever it is that is behind you, you have to realize that life is about going forward, not looking back.
Today’s Nerd Note: One of the greater mysteries of the Old Testament, especially, is situations like Exodus 33:17. In this area, what the text presents is the idea that Moses persuaded God to change His mind and go with Israel.
For some, that is just fine. However, it bothers many folks. First of all, if God is eternal and unchanging, why would He change His mind? Second, if God always does what is right, would that mean He intended to do something wrong and then corrected that when Moses pointed it out? Finally, does God actually know what is happening into the future or is He making it up as He goes?
Here is what I will tell you: God is always right, and that always is the biggest always you can imagine, squared. His plan has never changed, as you can see in Revelation where it refers to the Lamb being slain before the foundation of the world. That tells us that even before Adam and Eve sinned, God knew and planned the substitutionary atonement of Christ for our sins.
The presentation of facts here show the way things appeared from Moses’ perspective. That is part of the difference between being human and being divine. We can only act based on what we see, and we have to operate within our own concepts of time and causality.
That does not mean that God functions under the same constraints. Instead, He knows and acts without requirement of time. Rather, His actions are based in His own being and righteousness.
What that means for us is that we act as best we can, and trust God to do what He will do. We pray and preach and witness and grow and then we see what happens from there. It may just astound us.