Monday, September 28, 2015

Exodus 3

This commentary focuses on Exodus 3:10-15.  This covers two separate Narrative Lectionary passages:
Sept 29. 2013 (Year 4): Exodus 3:10-15; 4:10-17
Oct 4, 2015 (Year 2):  Exodus 1: 8-14 and 3:1-15

Summary:  The Hebrew reminds us that as Moses asks for God's name, Moses is really asking for God's character.  The answer given seems very much like a New Testament answer:  A radically free God, who binds himself to the life of particular humans (incarnation!!), and out of his great mercy he sends the people to do his work (mission!).  Also, in Moses' protests we find a very common human disease:  a lack of self-esteem, ultimately grounded in a lack of trusting God.  The solution?  Pep talks??  No!!  It is all about God.

Side comment:  I think our kids don't need more self-esteem, but trust in God, which is more durable and more easily built back up.

אות ("sign"; Exodus 3.12; 4:17).  Obviously the idea of signs and covenants is a crucial one in the Old (and new) Testaments.  Interestingly, these signs God offer (worship on a mountain; Aaron's rod) are signs that will require Moses to take the first step in order to see.  I think it also reflects the human desire for a sign.  The people of Israel, including Moses, have seen great suffering.  Of course they want a sign!

עוד ("serve"; Exodus 3.12)  The word for serve has a range of meanings from "worship" to even be "slave to."  This sets up the key question for Exodus:  Whom will the people serve/worship/be in slave to:  God or Pharaoh?  This is a key hermeneutic for the story of Exodus:  Whom will the people serve?

As Americans today, this word challenges our notions of "freedom"  and faith.  Will we serve (meaning trust, worship and obey) God or will we serve Pharaoh?  By Pharaoh I do not meant the ancient king of Egypt, but the "man"?  (Old Testament professor Walter Bruggemann provocatively discusses this, arguing that Pharaoh is the military industrial complex).  Furthermore, when it comes to faith, are we really willing to "serve" God as we would a king? 

Lastly, our racial history makes any "positive" discussion of slavery in the context of faith extremely difficult.  For this reason, I believe the translators prefer to translate this word as "worship" God; however, the concept should not be lost.  There is no freedom in the abstract -- it is serve either God or Pharaoh.  Which brings up the question -- where is true freedom found?

שלח  ("send", 3.10, 12, 13, 14)  A crucial word in this passage; the word means send.  The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.  Just as Jesus was sending disciples, God in the Old Testament was sending workers and laborers into this word.  The whole idea of sending (and equipping) is also an OT concept!

םה-שםו ("what is your name?"; 3:13)
This is not the usual way to ask someone their name.
From TWOT:  "This frequently-occurring interrogative pronoun is most significant when associated with the word 'name'.  'What is your name?' is not a question which inquires after a person's family or personal name; it endeavors to find what character or quality lies within or behind the person. To ask for simple identification, one would say in Hebrew, "Who (mî) are you?"

In short, the question gets at this question:  What kind of God are you??  Again, this goes back to the suffering of the people.  Why would the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob let this happen to the people!  Unlike the Biblical histories, which suggest the Babylonian captivity is a result of apostasy, the Bible portrays the enslavement of the Israelites as caused by the fear, greed and hatred of the Egyptians.

אהיה ("I will be"; 3.14) God's name here is often translated, "I am who I am."  Because the verb is in the imperfect (incomplete) tense, it may also be translated, "I am who I will be" or "I will be who I will be"; any permutations of these two!  The crucial idea is that God is radically free!

אבתיכם ("fathers"; 3.15)  This radically free God includes in his introduction, really in his name and reputation, his relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  While God may be radically free, God is also radically bound to the particular life and story of various individuals.  If the preaching passage includes

והוריתיך ("teach"; 4.12)  This word is fascinating in two ways here.  First, because the root word is the same root as "torah."  Moses will be "torahed" in a sense.  Secondly, the verb in its root form (as opposed to hiphil, as it appear here) means to throw, like throw an arrow.  As fundamental as bow and arrow were to early Israelists, so was the teaching of God's Word.  Something about using this word Torah, deriving it from shooting and teaching...I love it!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Genesis 2:4b-25

This passage occurs in the Narrative Lectionary Year 2 (Most recently: Sept 13, 2015) 
Summary:  This passage shows God, humanity and the earth in beautiful concert.  A true paradise.  There are so many ways to go with this passage, especially ways that fit in with various political agendas.  I think the big point is less public policy (or even church polity policy) and the intentions of God for the world:  God, humanity and earth in concert, working together in joy.

Quick note:  I've read so many commentaries and heard so many lectures and sermons on Genesis 2 that I can hardly claim any of the following as exclusively mine. In some ways I am not offering a detailed commentary because I suspect that many of you have also heard bits and pieces.  Hopefully my comments jog some memories or spur some more questions on your part.

עבד ("avad", meaning "serve/be slave/worship", 2:5)  The translation of this verb as "work" as in "no one to work the land" is really mild. The word עבד also means to slave or worship.  The original purpose of humanity was much closer to the earth than the sky...

אדמה ("adamah", meaning "soil/ground", 2:7)  The word for "man" in Hebrew is אדמ or "Adam" which comes from/is related to אדמה "adamah" the word for ground.  (Kind of like "human" comes from "humus", no not the chip dip, but part of the soil that is rich in nutrients).  This creation story reminds us of our connection to the earth.

נפש ("nephish" meaning "soul or living being", 2:7) The word for soul in Hebrew does not mean an the ethereal part of us that becomes a ghost when we die.  The word for soul in Hebrew is linguistically related to the verb for breath; but more to the point, the human is not a living thing until it has breath.  Interestingly, the verb for "in-breath" has God as its subject twice.  First here and then in John's Gospel when Jesus, after the resurrection ενεφυσησεν into the disciples. 

יצר ("yatzir" meaning "form" as in "form pottery" or "form a plan", 2:7/2:8)  I really love that this image here is for pottery.  God makes us like a potter makes a clay vessel.  This metaphor is picked up in Jeremiah 18:6 and also  Isaiah 43:1:
"But now thus says the LORD, he who created ברא you, O Jacob, he who formed יצר you  O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine."
This verse in Isaiah is fascinating because it ties together the words for creation from the first and second creation stories.  Also it is really cool because it shows that ultimately what matters is not Adam's act of naming the animals, but God's act of naming us as children.

כוש (Cush, 2:13)  The point of the Hebrew usage of Cush is to say "the furthest south you've ever heard of"; ie,. the garden of Eden essentially covers all of the known civilized world.

לא-טוב ("lo-tov" meaning "no good", 2:18)  The first bad thing in the bible is not human rebellion but human loneliness.  Genesis 1 keeps saying things are declared good by God.  Now we have a hiccup!  Important point:  The human is created to be in relationship with the earth and with each other.

עזר כנגדו ("ezer - canagado", meaning "helper to him", 2.18. 2:20)  What is the purpose of a spouse; it is to be a helper.  But this is a tricky phrase to translate, because it is not one word or term, but really three of four.  Basically it is the word "help" (somewhat straight forward) with a slapped together term of pronouns and prepositions: "like/as - in front of / opposite - him"  This particular construction of words does not appear again.  So what can we make of this?  Spouses are meant to help each other.  I would argue they should be equal but also at some level opposite.  (yin-yang?)  But my sense is that we will always put more into this term than we will get out of it.

קרא ("qarah" meaning "name or call", 2:19)  Adam names the animals. Some want to claim this is co-creator power.  Others simply want to say God let Adam name the animals.  I'll stay out of this debate for now.

And for fun:  Genesis 2:4b starts with the phrase, in the Greek:
βιβλος γενεσεως
(an account/book of the creation)
Matthew 1 will also start with this.  John 1 is a play on Genesis 1; Matthew 2 is a play on Genesis 2 one could argue.

I've often used Genesis 2 as a marriage sermon text/pre-marriage counseling Bible study:
The purposes of marriage:  mutual helping, awe-filled companionship and new family streams
The promise of marriage:  husband and wife become one flesh
The cross of marriage:  husband and wife become one flesh know each intimately (are naked on all levels) yet still are not ashamed of the other person.  This last point leads powerfully into the reality of the cross in marriage, the reality that our sinfulness comes before us in marriage and our need for Christ and his forgiveness.