Sunday, March 17, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 3-4 and Ignatius' Epistle to Polycarp 3-5

Exodus 3 – “One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro . . . He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the middle of a bush . . . Though the bush was engulfed in flames, it didn’t burn up” (3:1-2).

Moses goes over to the bush and tries to find out what is happening, and God speaks to him “out of the midst of the bush” (3:4), calling his name and telling him he is standing on holy ground. God tells him He [YHWH] has “seen the affliction of my people. . .their cry I have heard. . [and] indeed, I have known their sufferings! So I have come down to rescue it. . .” (Schocken Bible – 3:7-8).  I like the way that this is translated. 

He says He is going to send Moses to help bring them out of Egypt, but Moses questions God’s plan. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?” (3:11) God assures Moses that He will be with him (3:12).

Moses asks God what name he should call YHWH, and he is told “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” [“I will be-there howsoever I will be-there” is how Schocken editors translate it, saying the syntax is difficult] The English simply says, “I am who am” (3:14). Then he must go and gather the elders of Israel together and tell them all that has happened and all that God has said to him. “The elders of Israel will accept your message.

Then you and the elders must go to the king of Egypt and tell him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So please let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord, our God’” (3:18). God warns him that the Pharaoh will not let them go easily. He will have to “strike the Egyptians” and perform “all kinds of miracles among them” (3:20), but they will let them go, and they will leave Egypt with great wealth.

Exodus 4 – Moses worries that the people will not trust him - as well he might in light of Ex.2:14, where he was challenged by the Hebrew man who thought he was full of himself, throwing his weight around.

YHWH gives him the staff to perform great deeds with; it turns into a snake.  The Lord tells him to just reach out and grab it, and as soon as he does, it turns back into a staff. God shows other magical feats he will be able to use to convince others of his role as emissary from God. 

Then Moses tries to beg off the job because he can’t speak well (4:10). You would not guess this from the Moses we meet in Deuteronomy.  God tells Moses that He will “be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say” (4:12). Moses still begs Him to send someone else. The Lord is a little annoyed with him but assures him that he will send his brother Aaron with him. He is a good speaker.

Moses returns to Jethro/Reuel, and he is given permission to leave with his sons and wife, taking them on a donkey.  YHWH tells Moses to refer to His people Israel as “my son, my firstborn” (4:22) and tells him to tell Pharaoh to let them go to serve YHWH. 

Then, in a rather bizzare scene, Moses narrowly escapes death at God’s hands on the journey to Egypt, “at the night-camp” (4:24). Moses must be still filled with doubt and dread. Sometimes in Scripture inward turmoil takes outward form. Somewhere, in the middle of a night en route to Egypt, the “Lord confronted [Moses] and was about to kill him. But Moses’ wife, Zipporah, took a flint knife and circumcised her son. She touched his feet with the foreskin and said, ‘Now you are a bridegroom of blood to me.’ When she said ‘a bridegroom of blood,’ she was referring to the circumcision. After that, the Lord left him alone” (4:24-26). Was this a crisis of identity for Moses – still not convinced he could be the one sent to save this people?

Back in Egypt, God goes to Aaron, his brother, and tells him to meet him in the desert (4:27).  That also must have been something pretty dramatic, considering Moses had grown up separated from him.  Beyond Aaron’s ability to speak well, it must also have been indispensable to have Aaron as a go-between between the people of Israel and Moses, for he is a stranger to them really.

Ignatius to Polycarp
3 – Do not “let yourself be upset by those who put forward their perverse teachings so plausibly” (110). You must be firm. “It is our duty, particularly when it is in God’s cause, to accept trials of all kind, if we ourselves are to be accepted by Him” (110). And then he adds what must have been part of a hymn about Christ:

Whom no senses can reveal
Was for us made manifest;
Who no ache or pain can feel
Was for us by pain oppressed;
Willing all things to endure,
Our salvation to procure.

The Ethereal Library version of this hymn is this:

“Look for Christ, the Son of God; who was before time, yet appeared in time; who was invisible by nature, yet visible in the flesh; who was impalpable, and could not be touched, as being without a body, but for our sakes became such, might be touched and handled in the body; who was impassible [not able to suffer] as God, but became passible [able to suffer] for our sakes as man; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.”
4 – Ignatius reminds them to take care of the widows of the community. And again he tells them nothing should be done without consulting the bishops. They should hold services frequently and call upon people by their names; they should be familiar with everyone who is there.

On the issue of how to treat slaves, he is not radical. He tells Polycarp he should not be overbearing with them, but he should also not let them “get above themselves. It should be their aim to be better slaves, for the glory of God; so that they may earn a richer freedom at His hands. And they are not to set their hearts on gaining their liberty at the expense of the church, for then they only become slaves to their own longings” (110).

5 – Beware of the “devices of sinful men” – you should in fact “preach publicly against them” (110).

Sisters in the church should “content themselves physically and spiritually with their own husbands. Similarly, charge my brothers in the name of Jesus Christ to love their wives as the Lord loves the Church” (110). If you can pass you “days in chastity, in honor of the Lord’s body, . . . do so without any boasting” (110). When people marry they should get the bishop’s consent. “The honor of God should be the aim in everything” (110).

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