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  • Genesis - Anabaptistwiki
    judgment and grace Genesis 11 27 25 18 The Saga of Abraham and Sarah edit Most of us read the saga of Abram Abraham and Sarai Sarah more as a series of episodes than as a single narrative Indeed the episodic characteristic of the genre shows itself more clearly in this saga than in the ancestral sagas that follow Jacob Gen 25 36 and Joseph Gen 37 50 Probably the call of Abram 12 1 4 and the near sacrifice of Isaac 22 1 19 are the best known episodes Fewer readers can recall the warfare that made Lot a hostage Gen 14 or the conflict over water rights for which Beersheba was named Gen 21 The saga of Sarah and Abraham begins not with Genesis 12 but with the genealogy in 11 27 32 Two elements stand out in this genealogy Twice it emphasizes that Sarah is barren 11 30 Will God s covenantal promise to Noah be realized If so something new must happen A second critical element follows immediately Terah Abraham s father takes the family from Ur toward Canaan However they do not reach their destination Instead they settle in Haran where Terah dies As the annotated genealogy concludes Abraham has no child and lives in an area that is not the original destination The text does not explain either the cause of the infertility or the stop in Haran Such descriptive brevity is an important feature of Hebrew narrative This brevity draws the listener reader into the story as we seek to fill in the gaps God s speech to the barren refugee family 12 1 3 promises a future where none has existed The relocation halted in Haran with Terah s death begins again by God s command This speech featuring instruction 12 1 and promise 12 2 3 directs Abraham to resume the journey toward the land that I will show you Their travel terminates in Canaan the original destination Blessing Heb brk is repeated five times in this brief speech This repetition emphasizes blessing as central to this divine promise The promise of blessing is not exhausted on Abraham and his family God has opted to use this family to bestow blessing fertility prosperity and community on all the peoples of the earth In the midst of reporting the family s arrival in Canaan Genesis 12 4 9 reiterates God s promise I give this land to your descendants 12 7 But what about this promised future The Canaanites live in the land Sarah remains barren As is common in Hebrew narrative the opening scene establishes the plot tension The dissonance between God s promise and problems in Canaan as well as the barrenness of Sarah provide the energy which drives the narrative toward its conclusion The episodes that follow illustrate the difficulty Sarah and Abraham experience as they seek to actualize God s promise of descendants and land Immediately after Abraham built an altar famine consumed the land forcing the family to take refuge in Egypt There Abraham aggravates their situation by seeking to trade Sarah for safety Prompted by divine intervention Pharaoh recognizes the problem returns Sarah and expels the renegade refugees 12 10 20 Problems continue Security in Canaan is threatened by bickering between those herding Abraham s livestock and those herding Lot s Abraham and Lot agree to separate Lot chooses the Jordan valley leaving Abraham with the hill country 13 1 18 In the hill country of Canaan conflict flares up between Abraham and his neighbors conflict that ends with a peace treaty between Abraham and Melchizedek the king of Salem 14 1 24 Be that as it may Abraham and Sarah still have no descendant and their living environment is not secure Abraham calls the problems to God s attention God simply repeats the promise this time reinforcing it with a covenant 15 1 21 The narrative then turns to the lack of an heir At Sarah s suggestion they decide to adopt a child using Sarah s Egyptian servant as their surrogate This results in conflict Harsh treatment by Sarah prompts Hagar to flee Blessed by a divine messenger Hagar eventually returns home 16 1 16 Subsequently God reiterates the promise first with a covenant and then an annunciation of a son to be born to Sarah 17 1 18 15 The fulfillment of this promise is delayed by two conflict narratives trouble in Sodom and an unexplained second sojourn in Gerar 18 16 20 18 At long last Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to Isaac 21 1 7 That further aggravates the tension between Sarah and Hagar At Sarah s request Abraham expels Hagar and Ishmael to the arid wasteland near Beersheba Hearing the boy s cry God intervenes rescuing them from dehydration 21 8 21 Sarah and Abraham have an heir Isaac However the narrative takes an unexpected and dangerous turn God puts the divine promise in danger instructing Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac What follows is the silent trip of father and son to offer a sacrifice at the sanctuary at Moriah silence broken only by Isaac s question Where is the lamb and Abraham s response God himself will provide the lamb God does provide the animal and Abraham offers the sacrifice in place of his son The narrative tension introduced at the beginning of the unit has been resolved at least to some degree Abraham and Sarah have a son confirmed by God as their heir However the promise of a secure land remains unresolved This saga concludes with testamentary activities of Sarah and Abraham including their death and Isaac s marriage to Rebekah 22 20 25 18 Genesis 25 19 36 43 The Saga of Jacob edit The saga of Abraham and Sarah began with the lack of an heir and concluded with the deaths of Sarah and Abraham This new saga begins with the birth of two sons to Isaac and Rebekah and concludes with the death of Isaac That parallelism might suggest that this be designated the saga of Isaac Be that as it may Jacob is the primary character throughout Isaac appears only in the opening and closing scenes As we expect this saga opens with the tension that defines the plot Although infertility plays a role in this narrative family conflict becomes the most serious threat to God s promise in Genesis 12 How can all the promise be realized through Abraham and Sarah s family constantly in conflict conflict that damages the relationships distant relatives as well as immediate family The basic flow of the saga is interrupted twice chapters 26 and 34 While these interruptions function to allow narrative time to pass these also feature conflict conflict with groups outside the family Chapter 26 relates for the third time an episode in which a famine forces the family to flee as refugees this time to Gerar a territory controlled by Abimelech Again the patriarch places his wife in danger passing her off as his sister This time the danger is not really dangerous Abimelech sees Isaac caressing Rebekah and confronts Isaac with his lie However a second incident increases the tension between Isaac and the people of Gerar They argue over a well dug by Isaac s servants Together these problems are settled by a formal agreement and they separate in peace 26 31 Difficult and dangerous conflict threatens the very core of the family brother against brother wife divided from husband uncle versus nephew and sister against sister Some of the family conflicts end peacefully others do not However the antagonism between the twins Esau and Jacob is fundamental to the plot Rebekah feels the twins struggle against each other even before they are born 25 22 Their conflict is fueled by Jacob s desire to be dominant even though he was born second The conflict escalates when Isaac and Rebekah each favor a different son and reaches a crisis when Jacob deceives his father Isaac stealing from Esau his first born inheritance Enraged Esau threatens to kill his brother 27 1 41 Rachel instructs her favorite son to flee 28 5 Jacob s departure leaves the brothers conflict unresolved Jacob arrives in Haran and soon finds himself in conflict with his uncle The story opens with Jacob s arrival at a shepherd s well 29 2 Never cautious Jacob instructs the shepherds to open the well and water their sheep They reject Jacob s instruction 29 8 However when another shepherd Rachel arrives Jacob greets her by opening the well watering her flocks and sealing his greeting with a kiss 29 11 Informed about the arrival of his sister s son Laban invites Jacob to stay Instead of a salary for work he might do Jacob wants Rachel Laban s youngest daughter the statuesque beautiful daughter Concerning Leah the narrator says only that she has soft or tender eyes more probable translation Laban agrees that Jacob would make a good husband for Rachel but avoids direct response to his nephew s request The conflict between Laban and Jacob bursts into flames when Jacob discovers that he has married Leah and not Rachel 29 25 Eventually Jacob marries Rachel as well but that sets up the next conflict Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah 29 30 The narrative drops the conflict between Jacob and Laban to focus on the conflict between the sisters Leah and Rachel If in the Jacob saga the good life for the male is to be the first born in the family for the female the good life requires love and fertility Unfortunately neither sister has both The beautiful Rachel is loved but barren and the ordinary Leah is fertile but not loved Both women long for the part of life they have been denied Leah expresses her longing through the names she gives her sons Reuben The LORD has seen my misery Perhaps now my husband will love me 29 32 Simeon The LORD heard that I am not loved 29 33 Eventually Leah gives up on love from her husband Judah This time I will praise the LORD 29 35 Rachel has the love her sister seeks but no child Eventually Rachel turns to the process of adoption that Sarah used when she was barren Gen 16 Rachel gives her personal attendant Bilhah to Jacob Rachel gives these adopted sons names that express her desire Dan The Lord has vindicated me and given me a son 30 6 The sisters go back and forth in an effort to obtain what they want and the other has Finally Rachel becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son But one son is not enough She names him Joseph May the Lord give me another son 30 24 The conflict between the sisters is never settled They can function as sisters but the agony expressed in the names of their sons remains unsatisfied Rachel does have another son whom she names Ben Oni son of my sorrow 35 18 As the name indicates there is no joy in this birth Rachel dies in childbirth and Jacob renames this son Benjamin Rachel the beloved wife is buried in a tomb near Ephrath Little more is said about Leah except that the unloved fertile wife is buried in Jacob s family tomb 49 31 Leaving that conflict unresolved the saga returns to the conflict between Jacob and Laban Like their initial conflict the visible issue involves Jacob s wages Once again this serves as the pretext for their struggle for dominance In the midst of their escalating battle Jacob decides to flee 31 2 Jacob s flight with his wives Laban s daughters generates a final provocation The narrator comments that Jacob stole Laban s heart by not telling him that he was leaving 31 20 Eventually Laban caught up with his fleeing family and the two men engage in a verbal battle of mutual accusation Eventually Laban not Jacob proposes that they make a covenant 31 44 not a covenant of reconciliation but a mutual nonaggression treaty 31 48 53 They agree not to cross the established stone boundary for the purpose of doing harm to the other 31 52 Laban s concluding words are used in church liturgy the Mizpah benediction May the Lord watch between you and me while we are absent from one another 31 49 Having resolved the Jacob Laban conflict with a treaty the narrative returns to the conflict that initiated the saga Esau and Jacob As Jacob begins his journey home 31 33 he sends a message to Esau indicating his desire to restore their relationship Jacob s messengers return reporting that Esau is coming to meet you with four hundred men 32 6 Neither Jacob nor the reader knows whether this is a friendly or hostile response from the one who previously said I will kill my brother Jacob 27 41 Jacob prepares a lavish gift and organizes his family for one purpose I may be able to pacify Esau 32 20 After spending a night alone struggling with God Jacob reorganizes his family placing Rachel and Joseph last but deciding that he will go first 33 3 Jacob approached his brother bowing as a servant before his master Esau responds to Jacob embracing him not as a master greets a servant but as brother to brother 33 4 This greeting similar to the one which met the prodigal son in Jesus parable Luke 15 20 happens without comment and sets the tone for their conversation The narrative does not provide a perfect conclusion Throughout their dialog Jacob refers to Esau as my master Esau responds calling Jacob my brother 33 8 9 Esau invites Jacob to return with him Jacob agrees to meet him at Seir 33 14 Esau goes to Seir but Jacob does not follow going instead to Succoth and then Shechem 33 16 17 The narrative allows the readers to draw their own conclusion about the relationship of the twins going forward Interspersed in the narrative of Jacob s journey to Haran and back are occasions when Jacob encounters God While some of these encounters involve divine instruction and or promise two meetings feature considerable drama In 28 12 18 God comes to Jacob in a dream reiterating the promise as first heard by Abraham and Sarah Filled with awe Jacob names the place Bethel the House of God and makes a vow Not surprisingly Jacob s vow is conditional If God is with me and protects me and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear and I return safely then the Lord shall be my God 28 20 21 Another even more dramatic encounter occurs at the Jabbok just before Jacob meets Esau 32 22 32 That night when Jacob was alone a certain one confronts him At the end of the confrontation Jacob realizes that he has encountered God In the midst of it however Jacob knows only that he is locked in a struggle with someone Seemingly Jacob both wins and loses He comes blessed but also crippled Jacob has won his way in the relationship but carries scars of the battle Genesis 34 provides another interlude in the saga Like the previous interlude Gen 26 this is a story of conflict with those outside the family Shechem the crown prince of his territory rapes Dinah the daughter of Leah The prince then seeks to make it right by marrying Dinah whom he loves Shechem s father Hamor asks Jacob to allow the marriage offering in return to make Jacob s family citizens of their territory Jacob s sons agree to the treaty but only if the men of Hamor s family agree to be circumcised a stipulation to which Hamor and Shechem agree When the men are still recovering from the circumcision Jacob s sons slaughter them and loot their city Obviously this conflict with the people of the land does not end peacefully The concluding chapter 35 of the saga includes a wide variety of material functioning as testamentary activities The construction of a sanctuary brings the family together at Bethel and confirms Jacob s name as Israel 35 1 16 Rachel s nurse Deborah dies Benjamin is born and Rachel dies 35 8 16 20 The saga concludes with Isaac s death The twin brothers whose conflict drove this narrative join to bury their father 35 28 Lest Esau s role be forgotten the epilogue to the saga lists Esau s genealogy Gen 36 Genesis 37 1 50 26 The Saga of Joseph edit More than the other sagas of Genesis the Joseph saga comes to us as a short story novella The narrative is relatively complex Characters move in and out of the drama We are given a glimpse into the private feelings of Joseph The story takes Joseph from youth to death The life of his family mixes with the national politics of Egypt As in the other sagas lists and tales interrupt the flow of the main plot for example the brief narrative of Judah and Tamar Gen 38 and the testamentary blessing by Jacob Gen 49 This saga uses both Jacob and Israel as the name of Joseph s father probably reflecting accounts of this story told in different locations and times In the tradition the name Jacob most often refers to the ancestor and Israel to the community of his descendants The use of both in this story reminds us that this is both a family and a community story The introductory tension that carries the plot is located in the interaction between Jacob his favorite son Joseph and his other sons Again God s promise in Genesis 12 1 3 appears to be endangered by troubling family dynamics Jacob provides a royal cloak for the son of his favorite wife unmatched by anything given his other sons For his part Joseph brings his

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  • Exodus - Anabaptistwiki
    Moses can bring his people to the mountain of God from which God had earlier dispatched him to Egypt Here Jethro appears on the scene again bringing along Moses wife and two sons Gershom and Eliezer Moses reports to Jethro the great acts of God experienced by Israel upon which Jethro presides at a sacrificial ceremony and a banquet of praise for God s deliverance of Israel Thus Jethro welcomes Moses people to the shepherd life just as he had earlier welcomed Moses When Jethro Moses and the elders of Israel worship God together 18 12 the sign promised in 3 12 is fulfilled Earlier Moses could begin a new and normal life routine in Jethro s family 2 20 22 3 1 Now Moses and Israel are helped by Jethro s guidance to make provision for an ordered life in the future 18 13 26 When Jethro leaves we feel that all is well with redeemed Israel Exod 18 1 27 Commentary 223 229 Janzen 2009a 4 The Commissioning of Israel Exodus 19 1 40 38 a Covenant and Law 19 1 24 18 Theophany 19 1 25 After the tranquil homecoming and settling into desert life reported in chapter 18 Israel is jolted into a new role by a unique encounter with God Moses experience with God at the burning bush and his subsequent commissioning 3 1 12 is in a sense repeated here for all Israel After a great theophany experience of God s holiness accompanied by thunder lightning and fire proceeding from the cloud covering the mountain Israel is called by God into a covenant and sent on a mission It is to become a priestly kingdom and a holy nation to the rest of the world 19 6 This is to happen through a life centered on God Israel s rightful Master in its midst Sinai theophany tabernacle issuing in a life modeling holiness otherness among the nations through obedience as prescribed for Israel in the Ten Commandments 20 1 17 The people tremble in awe and ask Moses to be the intermediary between them and God Exod 19 18 21 Moses accepts this task and receives more laws and ordinances from God the so called Book of the Covenant 20 22 23 33 Thereupon he leads Israel in a covenant conclusion ceremony that includes a communion meal and a blood ritual 24 1 11 Then he follows God s order to ascend the mountain to receive further divine instructions Law and the Decalogue Ten Commandments 20 1 21 With the Ten Commandments and the Book of the Covenant we enter the study of the vast and complex subject of OT law It is of utmost importance therefore first to clarify certain crucial aspects regarding the nature and function of law in the OT 1 More important than anything else is the place of the law in God s leading of the people Out of freely extended love and in keeping with earlier promises to the ancestors Abraham Isaac and Jacob God has set Israel free from Egyptian slavery and preserved it in the wilderness Only then does God give Israel the law Torah and asks for a commitment to it in the context of the covenant In other words law follows grace or better law is a new form of grace Law is not the basis of Israel s salvation but just as in the NT the invitation to respond to the salvation experienced 2 The law headed by the Decalogue is there to map out the gist of the new life with which Israel is to respond to God s salvation All bodies of law in the OT prominent among them the Book of the Covenant Exod 20 22 23 33 Leviticus 19 and 25 and other laws in Leviticus Numbers and the Deuteronomic Code Deut 12 26 represent more or less detailed samplings or instances that illustrate how this new life might look while none attempts to cover all areas of life 3 The Decalogue also represents a sampling Even though Christians often think of it as a charter covering all of life many important areas of life are not represented in it A comparison with Leviticus 19 is instructive That chapter partly overlapping with the Decalogue additionally includes laws providing for the poor vv 9 10 protecting the handicapped v 14 calling for love of neighbor v 18 and protecting the stranger v 33 All these concerns are integral both to OT ethics and to the teachings of Jesus but they are not explicitly listed in the Decalogue Thus as already stated the Decalogue wants to sample God s will and not to provide comprehensive legal coverage 4 This sampling and almost random but see notes on You below selection of laws is also reflected in the literarily uneven appearance of the Decalogue s commandments Some are brief and terse others long some are negative others positive some have explanatory motivational clauses while others do not Scholars attempts to reconstruct a set of brief symmetrical and negatively formulated commandments Thou shalt not have not been successful Even the number ten though intended cf 34 28 is not easy to apply Catholics Anglicans and Lutherans for example count verses 3 6 as one commandment and divide verse 17 into two while the Orthodox and Reformed traditions separate verses 4 6 from verse 3 and count verse 17 as one 5 The Decalogue can nevertheless claim a certain preeminence over other law collections a preeminence of function rather than of content see Janzen 1994 87 105 This is indicated by the following observations The Decalogue stands first in the proclamation of God s will at Mt Sinai According to Exod 20 18 21 cf Deut 5 22 33 it alone was spoken by God directly to Israel All other laws were mediated through Moses It is the only OT law code that is made up solely of absolute requirements without attached conditions and prescriptions of punishments technical term apodictic law The other codes include mostly laws stating specific conditions and punishments case law or casuistic law as for example in Exod 21 28 32 When if then As mentioned above the intended number ten does represent a certain claim to completeness Heb Ten Words Exod 34 28 It suggests that we have here a complete and adequate sampling of God s will even if not a set of laws covering all areas of life For a position according the Decalogue an even greater foundational centrality see Miller 2009 The Book of the Covenant Covenant Code 20 22 23 33 God s instructions are expanded beyond the Ten Commandments to include a variety of laws although this term may lead to misunderstanding Exod 21 1 introduces them as mišpatim laws NIV ordinances NRSV rules JPS While some may have functioned in judicial contexts others may have been applied more informally Meyers 2005 180 182 They are transmitted to Israel through Moses either verbally or perhaps read from a text prepared in advance The latter possibility is suggested by the reference to Moses reading the book of the covenant 24 7 a reference that has also provided the title for this collection Both the Decalogue and the Covenant Code outline by sampling the nature of the new life in covenant with God Some scholars consider the Covenant Code to be an exposition of the Decalogue Fretheim states As a whole it the covenant Code draws out the implications of the Ten Commandments its introductory foundation Fretheim 1991a 239 But while there is some overlap of form and content the two collections are also quite different from each other Therefore I attach greater weight to the observation that the Decalogue primarily addresses life in the extended family bet ab father s house as implied in 20 1 2 4 6 while the Covenant Code primarily focuses on the welfare of the clan or village community mišpaḥah often mistranslated family Thus the sampling of the new life under God is extended in the Covenant Code from Israel s basic living unit the extended family to its next larger unit the clan village Commentary 253f 285 289 Probably Durham is right when he emphasizes that this Code is not held together by any consistent organizational pattern but rather by the theological assertion that all these laws are Yahweh s will for the people committed to him Durham 318 The Book of the Covenant Covenant Code contains some absolute commands apodictic laws like all those in the Decalogue without attached conditions or punishments especially in the second part 22 21 23 19 The first part 21 1 22 20 on the other hand is characterized by case laws casuistic laws prescribing specific judgments in carefully defined situations The Code shows no fully clear and generally accepted subdivisions Some interpreters find in the Covenant Code a systematic interpretation of the Decalogue so that its subsections relate to specific Decalogue commandments a view that is not convincing to me A striking feature of the Book of the Covenant is the close resemblance of several of its laws to laws found in extra biblical ancient Near Eastern law codes most famous among them the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi from ca 1700 BCE These other codes consist of laws governing daily life or civic laws By contrast the civic laws in the Book of the Covenant are framed 20 23 26 23 32 33 and interspersed with e g 22 28 31 religious prescriptions In Israel right living always considers both God and neighbor Other important differences from ancient Near Eastern codes are the Covenant Code s high valuation of life as compared to property the way it downplays class differences although the existence of slaves is recognized and the virtual absence of bodily mutilation as a form of punishment Some of these distinctives are undoubtedly due to the impact of Israel s experiences of God s revelation especially the deliverance from Egypt It would be a mistake however to overemphasize the differences between these OT laws and their ancient Near Eastern counterparts Israel lived in the same geographical and cultural context as the surrounding nations and consequently faced many similar situations and problems In cases where certain ancient laws had helpfully regulated life for some of these nations there was no reason why Israel should have distinct provisions Such laws constituted God s will whether or not the peoples living by them knew and worshiped the one God Thus they were properly incorporated into the covenant stipulations and placed under Mosaic authority In general the Book of the Covenant reflects clan village life after Israel s settlement in Canaan It presupposes sedentary agricultural existence rather than nomadic life In its present form the text gives particular attention to proper judicial practices and decisions for use at the village town gate in the context of the assembled men led by the elders cf Deut 21 18 21 There is no reference to a king nor any evidence of royal administration These features may be due to the Code s early time of origin even though it may have undergone changes in its textual transmission before canonization Covenant Conclusion 24 1 18 Chapter 24 takes up the story line from chapter 19 where the people awed by God s majestic theophany hovered between fear and fascination at the foot of the mountain This chapter treats Israel s formal entry into its new commitment to God and its new covenantal mission In its first half vv 1 11 the foundation for this commitment is laid by Israel s pledge to covenant obedience A blood ceremony and a communion meal seal this pledge In the second half 12 18 Moses is singled out for a yet closer encounter with God Accompanied only by his servant Joshua he ascends into the cloud cover of the mountain to receive further instructions together with the tablets containing the commandments of God Meanwhile the people under the temporary leadership of Aaron and Hur watch the mysterious cloud wrapped mountain from afar b Tabernacle and Golden Calf 25 1 40 38 The Narrative Israel s encounter of God s holiness Exodus 19 and the people s solemn commitment to the LORD in covenant obedience chapter 24 initiate a relationship meant to extend into the distant future The God revealed to Israel in the exodus and at Mount Sinai wants to be with them throughout all generations Israel will remember this through the use of God s newly revealed name Yahweh Exod 3 13 15 20 1 2 and the recital of the acts of salvation and covenant conclusion associated with it The reality of God s presence however is not sufficiently vouchsafed by historical memory It is also to be embodied in tangible symbols as concrete as the water of baptism or the bread and wine of the Lord s Supper are for Christians today God reveals such symbols in a vision to Moses when the latter has entered the cloud of God s presence shrouding the top of Mt Sinai These symbols center in the tabernacle Two lengthy Exodus texts introduce the tabernacle to us the Instruction Exodus 25 31 and the Implementation 35 40 In the Instruction God tells Moses on Mount Sinai H ave them the Israelites make me a sanctuary so that I may dwell among them Exod 25 8 Then God outlines in detail what this sanctuary should be like Meanwhile however the people at the foot of Mount Sinai urge Aaron to build them an idol in form of a golden calf They say Come make gods for us who shall go before us as for this Moses the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt we do not know what has become of him 32 1 God s work of salvation from Egypt is here retroactively portrayed as a failed effort of the man Moses By this turn to idol worship Israel commits its first covenant breaking act even before God is finished giving instructions to them through Moses As punishment God sends a plague upon the people but on Moses intercession God shows mercy has Moses re write the tablets of the law which the latter had broken in anger and despair and grants Israel a covenant renewal Exod 34 1 10 Now the building of the tabernacle can begin In the Implementation chs 35 40 Moses invites those who are of a generous heart men and women to volunteer their offerings and skills for this task A chastened Israel responds with an outpouring of contributions and voluntary work When the work was finished the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and God s presence dwelt among the people throughout their wilderness wanderings 40 34 38 Thus the tabernacle becomes the anti type to idolatry It is the archetypal embodiment of God willed worship in contrast to self chosen human worship as represented by the golden calf Tabernacle Design and Artistry The tabernacle built by the people under the direction of the God chosen master craftsmen Bezalel and Oholiab according to a pattern shown by God to Moses is a tent of wooden frames covered by curtains 30x10 cubits surrounded by a curtain enclosed court 100x50 cubits See NIV footnotes to chs 25 28 for modern measurement equivalents The Israelite Tabernacle The tent is divided into the most holy place or holy of holies 10x10 cubits and the holy place 20 x 10 cubits separated from each other by curtains hung on posts The holiest place contains the ark of the covenant a chest 2 5 x 1 5 x 1 5 cubits containing the tablets of the covenant The ark s cover the so called mercy seat bears a cherub at each end their outstretched wings embracing an empty space over the ark the space where the gentile nations would have placed the figure of a god or goddess Only the high priest clad in special robes ch 28 officiated here most prominently on the yearly Day of Atonement yom kippur Lev 16 The holy place accommodated the altar of incense the table of the bread of presence and the lampstand menorah The surrounding court contained the bronze basin and the altar of burnt offering The holy place and the court were the scene of daily rituals and activities of the priests Although a tent structure the tabernacle is described for us as a sanctuary of great beauty The quality of materials and the artistry of workmanship is finest in the inner sanctum of the tent the most holy place from where it descends in quality as one moves to the periphery the holy place of the tent and further out to the court surrounding the tent For example the finely worked curtains with artistically embroidered symbols such as cherubim are succeeded by works of lesser coarser fabric further from the center gold is followed by silver and then bronze colors descend in the order of blue purple and crimson Parallel to this there are especially fine and symbolically decorated robes for the high priest and less elaborate ones for the priests Tabernacle Theology Only in a few places does the biblical text describing the tabernacle accommodate our habitual Western search for rational theological meaning by an explicit verbal interpretive statement Interpretive meaning must often be deduced from the obvious or less obvious symbolism For example carrying poles inserted through rings clearly mean that the sanctuary shall be mobile God s presence moves along in the midst of his people or even ahead of them The tabernacle has been called suggestively Mount Sinai on the move The three names used for what we have simply called tabernacle so far provide significant clues 1 tabernacle Hebrew miškan designates a dwelling a place where one lives for a shorter or longer time 2 tent of meeting ohel mo ed designates a place of encounter 3 sanctuary miqdaš designates a set apart holy sanctified consecrated place How these general meanings are to be understood specifically must be derived from the contexts of their occurrences For fuller discussion see Janzen 2009b Theologically central and unmistakable is the tabernacle s focus on God s holiness It is symbolically represented by the small part of the tent set apart as the holiest place or holy of holies It holds the ark of the covenant a small chest containing the tablets of the covenant law Its cover is the mercy seat understood as a throne and flanked by the outspread wings of two cherubim And now the centre of revelation Where heathen temples would have the statue or image of a god representing some aspect of nature there is empty space The God of the Bible is transcendent no part of the created world can ever represent God as the idols of the nations were meant to do True worship is at its heart an iconic imageless 20 4 6 It is a clearing of space for God s invisible presence The high priest alone enters here on the Day of Atonement traditionally Yom Kippur Lev 16 silent and barefoot Only the inscription of the names of the twelve tribes of Israel on his two shoulder pieces and on his breast plate as well as a golden rosette on his turban with the inscription Holy to the Lord express in words that in the person of this high priest Israel approaches the invisible Divine Presence No words no prayers no music Only little bells on the hem of the high priest s robe alert God through their faint ringing a daring anthropomorphism that Israel is approaching its God for mercy the mercy seat and instruction the covenant tablets In the larger part of the tent and in the court around it there is much activity but at the center humans become still in the mysterious presence of the transcendent God Like the book of Revelation with its symbolism the tabernacle s features have spawned lush allegorical interpretation often going to great excess And yet the Tabernacle invites legitimate typological association with Jesus Christ It prefigures later in complex association with the Jerusalem temple the central earthly manifestation of incarnation God represented through the materials and designs of this world yet without being caught up in them retains a real but elusive presence God tabernacling tenting among God s people is properly invoked in the Gospel of John where we read about Jesus And the Word became flesh and lived literally tabernacled among us and we have seen his glory the glory as of a father s only son full of grace and truth John 1 14 compare Exod 25 8 The Tabernacle in Exodus While the Tabernacle texts 25 31 34 40 in themselves convey a profound theology their theological meaning is considerably extended when we read them in the context of the whole book of Exodus The most salient observations in this regard are these 1 At the beginning of Exodus we encounter the Israelites as slave builders for a brutal oppressive and illegitimate master In the construction of the Tabernacle chs 35 40 they are joyfully volunteering their skills and their goods in the service of the only true Master 2 This change of masters however can only take place after the abortive attempt to replace the Pharaoh by the culturally suggested alternative of an idol the Golden Calf an attempt from which only the intercession of Moses and God s subsequent grace could rescue Israel 32 34 3 Israel s wilderness wanderings chs 15 17 are marked by the repeatedly surfacing doubt of Moses God inspired leading and the people s persistent murmuring that issued eventually in the question hurled at Moses Is the LORD among us or not 17 7 cf 32 1 In the last verses of the book as the glory of the LORD fills the tabernacle God gives the final answer 34 34 38 That a long history of doubt and covenant breaking will mark Israel s future lies beyond the interpretive context of Exodus The theme of the complex interrelationship of Tabernacle and creation can also not be treated here See Janzen 2009b The Theology of Exodus A Summary edit Exodus is a book about change of masters It responds as it were to the question Whom shall Israel legitimately serve Several points summarizing the theology of Exodus should be emphasized some by way of correcting wrong or limited understandings that are widely held God s Saving Initiative and Israel s Response edit Exodus is a book about God s gracious initiative and Israel s reluctant response and repeated rebellion It is this tension that draws the modern reader into the story Do we look condescendingly at Israel s resistance to God at work or do we sense in ourselves the same all too human characteristics In other words Exodus addresses us in the same manner as the cross of Christ Would we have been the crucifiers or the cowardly disciples or would we have responded with a strong faith But we were neither at Israel s exodus nor at the scene of the crucifixion The question for us therefore is To which response do exodus and crucifixion invite us today Salvation as Change of Masters edit Exodus tells the story of Israel s liberation from Pharaoh but that is only half the story Liberation in the modern sense i e the achievement of freedom from someone else s rule in order to be able to follow one s own will and direction is certainly not in view Israel is subject to a ruler at the beginning of the book as well as at the end At issue is the question of Israel s legitimate ruler Not service versus freedom but service to a usurping tyrant versus service to the legitimate master is the theme That the latter is in itself a form of freedom is assumed see point 4 below Commissioning of a People edit Exodus is not a book about God s choosing a people for himself Israel is spoken of as my God s people from the very beginning 3 7 Nor does Israel become God s covenant partner in Exodus God remembered his covenant with Abraham Isaac and Jacob 2 24 That covenant is assumed in Exodus to be valid What happens at Sinai is a renewal of the Abrahamic covenant through its redirection towards a special commission on Israel s part namely to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation for the whole world 19 6 Grace in the Form of Law edit Exodus is not a book in which God s unconditional grace shown to Abraham and the other Ancestors is replaced by the requirements of law Whether or in what sense the Abrahamic covenant was unconditional cannot be discussed here In the context of the Sinai covenant however law is not the heavy burden it often seems to Christians to be but the gift of God s directives for a new and better life under a new master It is based on Israel s experience of God s gracious deliverance And when it is transgressed as it is immediately after the covenant ceremony ch 24 by the construction of the Golden Calf God s grace again prevails over Israel s disobedience chs 32 34 Grace as God s Holy Presence edit Grace however is not the indulgent leniency of a spineless ruler but the awesome presence of the holy God in the midst of a people that can live fully and happily only if that presence is properly acknowledged and all of life is oriented towards it In sum Exodus leads from the service of a usurping tyrant to the service of a legitimate and gracious master from the groaning of slaves to the celebrating of privileged partners The repeat reader knows however that this is only a temporary moment of arrival a sign of the goal of God s leading The journey will go on and the struggle will continue We today participate in that journey and the book of Exodus clarifies the goal and the options for us Issues of Special Concern to Anabaptists Mennonites edit Background edit As part of the Pentateuchal narrative Exodus has regularly belonged to the stock of Bible stories taught to Anabaptist Mennonite children To this stock belonged Israel s oppression in Egypt Moses preservation in a basket and adoption by Pharaoh s daughter his flight to Midian his call at the burning bush Israel s oppression in Egypt and their Moses led deliverance the parting of the sea the miraculous sustenance by God in the wilderness and the events of covenant conclusion at Mount Sinai including the giving of the Ten Commandments soon followed by the idolatrous worship of the golden calf and God s gracious provision for repentance and restoration The tabernacle chapters 25 31 35 40 while a major pre occupation of some were probably neglected by the majority of Mennonites This resulted in a truncated grasp and appreciation of the book of Exodus Further the general Anabaptist Mennonite New Testament orientation also included the sidelining of Exodus Janzen 2001 This book was generally neither drawn upon as pointing forward to Jesus the Messiah nor found for the most part as particularly troubling from the standpoint of core Mennonite emphases like nonresistance pacifism unlike the books of Deuteronomy and Joshua Among the Exodus laws only the Ten Commandments were generally held to be significant for Christian living Global cultural shifts in more recent times however have drawn new attention to Exodus as a potential resource for addressing questions of major importance for the church generally and for special Anabaptist Mennonite concerns In addition to new questions surrounding war violence and peace Exodus has elicited new interest in connection with three areas of modern concern 1 violence and deliverance liberation 2 Human violation of ecological and cosmic balance 3 Restorative versus retributive justice Only brief sketches can be presented here to identify some resources offered in Exodus in the search to address these Violence and Deliverance edit Oppression Persecution and Genocide Anabaptists and Mennonites have repeatedly been an oppressed and persecuted group since their beginnings in the 16th century The Mennonite Story in Russia offers only one prominent example from that story of oppression and persecution Invited by to that country toward the end of the 18th century by Empress Catherine II with the promise of freedom to live according to their faith they experienced a gradual erosion of their welcome Many emigrated to North America in search of greater freedom to live according to their faith See Migration as Peacekeeping below When severe oppression began after the Bolshevik Revolution many more were able to emigrate to the Americas but then the borders of Soviet Russia were closed and the large remaining numbers were like the Israelites in Egypt forcefully detained in the land of their oppression and subjected to expropriation exile concentration camps of forced labour torture and mass execution in numbers unprecedented in their earlier history Of the approximately 35 000 who were able to escape to the West during World War II some 23 000 were unlike the Israelites escaping from Egypt recaptured and forcefully repatriated to slave labour in desolate parts of Asiatic Soviet Russia The thematic parallelism to the Israelite story from Joseph to the exodus is striking but this and other Anabaptist Mennonite stories of oppression persecution and deliverance have never or rarely been drawn on by their descendants for their historical and theological identity formation even though they are replete with faith trust and a sense of Divine deliverance or supportive presence By contrast other oppressed populations in our time have drawn heavily on Exodus for theological interpretation of their condition and for visualizing and shaping their own liberation Thus liberation theology beginning in Latin America but proliferating in many forms there and elsewhere since the last third of the 20th century has become a theological household concept In its biblically oriented forms it has heavily drawn on the book of Exodus for its liberation mandate Mennonites in their increasing transformation from inward turned communities to extensive involvement in relief work and peace promotion around the globe and due to their rapidly increasing numbers in the southern hemisphere have also been affected deeply by various aspects of liberation theology Exodus if read through Anabaptist Mennonite glasses has the potential to enrich such Mennonite global presence and involvement both by helping to set biblical objectives and by averting or correcting misunderstandings of this biblical book The following themes are particularly relevant in this area Does Oppression Legitimize Violent Liberation Does the biblical exodus account model and or authorize peaceful or violent liberation for oppressed people The answer is paradoxical Exodus often presents Israel s departure from Egypt in military language In Exodus 1 15 and then briefly again in 17 8 16 and 23 20 33 we note a persistent emphasis on God as warrior fighting on Israel s behalf and subduing God s and Israel s enemies God s encounter with Pharaoh is presented as a raging battle Israel is often pictured in military terminology It is an army 14 19 of six hundred thousand men on foot 12 37 or better men capable of fighting with dependents 12 29 39 structured in military companies 6 26 7 4 12 41 51 They leave Egypt laden with booty plundered from the Egyptians 12 36 11 2 3 The Israelites are prepared for battle 13 18 and move from one military camp to another e g 13 20 Nevertheless with one exception Israel does not fight throughout its exodus for as Moses states The LORD will fight for you and you have only to keep still 14 14 In warding off the Amalekites later in the wilderness Israel does engage in battle 17 8 16 and the occupation of the Promised Land is projected as a march of military conquest 15 13 16 23 20 33 In both these contexts however the emphasis also rests fully on God s role in defeating the enemies rather than on Israel s military strength or achievement In keeping with all this the Song of the Sea exalts God s sole agency in hymnic praise The LORD Yahweh is a warrior The LORD Yahweh is his name 15 3 cf 1 Sam 17 47 Ps 24 8 Such warfare in which the victory is gained by Yahweh either without human fighting or with merely token human participation occurs in many Old Testament texts Such wars are called by scholars Yahweh war or holy war Yahweh War Mennonite scholar Millard Lind has pointed to the LORD s sole agency in the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Reed Sea as the focus of Israel s Song of the Sea 15 1 21 The Reed Sea deliverance forms the paradigm for Israel s future salvation Lind 1980 49 cf 48 54 1990 182 196 According to Lind the single most important affirmation of the Song is that Israel although consistently and deliberately characterized as a victorious army marching out of Egypt has no fighting role in the battle Are we then not to learn any lesson from the Song and therewith from Israel s exodus regarding human warfare Yes we are but I agree with Lind that the lesson for us regarding our armed or military participation in our deliverance from oppression is a negative one Yahweh fights for us and we are called to be still Lind goes further by making Yahweh war as paradigmatically experienced by Israel in the Sea event the historical cornerstone for an early Israelite pacifism a calling that was abandoned according to him with the establishment of the monarchy of David and Solomon but continued as a call to Israel in the message of the prophets It constituted the backdrop for the peace teaching of Jesus and was continued in the early church only to be compromised according to John Howard Yoder and others by Emperor Constantine s role in drawing the church into an alliance with the state and its power structures not unlike David and Solomon had done earlier Anabaptism according to Lind Yoder and others took up this heritage many centuries later Lind 1980 with Introduction by John H Yoder 1990 171 196 Yoder 1971 2003 Nugent 2011 While I although a convinced pacifist have certain reservations regarding this Lind Yoder vision of theo politics I do agree with Lind in his claim that Exodus does not present oppression as authorizing human violence as a means to achieve liberation It is worth noting that the later exodus of the liberated Jewish exiles from Babylon presented in Isaiah 40 55 in Exodus language and imagery is also accomplished by God this time through the agency of the Persian Emperor Cyrus Isaiah 44 27 45 7 while the Jewish exiles epitomized by the suffering servant are assigned the role of patient suffering see especially Isaiah 52 13 53 12 rather than that of liberation fighters I do not believe contra Lind however that Israel had a historical pacifist phase where it abandoned itself more or less totally to God s intervention through Yahweh war on its behalf But even if one were to accept Lind s position this would not resolve the problem of many New Testament pacifists regarding the wars of the Old Testament for it would not address the problem of a God who wages or commands cruel wars Would we really want to attach ontological reality to the warrior characterization of Yahweh attributing to God the exercise of a violence that for us is sin Or is the warrior language to be understood metaphorically as expressing the highest form of the exercise of authority known to the

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