Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Exodus: Chapter 33

To see
To know
To call by name

Locked together
Face to face

At the limen of being
A gaze of longing
At the back receding

[For full chapter, click here
A chapter full of great distance, and intimate closeness.  It opens with the Children of Israel gazing longingly after Moses’ receding back, and closes with Moses’ glimpse of God’s “back” passing before him. The key words are telling:  “see” “know” and “face.”
Moses’ liminal role is intensified and transformed. Here, he becomes more potently a stand-in for God—his private tent is the “tent of meeting,” called by the same name as God’s Dwelling. “Let Me be and I will destroy them…and make a great nation of you” God said to Moses in the aftermath  of the Golden Calf.  Moses averted the decree, but the relationship between him and God indeed now seems to exclude Israel:  “When Moses went out to the Tent, that all the people rose up, and stood, every man at his door of the tend, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the Tent…when Moses entered into the Tent, the pillar of cloud descended, and stood at the door of the Tent; and God spoke with Moses.” In parallel structure, the verses highlight that Moses and Israel stand at wholly different portals; the people look longingly at the receding figure of Moses while Moses speaks to God.
Yet in the course of the chapter, this is transformed. Moses' new intimacy with God becomes a way to rebuilt the connection to Israel, rather than exclude them. Love, knowledge, and an inalienable connection become intertwined: “You have said: I know you by name, and you have found favor (hen) in My eyes. And now, if indeed I find favor in your eyes, make Your ways known to me, that I may know You and find favor in your eyes, so you will see that this nation is your people.” The personal hen is extended over the nation as a whole: “How will it be known that I have found favor in your eyes—I and your  people? Only if You walk with us. We will be special, I, and your nation.” The intimacy of speaking “face to face” becomes the demand  for the presence of the Face among the nation as a whole: “if Your face does not walk with us, do not carry us out of here.” 
Moses is indeed the intermediary, but he does not only offer access to God’s word for the people. Now he also makes the people present to God: It is through love of Moses that God will know that “this nation is your people." At the moment that Moses is most alone, living "outside" the camp, he paradoxically becomes the stand in for the people, their embodiment to God. ]

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