Exodus Chapters 25 -29 have concerned the correct ordering of the Tent of Meeting and its furnishings, including the correct attire for Aaron and the priests, and the way the Israelites were to conduct their religious rituals. Yet following on from the 10 commandments in Chapter 20 we have extended sections that can loosely be categorized as the laws of justice and mercy. These laws amount to a high ethical code regulating the rights of slaves, women, the stranger. The code covers the Sabbath year – the seventh year- when the land is to be left fallow so that the landless and poor can take from what is left after the last harvest. We are often quick to judge the primitive tribal view of God and yet in the midst of a great deal of war and bloodletting the laws of justice and mercy extending from Chapter 20 – through 24 are among the highest and most exacting recipes for social justice of any society since.
Some key points to note in the story of the Golden Calf:
- God summons the Israelites to the foot of Mt Sinai where he issues strict instructions that no one must approach the foot of the mountain on fear of death. Only Moses and Joshua are allowed to go up onto the mountain.
- Moses and Joshua are gone 40 days and the people begin to fear they are lost. They feel abandoned by God.
- So they ask Aaron to make them a God they can worship and who will be present with them. Aaron fashions them a Golden Calf and the people begin to exuberantly worship the idol.
- God who has been inscribing the Ten Commandments with M and J hears the noise of the people’s celebration of this and is mightily pissed-off. He sends Moses back to put things right.
- Moses is so angry he smashes the ten tablets and confronts Aaron who refuses responsibility saying – all I did was throw some gold into the fire as they asked me to do, and low a calf came out. It’s nothing to do with me, Moses.
- Moses summons all who have not participated in the idol worship and the sons of Levy seem to have kept themselves aloof. Moses posts the Levites with swords at the gates of the camp and they slaughter brothers and neighbors – some 3000 men. Think about this story being written down at a later time as a justification for the origins of the Levitical priesthood.
- The uncomfortable aspect here is that like a brutal dictator Moses binds the sons of Levy to him through their participation in acts of violence.
- Moses then returns to the mountain for a further encounter with God in which he offers himself as an atonement for the sin of the people. God refuses and blesses Moses with a very intimate encounter with God’s presence in the only form that will not kill Moses; he hides Moses in the cleft of a rock with his hand as he passes by – a very intimate and touching gesture.
- After further punishment of the people, but not their obliteration as God had intended before Moses’ intercession, God and the people move on to the next place.
- But God remembers the people’s complaint and gives them his abiding presence going forward in the form of a cloud that takes up a position at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. God seems to learn from experience!
We see the human struggle with God who is distant and comes to them only through the mediation of Moses. In a way, I AM is Moses’ God, not theirs, and so they fashion one of their own.
Over these days we have also journeyed with Jesus into the events of his Passion and his resurrection bringing Matthew to a close with the Great Commission. Matthew’s overview is this:
- God keeps his promises to Israel through the life, death, and resurrection of a new Moses who brings the new Law.
- Matthew communicates Jesus ministry through five long speeches equivalent to the five books of Moses in the Torah.
- Jesus inaugurates a new Exodus, beginning with a twist to the Passover meal before giving his life for the world.
- At the beginning of Matthew Jesus is given the name Immanuel – God is with us. He closes the Gospel with Jesus promising to be with them to the end of the age.
- Note how Matthew’s resurrection is a majestic event communicated by an angel. The resurrected Jesus appears briefly to the women before the disciples gather on a mountain in Galilee. Note there is only the hint but not an account of the ascension and coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s as if Matthew sets the scene for Luke to fill in the details.
Mark opens with a fully grown Jesus coming for baptism at the hand of John and by the end of the first Chapter Jesus has been tempted, called his disciples and is well on his way. In Mark there is no time to waste. Note:
- Jesus becomes God’s son through adoption, not birth.
- Mark’s fast moving plot – he uses the continuous present form of verbs in Greek giving the impression that we are watching him in the moment of action.
- Mark’s midpoint is when Peter confesses him as the Messiah – all of the first part has been leading up to this point.
- The second half of Mark is about the journey to Jerusalem, his teaching on the way, the open conflict with the religious authorities, the seeming victory of the forces of the status quo before the reversal and upturning of expectations in the events of the resurrection – which Mark does not describe at all. His narrative ends with the empty tomb although a later writer has added a resurrection. Resurrection in Mark is an experience of triumph over suffering for Jesus’ followers.
- We must pay special attention to the events and Jesus teaching along the road to Jerusalem for Mark most of all clearly identifies the nature of discipleship along this way.
- Mark’s message is about courage and endurance in the face of suffering because God continues to upturn the existing orders and establish a new way of life in Jesus.
Note how the Psalms echoes the beauty of the souls longing for God in the midst of the struggles of life. Note 27 and 28 in particular.