Better Back There
Thursday 6th February 2020 @ 4:17 pm
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea” Ex 13
It’s a strange thing to read.
Read it again …
God, led God’s inspired chosen people the long way around, just in case their ‘doubt’ (peradventure is the lit. translation in Hebrew) led them to fear what was ahead, and return to Egypt.
Return to Egypt?
To economic, religious and social oppression?
Note the other strangeness in the passage … God ‘thought’ this might be the case ‘if’ they went through the land of the Philistines. God thought the people might return to a life of marginalised discrimination, rather than face an unknown future? God ‘thinks’ they ‘might’ do something other than what God requires ‘if’ they go ‘this way, not that way?’
And God goes with this?
In fact, God leads this?
It’s great isn’t it.
Scripture, and the Torah in particular, cannot be taken literally and consistently at the same time. We can be consistent in our interpretive tools, but we cannot be literally consistent all the time – there are simply too many contradictions. Eg. how do we combine this passage literally – of a God who does not seem sure what will happen if he leads the people through one land, and so takes them another route to be sure things will be OK as his best guess – with a passage like Deut 32, where God is in such control that Moses will not be allowed to enter the promised land – there are no ifs or buts in that passage!
The second is passage, raw, absolute, formatted and strict. The first passage is wondering and wandering, questioning and insecure.
Part of the answer of course is that Hebrew understandings of God (which Christians should also hold, as we are a Judeo–Christian faith) do not begin with God as all controlling – but rather with God as all–present. Before we know, or understand who God is in the Torah, we are to understand that God is.
Not controlling. But existing.
That is the beautiful God of Ex 13, who leads the people away from the direct route, just in case they are not ready to face uncertainty and may choose to go backwards rather than forwards.
This is of course beautifully understandable in human terms.
There is much within us, as individuals, families, societies and countries that find it easier to sit in the backwards of yesterday rather than face uncertain futures … especially potentially disruptive futures, or futures where we imagine disruption through our own fear of struggles. God figured the Hebrew people might not ‘get it’ – don’t forget, these are the people God has just instituted a meal with. A meal to remember what exactly God did TO GIVE THEM FREEDOM. 10 plagues. One devastating national disaster of death and excruciating loss, which God’s people were kept free from!And God still thinks,
‘I’d better take them this way, in case they get freaked out.’
God desires their freedom.
Freedom to choose freedom.
The danger is that the people are too scared to face freedom. They might look up, see danger, and run away. They might look up, see political and military threat, and run away to the safety of known threat. They may look up, see potential violence, and retreat to the oppression of before.
They might forget all they have come through. This at least is understandable, because there are times when all of us in our deepest humanity, choose to live with the disfunctions we accept, rather than face the chance of true freedom within ourselves, and our families and societies.
The passage gives a small hint of a turning point. God has rescued God’s people, he has done all that is necessary to get them out of Egypt … now … how will they respond?
Will God ‘keep’ doing everything for them, or will God call them to be reminded of the freedom for which they (and all humanity) was created? Seems it was a small test, a small action, but one that shows God works with his people, not against them.
God desires that you live free, and God will work with you, to allow you to know freedom.
As society, as a nation.
One more thing.
The young German couple I had breakfast with this morning were beautiful thoughtful souls. As often happens, talk goes to lessons from history, and what we as humanity are capable of doing to each other. They expressed deep concern at the voting patterns within Europe and particularly in their own country. Far right nationalism is once again getting a strong hold in western Europe. Immigrants are seen as infestation, difference is seen as denial, diversity and inclusion are seen as dangerous, and corporate militarism is seen as a legitimate way to wield and sway power.
The real problem for the Hebrews, the deep problem, is that the Egypt they might have wanted to go back to, no longer existed.
It was different.
They had left, and there had been violent pain leading up to their exodus. The Egypt of old, no longer existed for them to go back to.
It is exactly the same today.
There is no golden age to return to, that the immigrants are running for everyone. Right wing nationalists cannot fight to return to a purity of social nationhood – it’s not there. (It’s an academic debate as to whether it was actually never there in the first place). Egypt had moved on. The world as is now, has moved on. And so must we. So must the churches (we in the churches are quite possibly the worst at recognising this). Governments and economic systems need to move on. And so must we. The traveling wondering, wandering, humanity of God, still seeking freedom. Seeking Peace. Seeking a better way of life for ALL of us – and probably still thinking ‘this is scary – maybe it’s safer back there.’
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