Saturday, May 24, 2014

Exodus and the Mission of God

Genesis sets the stage for understanding the Bible as the story of God’s mission. The four books that follow (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) accelerate it. The book of Exodus contains three critical elements for understanding God’s work in the world and our place in it. 

Exodus as the Heart of Israel’s Gospel
The heart of Israel’s Gospel is its story of how the LORD saved his oppressed people from Egypt for the sake of God’s mission of blessing the nations. The Exodus serves as the basis for Israel’s way of life as well as the foundation for its self-understanding and hope. God forges a relationship with God’s people through his gracious actions. The life of God’s people is nothing more and nothing less than a whole hearted response to God’s grace.

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21) open with the historic reminder “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Exod 20:2 cf Deut 5:6). Before there is law, there is God’s grace that creates and makes possible relationship.

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel’s praise continually remembers God’s deliverance from Egypt. Here are a few examples from the Psalms:

“To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt His love endures forever.
And brought Israel out from among them His love endures forever.
With a mighty hand and outstretched arm His love endures forever.” (Ps 136:10-12)

“You transplanted a vine from Egypt;” (Ps 80:8)

“When Israel came out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,” (Ps 114:1)

In Exodus, God liberates his people to serve as a missional community that reflects God’s character to/for/in the world. It demonstrates and proves his faithfulness and love. God’s people can trust that their present and future is secure. This is good news to be shared. It announces to the world (including Egypt) a God who desires to bless all people and nations. It is a counter-cultural reminder that the LORD is not a defender of the status quo or of only the privileged and powerful. The message of Exodus provides a profound hope for all people who long for justice. The God who created the world to be “very good” and embedded “sabbath” into the fabric of life acts in human history. God acts on behalf of justice and on behalf of his mission to bless the nations by intervening in human affairs to save the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob whom Egypt unjustly enslaved.

Covenant: Faithfulness in Response to Grace
The purpose of the deliverance is not simply liberation from the oppression of Egypt. It is relationship with God for the sake of the world. It is always a good for justice to prevail. But the goal of the Exodus is the freedom to serve God rather than autonomous freedom. God freed his people to unleash them for God’s mission to bless the nations. This unleashing takes place within the context of covenant. The Sinai Covenant makes up the majority of Exodus–Numbers. Exodus 19:1–Numbers 10:10 narrate and describe Israel’s stay at Sinai and the details of the covenant. This is the third covenant in the Bible after Noah’s and Abraham’s. In the Sinai covenant, God calls Israel to live as a community called to bless the nations by embodying the character of God. The Sinai materials assume the missional nature of God’s people. Israel exists as a kingdom of priests for the rest of the world, but Sinai emphasizes the creation of a holy community. God’s people can only achieve their mission of representing God to the nations by actually living in a way that reflects God’s holy character. As we will see, this involves loving God and loving others.

Relational Wholeness: God with Us
The book of Exodus reaches its highpoint in God’s presence coming to dwell in the newly constructed Tabernacle in the midst of the Israelite camp. Most gods of the ancient world lived in temples on cosmic mountains. Think of Zeus on mount Olympus or the Canaanite god Baal on mount Zaphon. The LORD is different. God chooses to dwell with his people. God abides with and leads God’s people as they move toward the Promised Land in fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Unlike the gods of the nations, the LORD desires to be in relationship with humanity. In the contemporary world, most of us assume that God is on our side. This was not assumption or worldview of the ancients. In the ancient world, the powerful gods sided with powerful people. If you were among the bottom 99% of the world, you lived to fear and placate the gods. The Bible offers a potent counter-narrative to this. As we’ve already seen, God created all men and all women in the image of God to reflect God’s character to the world and to care for creation. Genesis 3–11 narrated humanity’s lostness and brokenness. Beginning with Abram, God is working to reverse the tragedy of human sin and reforge the relational wholeness of Creation. The Tabernacle shows this by highlighting God’s desire to dwell with his people at the center of their community. This is profoundly good news. With God’s real presence at the center of their community, Israel becomes a missional community for the rest of the world.

What events or memories bring you peace and security?

Have you found a story and mission worthy of your life?

How might the story of the Exodus shape you into the person that God desires you to become?

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