Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Exodus: Chapter 20

I am your God

Specificity of connection

Do not desire that
which is not yours

"Wherever you call my Name
I will come to you
and bless you"

A dance of approach and retreat

[For full chapter, click here
Be careful what you wish for;  it might come true. If before Israel “tests” (nisa) God, demanding signs of His presence, now God test/exults (nassot) Israel with revelation: “You have seen that I have spoken to you from the heavens.” And mow all the children of Israel want is “distance” (rahok--a key word) from the overwhelming voice. “Speak you to us, and we shall hear / Let not God speak to us, lest we die” they beg Moses. The boundaries and warnings of the previous chapter are indeed needed.
Again, Moses becomes a stand-in and conduit for this overwhelming intimacy, approaching the “mist” alone. And despite the public nature of this spectacle, intimacy seems to be the key: “I am the Name, your God” is the first declaration, which closes chiasticaly: “Do not bow to them, or serve them, for I am the Name, your God, a possessive God.” This intimate Name, which God revealed to Moses, cannot be spoken lightly. Wherever it is called, God will appear. This is the name connected to the exodus(“I revealed myself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and with my Name I did not make Myself known)—and God indeed identifies Himself through the relationship set into place by “taking you out of Egypt.” Specificity is central: Set aside the Sabbath; don’t desire something that is another’s—whatever it may be. Idolatry is a sin between “I” and “Thou”: “Do not make with Me / gods of silver and gods of gold / do not make for you.” This is a meeting between God’s “face” (al panai) and Israel’s face (al peneihem)

The chapter closes by offering another, less fearful  conduit to God. Jethro, the priest of Midian, created a system to allow distance between the nation and Moses, "so you will live, both you and the people" after which he brings offerings to God. Now come the rules for creating an altar, so Israel too can bring offerings. Here, boundaries will be protected. “Do not come up with your nakedness”.  ]

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