Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 14 and The Epistle of Barnabas 16-17

Exodus 14  - Pharaoh decides to pursue the people and overtake them encamped by the Sea.  “As Pharaoh drew near, the Children of Israel lifted up their eyes: . . . They were exceedingly afraid. And the Children of Israel cried out to YHWH” (14:10). The people start blaming Moses for putting them in this predicament (14:11).  “What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’” (14:11-12)

Moses tries to comfort them, telling them not to be afraid: “YHWH will make war for you, and you—be still!”  (14:14) YHWH, in turn tells Moses that they should march forward and that he should hold high his staff so that the waters will split (14:16).  “[A]ll Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the Lord!” (14:18)

“[T]he angel [messenger] of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp” (14:19). A column of cloud is both before and behind them.  “The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night” (14:20).

On 14:10-20 – Ancient commentators made a great deal out of the line, “Why do you cry to me?” Even though there is no actual cry, all the “Fathers” point to the fact that God hears the cries of the heart (Origen and Jerome), Basil thinks God also hears the cry of the blood of those who are just and the silent longings of man (Cassiodorus).

Then Moses stretches his hand out again and “YHWH caused the sea to go back with a fierce east wind all night, [splitting the waters and making] the sea into firm-ground” (14:21).  The chariots follow, but they “drive with heaviness” (14:25).  The Egyptian camp becomes panicked; Moses stretches out his hand and the “waters returned and covered all the chariots and charioteers—the entire army of Pharaoh. Of all the Egyptians who had chased the Israelites into the sea, not a single one survived” (14:28).

“When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (14:31).

The Epistle of Barnabas
16 – On the Temple: He turns to discussion of the Temple, and he claims he “will show how mistaken these miserable folk were in pinning their hopes to the building itself, as if that were the home of God, instead of to God their own Creator” (178).  He thinks there was little difference between the Jews and the “heathen in the way they ascribed Divine holiness to their Temple” (178). The prophet Isaiah himself wrote of the silliness of trying to house God in any kind of building.

And citing the Book of Enoch, he writes “it will come to pass in the last days that the Lord will deliver up to destruction the sheep of the pasture, with their sheepfold and their watch-tower” (178, citing Enoch 89:56).

Is it possible for there to be a temple of God at all, he asks? He thinks so, but “it [must] be built in the Name of the Lord; for in the days before we believed in God, our hearts were a rotten, shaky abode, and a temple only too truly built with hands, since by our persistent opposition to God we had made them into a chamber of idolatry and a home for demons” (178).

The Temple can be built through faith. “When we were granted remission of our sins, and came to put our hopes in His Name, we were made new men, created all over again from the beginning; and as a consequence of that, God is at this moment actually dwelling within us in that poor habitation of ours. How so? Why, in the message of His Faith, and in the call of His promise; in the wisdom of His statutes, and the precepts of His teaching; in His own very Presence inwardly inspiring us, and dwelling within us; in His unlocking of the temple doors of our lips, and His gift to us of repentance. It is by these ways that He admits us, the bondsmen of mortality, into the Temple that is immortal. For when a man is earnestly bent on salvation, his eyes are not on his fellow- man, but on the One who is dwelling in that person and speaking through him; and his is full of wonder that never till now has he heard such words from Him, nor known the desire of hearing them. This is what the building up of a spiritual temple to the Lord means” (179).

17 – The writer says that he hopes he has “omitted nothing that bears directly upon our salvation” (179). He worries that if he should start to try and speak of the present age, we would never understand “for such things are veiled in the language of parable” (179). So he says this will be enough.

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