Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Movement (part 3 of 3)

In the twenty-third chapter of Genesis, we have the record of the death of Sarah, wife of Abraham.  She dies in Hebron, and it is there that Abraham desires to bury her.  So the man that bears the covenant promise of the Creator God---the one that is to exemplify divine blessing---speaks to the men of the area, and in the process of asking for a place in which he can bury his departed wife, says “I am a temporary settler among you” (23:4a).  Though he considered himself to be a temporary settler, the response of the men reveals that they considered him to be so much more---“a mighty prince among us!” (23:6a)  Abraham, the man that God tasked for the purpose of bringing Him glory, did not need anything remotely resembling a permanent dwelling place to gain this reputation and this honor.  Does this tell us anything in relation to David and Solomon and the construction of the Temple of Jerusalem?  Does this shed any light on God’s words to David about building a temple for Him: “Do you really intend to build a house for Me to live in?  I have not lived in a house from the time I brought the Israelites up from Egypt to the present day.  Instead, I was traveling with them and living in a tent.  Wherever I moved among all the Israelites, I did not say to any of the leaders whom I appointed to care for My people Israel, ‘Why have you not built Me a house made from cedar?’” (2 Samuel 7:5b-7)  We go on.   

In the following chapter, Abraham is concerned with finding a wife for his son, Isaac.  To accomplish this, he sends his chief servant to “my country and to my relatives to find a wife for my son” (24:4).  Abraham does not go there himself.  Is this because he is “old, well advanced in years” (24:1a)?  Not likely.  Rather, it is more likely the case that he himself is not going to go there because Abraham is not going to return to the place from where he had been exodus-ed by the Lord.  Because it seems that we are asked to understand and view the Bible (that by which we are led into the knowledge of God) through the prism of Israel’s Egyptian exodus and the events by which the exodus is surrounded (as Israel was constantly asked to understand their God’s dealings with them through the same prism), there is an equation to be made. 

In the wilderness, before they achieved the fulfillment of the blessing of their land of promise, the desire to return to Egypt was a sign of Israel’s distrust in the covenant faithfulness of the God Who had provided their miraculous deliverance.  So a return by Abraham to his homeland could be construed, in that light, as a breach of trust in the Lord.  This is especially so as the story of Abraham is told as part of the story of Israel---a story dominated by the history of their exodus and of a God that consistently defines Himself by that series of events.  When it came to the issue of whether or not Isaac should go to Abraham’s homeland, Abraham is even more adamant, saying “Be careful never to take my son back there… you must not take my son back there!” (24:6a,8b)  This probably takes us a bit off track, and it may be stretching the analogy a bit, but much later in the history of Israel, during the period of time that saw Judah threatened by the Babylonians (as God delivered the curses that He promised in connection with His people’s idolatry---Leviticus 26, Deuteronomy 28), there was a movement amongst some of the people to take refuge in Egypt.  How did the Lord respond to this?  What was God’s reaction to the idea that His people could somehow save themselves by running to the land in which their God had put His power on display, so as to find protection and refuge there?  The Lord says, “I will see to it that all the Judean remnant that was determined to go and live in the land of Egypt will be destroyed” (Jeremiah 44:12a). 

Why such a strong response?  There were a number of reasons, not the least of which was their engagement in idolatry both before and during their time in Egypt, but because Israel (and Judah) defined themselves by their deliverance from Egypt and the power of their covenant God in connection with that deliverance from Egypt, does not their running to Egypt so as to gain protection from Babylon not make a mockery of that same God?  It was not as if they were going down into Egypt so that they could groan out to God and implore God to re-enact the events of the exodus.  There, they sought the favor of the gods of Egypt, turning their backs on their God of covenant. 

Naturally, when it comes to the Gospel record of Jesus’ flight into Egypt in the arms of His parents, we have an entirely different situation.  For Jesus, it actually does become something of a re-enactment of Israel’s exodus---He goes into Egypt, exits that land to return to Israel, is baptized in the Jordan (equivalent to Israel’s sea crossing), goes into the wilderness for a period of time, and then embarks on His mission of establishing the kingdom of God.  As it relates to Isaac, and according to the Scriptural pattern (remembering that Genesis is presumed to have been at least partially composed by Moses following the exodus) we can understand Abraham’s emphatic insistence that he not be allowed to go to Abraham’s homeland.  Perhaps more importantly, what we see take place is God bringing a wife to Isaac from out of that place to which Isaac was not allowed to go.  Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, experiences her own exodus.  The one that will give birth to Esau and Jacob (Israel) is moved out and moved along (fitting the Scriptural pattern), wooed by the riches that have come to Abraham (and by inheritance to Isaac) according to the covenant promises of the Lord of heaven and earth.              

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