Monday, March 24, 2014

The Value of Reading Exodus, a Chapter at a Time

I'm not sure how I fell into this habit.

I come home from work, fix a cuppa Joe, the dogs whisk around me excitedly as I add the milk and sugar (they know what's coming next) ... pick up my Bible from the hearth and open the patio door, the dogs race to the bottom of the yard together, and I go out to sit in the sun.

I sit in the sun and open up my Bible to Exodus to slowly read the next chapter.

I must have begun this two or three weeks before Lent began. For some reason, I'd been wanting to read Exodus for a while. Maybe because I'd read Genesis several times in the last couple of years for various reasons. (Surprisingly, you can have various reasons to read Genesis. I'd never have believed it in my pre-Christian days.)

I tried also reading commentaries but it turned out that what I wanted, deep down, was to just read the words ... and see what I found there for myself.

Maybe that's why I like the Ronald Knox translation I have been using. The lack of subheads, unobtrusive placement of verse numbers, the paragraph structure, the relatively few explanatory notes ... all these things lend themselves to simple reading. It's restful to simply sit and read.

Maybe that's also why things in the text stand out and surprise me.

I was surprised to find it dawning on me that all Moses asked of Pharaoh was to let the Hebrew slaves go worship in the desert for a few days. Not to "let my people go" out of slavery. Just to go worship ... and then they'd come back.

I guess I really absorbed more of The Ten Commandments than I realized.

Then I was bemused by Pharaoh's stubbornness. Yes, I know God said he'd harden his heart, but this looked like a familiar pattern. Something we all understood.

When he finally began to relent, Pharaoh said, well ok but you have to worship here. No leaving the country.

More plagues.

Then Pharaoh relented. A little. Ok, but who's going with  you? What? You want to take the women, children, and livestock? Absolutely not. Just the men can leave.

More plagues.

Ok, I'll let you take the women and kids. But not the livestock. No way. They stay here.

More plagues ... and the death of all the firstborn and Pharaoh's famous full relenting.

How many times have we done that? We try to work deals with God. We'll give in, a little, but we want to maintain control, have things on our own terms as much as possible. We're not fooling anyone, certainly not God. Just like Pharaoh. To think I'd never have come across that if I hadn't been just sitting and reading a little at a time.

Right now I have been working my way through the liturgical instructions that come along with receiving the tablets of commandments written "with God's own finger."

I had no idea that after hearing the commandments, Moses was sent back down the mountain to round up the top 70 elders and bring them back up as witnesses for more in-depth coverage of just how the laws would apply.

As God worked his way through all the circumstances and applications of law, I kept thinking of how these people were just like us. And they were in circumstances just like the ones that we find ourselves in. What a tangible connection between me and those long-ago people.

Even in the lengthy chapters about how the tabernacle was to be constructed, how the priests' garments were to be woven, how the poles would go through the altar, I found fascinating tidbits. I thought about how God selected the craftsmen by name, saying that their creative spirits were given by him to be used for this purpose.

I could picture the tabernacle and how the men would carry it, based on the careful description of making holes for the poles to go through. It also gave me a sense of just how deeply the connection went for the Hebrew people to their temple. If God cared so much about these details, they surely would carry over to everything connected to him. I felt it in a deeper way than merely "knowing" the facts.

I'm not always fascinated. But I read it anyway and there is always something that I stop and think about. This is truly a different sort of Bible reading for me.

After I'm done I will most probably pick my Navarre Bible and read through the commentary. But for now, experiencing the Word without a filter is a truly enlightening and inspirational journey into the desert.

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