Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Don’t Move Yet! Exodus 40

Ever been ready to go but not sure if you should? Ever been ready to go, loaded up, and have no idea where to go? Imagine if it was not just you on the move, but somewhere between quite a few and generally a lot of Israelites fleeing from the Pharaohnic Armies of Egypt?

Then you would grasp the spot Moses finds himself in during Exodus 40 (link). The Tabernacle is done. The Ark is done. Aaron is dressed and anointed, and the priests are ready. Now, what do we do with all of this stuff? Do we stay here at the foot of the mountain or go elsewhere? Where do we go when we leave?

As we look at this, what we see is that all of the trappings and external service can only go so far. The Israelites have constructed all of those things here. They can gather for worship. They can identify their religious leaders. They even have the Urim and Thummin and the ephod to help them make decisions.

The people have the laws to guide their behavior. They have a history and a heritage to bind their culture together. They have a strong army and a track record of victories in battle.

Yet it’s not enough.

We know this, don’t we? We go through life and we build our religious values and structures. We do this whether we are Christians or Wiccans or Tree-Huggers or Rational Empiricists. We have our locations dedicated to worship, be they mosques or fire-circles. We have our spiritual people identified, with flowers in their hair or up on a stage, surrounded by lights. We have our decision-making apparatus: we see psychologists, therapists, read horoscopes, call talk shows, watch Dr. Phil, talk to our preachers, our teachers, our mentors, and read blogs to see what we should do.

We build and furnish our tents and supply our leaders and lay out our systems. At the end of the day, though, it’s just an empty tent, filled with a thick smoke and watched over by guys in funny robes. That’s it.

That is the result of the endless circles of human-designed religion. Even of human-designed anti-religion, which is really just another religious expression, as it takes a measure of faith to posit that there is no sentience and power beyond the visible. Atheism cannot be proven any better than theism—both cross out of the realm of clear science and into the section written of after physics.

What, then, is the difference? Why are all religions not equally valid? (Not that all religions are not deserving of equal protection before the law and equal freedom of expression.) Why would one choose this religion opposed to that religion?

The answer is most clearly seen at the end of Exodus. The Israelites were not the only ones to have built worship places or outfit priests. They were the ones who had the presence of the Almighty God of the Universe to indwell their religious ceremony.

The Tabernacle and all of its surrounding materials were not built simply from human imagination or even a human attempt to impress God or gods or even fellow man. They were built out of obedience to the direction of God Himself.

Resulting from this, God then verifies that this was His command by settling on the Tabernacle in glory and power. He occupies His Tabernacle and stays there.

When the cloud that emblemized His glory moved, the Israelites moved. When the cloud stayed put, they stayed put.

The Israelites, for all of their grumblings and stumblings, did not move before God commanded and did not stay when He left. That is the right place to be.

It is how we must learn to make our decisions: do not go when God does not, and do not stay when He goes. Do not add to what He says and do not take away from it, either.

Starting off, though, we must ask ourselves this question of all our religious accoutrements: is what I have for worship truly what God has commanded, or is it created of my own ideas?

Being a Christian with a Baptist core, I would argue that the answer lies much as it did in Exodus 40, with following the directions spoken by God. Is what we are doing consistent with the Word of God?

Or have we added in other items to show off ourselves? Have we made fancy what should be plain? Or made simple what is meant to be wondrous and mysterious?

I believe that, based on the Bible as the Word of God, believers in Christ are capable of taking what is in the Word of God and following it. The Holy Spirit works in us to guide us into all truth.

If we do not ask the questions, though, we will never find the answers.. We do need to ask.

Today’s Nerd Note: Sorry to have spent so long on Exodus, counting skipped days. It’s a great book. There are several good resources on Exodus. Read widely, though, as there are many debates regarding the proper historical setting for this text.

First of all, both the ESV Bible Atlas and the Holman Bible Atlas have good sections on the Exodus. Being books of maps, these also give you a good view of routes and consideration of the various possibilities. Either of these are worth having.

Second, there are commentaries, and then there are commentaries. Generally speaking, a commentary is an effort to communicate additional information about passages of Biblical text. Some are highly academic and focus on nuances of language; some focus on history, culture, or even application points in the text. Not all are good, but few remain available that are absolutely bad.

In commentaries, a broad group is helpful if you have time. If you have time for that, though, you likely have time to pick out your own favorites. If you’re short on time, a good start is the NIV Application Commentary Exodus volume. I have read this one, and while there are points of debate, it’s still a good one.

There are additional books that examine issues like the instigation of the Law at Sinai or the Tabernacle itself. Others look at the archaeology and history of the situation. I like Free & Vos’ work Archaeology and Bible History, but there are others. One that I am still looking at is The Bible in World History by Stephen Leston. It looks good.

Good study Bible notes help. The NASB Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible, and the Archaeological Study Bible provide good notes for Exodus.

For myself, I am also blessed to have Logos Bible Software, so I have a good bank of resources there.

The critical thing about going to outside resources is this: know the text yourself. Even though most of us are not Hebrew experts, we can know the English text. Know it, and know it well. Read it in a few translations. Then, as you look at external resources, you will be more able to spot the good ones from the not-so-good ones.

The basic hint: if the book starts off by saying that Moses was a mythical figure, it’s probably not taking the text seriously. Also, if the book is excessively dogmatic that 1446 BC is the only acceptable date for the Exodus, then that one may not really open any new ground.

Look for works that take the text seriously but push your understanding. A good study resource or commentary will always push you:

It will push you in to the text.

It will push you up to the Father.

It will you out to your neighbor.

It will push you down to your knees.

If it doesn’t, then it’s a waste of your time and money.

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