Saturday, December 10, 2016

God Responds To Moses’ Plea (and to ours)

Exodus 34:10-17:
10 Then God said, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles, which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the Lord, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you. 11 “Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. 12 Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. 13 But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 —for you shall not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God— 15 otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods. 17 You shall make for yourself no molten gods. . ..”
Moses has just pleaded with God that He remain in their midst to lead them and God responds by saying He’ll make a covenant. No matter how you define it, a covenant is a serious and formal document. It can be described as a contract, agreement, undertaking, commitment, guarantee, warrant, pledge, promise, bond, indenture, pact, deal, settlement, arrangement, or understanding.
And God tells Moses He will perform new miracles that have not been “produced” before anywhere. Some readers of this text may think this implies that “others” may have been able to perform miracles, not just God. It’s just that they haven’t performed ‘these’ ones or this caliber of miracles before. Again, we must be careful not to project from a text what is not there.  This text says nothing about others performing miracles – either their ability to do so, or the quality of their work.
What we do know is that these miracles would be such that all who live among the Israelites will see God’s power being displayed because of the fearful awesomeness of these miraculous works.
And then God turns His comments back to the “covenant” that He was establishing with Moses, telling him to make sure to observe what God was commanding that day.  For His part, He’ll drive out the enemies of the Israelites (and He lists them), but for their part, the Israelites must be sure they don’t make any covenant with the inhabitants of the land(s) they were entering (because that would trap them or hinder them later on). [This reminds me of the pacts that western settlers made with Native Indians in North America, especially in Canada, when they first enter their lands; these treaties are now coming back to haunt them as Native Indians are claiming their land rights, even to the point that they believe the land the Canadian Capital buildings sit on is their land, causing a huge headache not to mention a massive financial and legal liability for the Canadian government at the time of writing.]
And God tells them what they are to do as well, once He has helped them defeat them. They are to tear down altars and smash their idols because the occupied land is to allow no other worship than towards the Lord, who is indeed a Jealous God. [This command has some great implications not only for what happened at that time, but also what happened with western settlers and Native Indians in North America. In Canada, we somehow interpreted this in a way which regrettably resulted in ‘residential schools’ for young native children, dragging them away from their reservations and parents, and forcing them to adopt the white man’s culture. This misinterpretation also has come back to haunt us.  The direction also has implications for Jewish people’s governing of Israel today – just how much of the non-Hebraic culture should be allowed? And of course, that has turned into probably one of the most contentious world issues of the last century.]
There is no doubt that God’s instructions to His people, can cause great angst for them, if not carried out in the spirit with which God intended for us to carry them out in. Of course, discerning that exact spirit is not an easy task, requiring much self-examination, wisdom, prayer, and even fasting in some cases.
The downside of failing here for the Israelites was that if a covenant were made with the enemies God helped them defeat, allowing them to continue in their merry ways, they would slowly influence His people to join them in their practices, even to the point of inter-marriage (something that goes on today) with the result being less and less adherence to one’s own faith. That’s a situation that God cannot bless. So, the bottom line is this -- God allows no room for molten gods as idols of worship, period.
Let’s remember this is God’s response to the plea of Moses. So, God sets the rules. And the same is true for us.  If we want God to be with us; if we want His blessings, we have to meet His requirements for life. As a teenager, I was a big fan of President John F. Kennedy – I think now that it was the way he spoke that charmed me the most.  I had memorized many of his lines or those attributed to him by comedians. I remember one line in particular when he was supposedly playing football with his young son, Little John as he was known, on the front lawn of the White House.  Kennedy said to his son, “Little John, if we’re going to play football together, we’re going to have to play by my rules.  Do you know why, Little John?  Because it’s MY BALL!” So, it is with us. He sets the rules – take them or leave them.  It’s our choice.
[We note here that God’s requirements for His blessings do not end in this passage but continue for another eleven verses which we study below.]

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