Storied Salvation: Part VIII

God's Direction

We continue on with a bit of background information to lay the proper foundation for where I am headed.

Before God ever came to Moses and commissioned him as an authorized dealer of salvation, Moses had been prepared as a shepherd. If Moses thought his years of shepherding sheep was rough, he hadn't seen a challenging flock yet.

“God is the primary agent of deliverance, but often God is portrayed as working with or through a divinely appointed leader.[1]

In the Ancient Near East (ANE), names had great significance, more than just arbitrary sets of sounds. Moses’ name gives indication of a substantial role in deliverance. While his name has a wide semantic range of possibilities within Egyptian and Hebraic tradition, the text’s direct reference (Exo 2:10) and verbal word play of “drawn-out”[2] is hard to ignore. Though he was “drawn-out” of the water, his destiny of drawing the people of Israel “out of Egypt” can be seen not necessarily as a linguistic derivative, but rather an interpretive one.

Within this story, multiple nuances are found. For example, Pharaoh drowns the Hebrew children; God in turn drowns Pharaoh’s army and kills his firstborn.

“As a whole, the incident anticipates future events: as Pharaoh designs to drown Israel’s helpless boys in the reedy Nile, from which Moses is rescued, so Yahweh and Moses will save Israel from Egypt at the Reed Sea, where Egypt’s mighty men perish. Pharaoh’s daughter, though a minor character, thus symbolizes God; her maidservant corresponds to Moses. Even Moses’ name, if understood as Hebrew, ought to mean, not “rescued from the water,” but “rescuer from the water,” foreshadowing Moses’ role in Israel’s deliverance (cf. Isa. 63:11).”

Moses is portrayed numerous times as having compassion on those in need of deliverance:

“The shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and saved them, and watered their flock” (Exo 2:17 ESV, also 2:11-12). 

Moses then comes into contact with the God of Israel, well technically a representative, an angel of Yahweh as Stephen later said in Acts (7:30). He was given explicit direction from Yahweh and was sent off with Aaron to deliver the message that salvation was on its way. The covenant-keeping, savior-God of Israel was in action and they were about to witness it.

“Israel must believe Moses as Moses must believe Yahweh. As Moses is to be the medium of the message to Israel, so Israel is to be the medium of the message to the world (19:4–6). And the message? It is that God Is, and so is actively present in a world that belongs to him.” [4]

Belief, Faith, Acceptance, Action and Participation

The people witnessed the acts of God in Egypt as he set himself above all the other gods by systematically undoing creation and overturning their order by ushering in chaos (Isfet). Maat and its counterpart Isfet are similar to the Hebraic shalom and chaos. It was the gods who were the deciding factors of Isfet and Maat. It was the duty of the Pharaoh to maintain the gods. If there was chaos (Isfet) it was ultimately Pharaoh’s failure.

Israel had been acquainted with the other gods for centuries. The choice was set before them: they could believe in the signs given to authenticate Moses and who he represented or face the judgment being brought upon the beastly Egyptian system. If they wanted to be a part of what this God was promising to do, they had to accept in faith that Moses’ message was authentic and the covenant-God of their ancestor Abraham was indeed at work to bring about their redemption and deliverance. The authority of Yahweh vested in Moses is vital, which is represented - at least in part - by the emphasis and amount of significance placed on staff.

Throughout the story, the staff (God’s, Moses’ and Aaron’s) had the role of representing the authority of God dwelling in Moses. This is in opposition to the staff of Pharaoh, which represented his divine kingship. The “staff of God” is superior to that of Pharaoh and the magicians’, illustrated by Aaron’s staff swallowing the magicians’ staffs; it was not a battle of serpents but authority – Moses’ staff (i.e. God’s) against Pharaoh’s. Exo 12:12, Yahweh pledged to “execute judgment against all the gods of Egypt.”

Should the Israelites choose to enter into this belief, they would be required to act upon the message Moses was delivering and enter into the plan of action that Yahweh himself was providing through him. This included placing their lives in harm’s way (Exo 8:26; 12:3).

With the sacrifice of a ram (sheep) or bull, the Israelites were being commanded to oppose the highest and most powerful deities of Egypt; Ammon and Osiris. To abuse these sacred animals was treacherous and abominable.

“The reason for this commandment is that the constellation of Aries (the Ram) is at the height of its power in the month of Nisan [month of Passover]. . . . Therefore He commanded us to slaughter the sheep and to eat it in order to inform us that it was not by the power of that constellation that we went out from Egypt, but by decree of the Supreme One. And according to the opinion of our Rabbis that the Egyptians worshipped it as a deity, He has all the more informed us through this that He subdued their gods and their powers at the height of their ascendancy.”[5]

[1]  Bill T. Arnold, H.G.M. Williamson, “Salvation and Deliverance,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books (IVP, 2005), 851.
[2] Cf. Walton, Matthews and Chavalas, IVP Bible Background Commentary (IVP Academic, 2000), 77.
[3] David Noel Freedman, Allen C. Myers and Astrid B. Beck, “Moses,” Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 919.
[4] John I. Durham, Word Biblical Commentary: Exodus, 61 vols. (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2002), 3:46.
[5] Ramban (Nachmanides), Commentary on the Torah: Exodus, Trans. Charles Chavel (Brooklyn, NY.: Shilo Publishing House, 1973), 118-9. See also The Chumash: The Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos, Stone ed. (Brooklyn, NY.: Mesorah Publications, 2009), 332, 350.

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