Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Daily Old Testament and Early Christian Writings: Exodus 15 and The Epistle of Barnabas 18-19

Exodus 15There follows here Moses’ famous “Song at the Sea” which the Schocken Bible editors aptly say, “provides a natural boundary in the book of Exodus. It sets off the Egypt traditions from those of Sinai and the wilderness, and brings to a spectacular close the sage of liberation”

“So YHWH delivered Israel on that day from the hand of Egypt; Israel saw Egypt dead by the shore of the sea, and Israel saw the great hand that YHWH had wrought against Egypt, the people held YHWH in awe, they trusted in YHWH and in Moshe his servant. Then sang Moshe and the Children of Israel this song to YHWH . . .

I will sing to YHWH,
for he has triumphed, yes, triumphed,
the horse and its charioteer he flung into the sea.

My fierce might and strength is YAH,
he has become deliverance for me (15:1-2).

You led in your faithfulness
your people redeemed,
guided (them) in your fierce-might
to your holy pasture (15:13).

Until they crossed—your people, O YHWH,
until they crossed—the people you fashioned.
You brought them, you planted them
on the mount of your heritage,
foundation of your (royal) seat
which you prepared, O YHWH,
the Holy Shrine, O Lord,
founded by your hands (15:17).

Miriam, Aaron’s (and Moses’s) sister is called a prophetess (15:20), but here she dances and sings this exultant song. They are led to the desert of Shur, to Marah, where the water is so bitter they cannot drink it. The people grumble, but the Lord helps Moses to sweeten the water.

They move on to Elim, a large oasis and camp there. Schocken editors again point out something interesting.  The whole exchange between Pharaoh and Moses can be seen as an argument about who shall be king—the powerful earthly ruler, pharaoh of Egypt, or the Lord of the universe—and here the choice is definitively made.  The Lord is king, “magnificent in power” (15:6), “my savior” (15:2), “magnificent in holiness. . .terrible in renown, worker of wonders” (15:11); “Let YHWH be king for the ages, eternity”(15:18). This hymn is the celebration of that revolution in sovereignty.

The wilderness narratives follow – they represent the process by which spiritual maturity is to be arrived at (Schocken, 341-343).  There are three desert themes: grumbling/rebellion; hostility of the surrounding nations; and working out a scheme of government and law (341).  The process cannot be achieved in a single generation.  He points out that here again as in the Abraham narrative, despite the promise of much fertility there is not a single birth story recorded in the wilderness—the process here is one of preparation for entry into the promised land where child-bearing, planting and productivity will be central.

The Epistle of Barnabas
There follow several sections on the “Two Ways” – the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness. These sections do not read like the earlier chapters; they seem to be the work of another writer. A similar theme will be part of the next “treatise” we will look at – The Didache.
18 – The Two Ways: “There are two Ways of teaching, and two wielders of power; one of light and the other of darkness . . . . over the one are posted the light-bearing angels of God, and over the other the angels of Satan; and one of these two is the Lord from all eternity to all eternity, while the other stands paramount over this present age of iniquity” (179).

19 – The Way of Light: “”First, then, for the Way of Light; and here a man who would make the pilgrimage to his appointed home must put his whole heart into his work. To aid our steps on the road, illumination has been given to us then – Love your Maker; fear your Creator; give glory to Him who redeemed you from death. Practice singleness of heart, and a richness of the spirit. Shun the company of those who walk in the Way of Death” (179).

Avoid every form of hypocrisy. “Do not exaggerate your own importance, but be modest at all points, and never claim credit for yourself” (180). Avoid appearance of presumption, and vices like fornication, adultery or “unnatural vice” (180). Be clam and mild-mannered.

Do not be duplicitous. “Never make free with the Name of the Lord. Love your neighbor more than yourself. Never do away with an unborn child or destroy it after its birth” (180).

Do not hesitate to discipline your children; bring them up in the fear of the Lord. Do not covet your neighbor’s goods or ever be greedy for gain. Don’t try to be pals with the powerful “but look for the company of people who are humble and virtuous” (180)

“Whatever experience comes your way, accept it as a blessing, in the certainty that nothing can happen without God” (180).

Do not equivocate in thought or speech. Obey your “masters” “as the representatives of God” (180). “The Lord did not come to call people according to their rank; He came for those who were already prepared by the Spirit” (180).

Give you neighbor a share of all that you have; don’t be in a hurry to speak “for the tongue is a fatal snare” (180)

Keep the Day of Judgment in mind at all times. And do nothing to encourage dissension “And make confession of your own faults; you are not to come to prayer with a bad conscience. That is the Way of Light” (181).

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