Monday, October 23, 2006

Exodus 19

Exodus 19: Moses consecrates the people, to prepare to meet with the LORD

Synopsis

The Israelites have now been out of Egypt for three months—to the day (verse 1)—and are arriving at Mount Sinai. (The mountain, not the hospital.) God is now going to meet with His people, and, among other things, give them the 10 Commandments. (Everyone knows of the 10 Commandments, but many people, when they try and recite them, realize that they don’t actually know what the commandments are. If you’re one of those people, you’ll get a refresher course in the next chapter.)

But first, He needs to remind His people of His Holiness. It seems, to me anyway, that the Israelites in the Old Testament still sometimes view God as just another one of “the gods”; He often reminds them that He is more than just “one of the gods”, He is the only true God.

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (verses 3–6)

So Moses tells the people, and they respond “We will do everything the LORD has said” (verse 8). Moses brings this answer back to the LORD, who tells Moses that He is going to speak to Moses from a “dense cloud”. He wants the people to hear Him speaking to Moses, so that they will “always put their trust in [him]” (verse 9). Once the people have seen the LORD speaking directly to Moses, they will realize that he has a special relationship to God, and should be followed.

So, in order to prepare the people, Moses is to consecrate them, and God will meet with them on the third day. When God comes, the mountain is covered in smoke, because the LORD has descended on it in fire, and there is thunder and lightening. Not surprisingly, everyone in the camp is trembling. (This is all described in verses 16–19.)

God has instructed Moses that he is to cordon off the mountain, so that nobody can approach it. If anyone does, s/he is to be put to death. What’s more, the person is to be put to death in such a way that the people performing the execution are not to touch the person—they should use arrows or stones, to kill the person. (Otherwise, I’m assuming, anyone who touches the person should also be executed.) So on the third day, when God comes down to the mountain, the first thing He does is remind Moses about these rules, and Moses confirms that this rule has been laid down. So God instructs Moses to bring Aaron up with him, but nobody else is to approach the mountain, or God will “break out” against them (verse 22).

Thoughts

Once again, we’re coming across the word “consecrate” (for which I copied and pasted a definition, in a previous post). In verse 10 the LORD tells Moses to consecrate the people, and in verse 14 it says that “he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes”. What I’m curious about, however, is how Moses consecrated them. What actions did he take? Did he anoint them with oil, or wash them, or wave his staff over them, or pray over them, or something else? It’s not just the washing of the clothes; the passage makes it clear that the people washing their clothes was in addition to the consecration; “he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes” (emphasis added).

To add to the confusion, in my mind, verse 15 also tells us that the people were to “abstain from sexual relations”, in preparation for the event. I’ve often wondered about this; why would abstaining from sexual relations help to prepare the people to meet with God? We’ll see this numerous times in the Old Testament: when the Israelite soldiers are preparing for battle, one of the things they’re to do is abstain from sexual relations; when God lays down the various rules, regulations, and laws for the Israelite people, there are many laws regarding sexual relations (or byproducts of sexual relations) making people “unclean”. On the other hand, the Bible definitely does not indicate that sexual relations are inherently bad; on the contrary, sexual relations between husbands and wives is not only commanded, it’s seen as a good thing. For example, Song of Solomon (also called Song of Songs, in some translations, I think) is an entire book of the Old Testament devoted to the beauty of physical love between a husband and wife (see below). And in 1 Corinthians 7:4–5, Paul says:

The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

There are those who would try and claim that sex is inherently evil/sinful, but in order to do so, you have to ignore various parts of the Bible which contradict that. There are also those who would go the other way, and say that anything goes, and you when it comes to sex, you can do what you want, with whoever you want, but again, you have to ignore other parts of the Bible which contradict that. The Bible doesn’t take either of those views; sex is to be between husbands and wives only, but between husbands and wives, sex is something to be treasured and enjoyed. But it still seems strange, to me, that it is often something that the Israelites are to abstain from, when they are striving for holiness. If sex—between a husband and wife—is a good thing, as I’m arguing, then why would abstaining from it help prepare the Israelites to meet with God? The odd thing is, it sort of makes sense to me, on an intuitive level, but on a cognitive level, when I try to reason it out, it stops making sense.

Oh well. We’ll see it again, in future books, so I’ll have ample opportunities to explore this topic again, in the future.

Regarding Song of Solomon: Just to pay lip service to people who don’t hold my viewpoint on the book… Some regard this book to be entirely allegorical, describing the relationship between God and His people, and rejecting the idea that the book describes physical love between humans. I think there is validity to the allegorical viewpoint, considering that the church is described as the “bride of Christ” in the New Testament. However, the language of the book seems to me to indicate that this is, if anything, a secondary aspect. The book is primarily concerned with the physical act(s) of love, between husbands and wives. From there, in a general way, it could be expanded to show that the relationship between a husband and a wife is a representation of the relationship between Christ and the church, but I think you’d really be stretching logic to the breaking point, when you start trying to apply some of the verses in this allegorical way.
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