Exodus 32:9-14 and Exodus 33

(Reading List Theme 1.9)

There is so much in these chapters, I decided to split it my post. First, I did an intellectual post; this one is a more personal post.

My conclusion from Part 1 is that while we can trust God that His essential nature and attributes will not change, we can also trust that one of His attributes is responsiveness to humanity. If He “changes His mind” or “repents” it is not because He realizes He has done something wrong – it is because our repentance (turning from our own wrong/sin) and prayerful, humble intercession has invited His mercy to be shown to us, instead of the judgment our sin truly deserves.

But I also wanted to share some personal thoughts. The first thing that strikes me, is what a different portrayal of God this is than say, Song of Songs. God who loves and pursues us… is angry and wants to desert us? Unfortunately, the second portrayal seems to be more common than the first. But how can they both be true?

We must shake the notion that God is like us. We are created in his image and do reflect him in some ways, but he does not have the limits we have, and he is infinitely complex. When we focus on the God who loves and the God who came near to us as Jesus, we must never forget that God in flesh was a willing self-limitation of all that God truly is. God is MORE than us, more complex, more powerful, more mysterious, more holy. And more loving, compassionate, and perfect. We will never figure him out! But we should still try!

So, why is God’s anger so hot here? Because the people God had done EVERYTHING for, and shown miracles to, and delivered and cared for in dramatic ways, were rejecting him. Gee, I guess I can see why he was mad. They were giving up, and decided they’d rather have God-in-a-box (or in this case, God-in-a-golden-calf) that they could manipulate and control. They didn’t want big and powerful and full of mystery and adventure.

Oh, how sad. How terribly sad.

To go back to the metaphor of Song of Songs, of the husband and wife, this is how I see it: God in a pillar of fire and cloud, a massive force on the mountain, unable to “handle” and predict and control – that is like marriage. God was in relationship with the people. It was a relationship of trust and care, and he offered them a chance at intimacy. Exodus 19 and 24 show how everyone experienced God on the mountain, but Deut 5:4-5 says they were afraid of this intimacy; they wanted something else. Something they could handle. So they made a golden calf. They weren’t trying to make a different God, they just wanted that God who had delivered them to be more contained and predictable and manipulatable. Their experience living in Egypt and among other nations had taught them this was possible, so that is what they did. In essence, they wanted a slave, not a spouse. They wanted a god they could control, not one they had to be in relationship with.

I married a person with a will of his own. I need to talk with him, negotiate, submit, be honest, give, be vulnerable, receive. He must do all of that as well. If I had a slave to help around the house and take care of the kids at times and give me a back rub when requested, my home and life might be tidier. But it would be a lot emptier. I would be lonely. I would long for more.

We were not created to dictate and control others, or God. We were created for relationship with others and God. Relationship involves risk, surrender, giving, adventure. But it also comes with love, intimacy, protection, safety, and we receive as much as we give, if not more. Relationship is far better. When Israel rejected relationship, God was grieved and wrathful, because all he had given them was being scorned. All he IS had been misunderstood. In Exodus 33 God said, “I will keep my promise and give you the land, but I will not personally be with you. It costs me too much – you are too difficult, and I don’t want to hurt you, but I know you will disappoint me again, so it will be safer if I remain at a distance.”

What happens next is beautiful. The people of Israel are all in a mode of reconciliation, and Moses comes to God, in humility, but with an awareness of who he is before God. There is a boldness in the way he come. Moses comes knowing he has been chosen, and knowing how much that means to God. Moses says, “God, We are yours, and you are ours. I know you meant it when you chose us. We have let you down, but we are not going anywhere without you.” Moses’ statement of love and commitment to God, despite their imperfections and sin, wins God over. Israel thought they wanted a God that could be contained, but they realized a God of life and adventure was better. They changed God’s mind. They won him over again, and relationship was restored. We know God wants it, but we have to realize that we want it too.

Israel messed up later, again and again, but often through their history we see them turn back again. What a God of mercy! What a God of love!

If I am an honest little disciple, whenever I see the scriptures, I have to ask myself – where am I in this? I am on an adventure in the unknown, that is for sure. I know God has called me and my family to Eugene, but sometimes I don’t know why, and sometimes I don’t like the way my life looks. I want to hurry up and get to the promised land. There are days I think, “How much longer, God? How long must I live in a temporary dwelling, and journey without feeling like I am getting anywhere?” There are days I look to the past and see only the good, forgetting that God has called me to something else – something better – even if there is a wandering time before I can get there. Israel didn’t enjoy Egypt, but sometimes predictably bad circumstances are easier to deal with than unpredictable dreams and adventures.

God, I choose the adventure. I choose the unknown promise. I choose to follow you, whatever sacrifice it takes. I ask that you would help me to see it as a shaping time. Help me learn the lessons of the wilderness, so I will be ready when it is time to receive the promise. I receive the love you offer. Thank you for being responsive to my prayers.

For others I pray, God, be with my friend whose husband was diagnosed with an incurable disease. Oh Lord! They need a miracle more than I do! …God, be with my friends who for years have struggled in dead-end jobs, trying to get something better and not feeling like they are able to pursue their dreams, wondering if they should try to have another baby… Be with my friend who is planning to re-start her life and career and move in the next few months. Guide her and help her build her business and find rest and fulfillment after years “putting in time” and laying the foundations for the life she wants… Be with two friends who are each divorced moms with special-needs kids whose dads don’t seem to want any part in their lives anymore. Just having my husband travel for work has made me realize what a struggle single parenting is, and I thankfully don’t have the heartbreak of divorce to accompany it. Be the spouse to those who have lost their lover; be the parent to those who have lost a father…

I could go on and on… Instead, I will end with this song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JmVxRl5bc4Y.   Wherever we are, we can cry out to Jesus. Moses did, and God responded. God will respond to you too.