Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Call of Moses (Exodus 3 - 6)

The next unit of our Lenten Bible Study of the Book of Exodus covers Chapters 3 through 6.

At the beginning of Chapter 3, we find Moses before God’s holy mountain attending to the sheep of his father in law, Jethro. As Moses first leads a flock of sheep to the Holy Mountain, so he will return leading the flock of God’s people. Thus, his exile as a shepherd of Midian is a preparation for the ultimate task which God has for him.

When Moses sees a bush which burns but is not consumed, he decides to go aside and see this great sight. According to the Navarre Bible Commentary, fire is often a feature of theophanies because it is the best symbol to convey the presence of things spiritual and divine. Some Christian writers have seen the burning bush as a symbol of the Church which endures and is not consumed despite many persecutions and trials.

God tells Moses to take off his shoes because he is standing on holy ground. Some Christian writers have seen in the act of taking off the shoes the idea that no one can gain access to God without first shedding every earthly attachment. The text says, “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” We should have a healthy fear of God. Sacred Scripture says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. If we Catholics really believe what we say we believe about the Blessed Sacrament, we should have a healthy fear and respect of the Lord every time we enter the Church. We genuflect and reverence the tabernacle not just to be carrying out the motions but out of respect that we are standing on Holy Ground. For surely, every time we enter a Catholic Church we are standing on Holy Ground the same as Moses was.

When God commissions Moses to go and free the people and lead them to the Holy Mountain, Moses objects and says that he can’t do it. How many times has God called to us, that we have said “I can’t do it.” However, if a task is God’s divine will for us, He will always equip us. How many times have unlikely people been equipped for great tasks. Who would have commissioned the playboy Francesco Bernadone who wanted to give away every thing he owned and live like a beggar, or the little Albanian nun Mother Teresa who wanted to help the poor and sick? For that matter, who would have called the hapless fisherman Peter to be the leader of a movement?

The Divine Name is then revealed to Moses. We need to stop trying to pronounce the Divine Name. Hopefully, when the new English liturgy comes in we will stop singing banal hippy mass songs like “Yahweh, I know You are Near.” If the New Jerusalem Bible is read in public, we need to pronounce the Divine Name as “Adonai” or “LORD.” This too, is part of the respect and fear of God that we should have. For the ancient people, to be able to name a thing or a person was to have control over it. To attempt to pronounce the Divine Name is to attempt to domesticate God. We can’t do it and we should stop trying. “Yahweh” being written all over everything in Catholic hymnals and literature is a symptom of the liberal theology of the nineteen seventies which is about as outdated now as lava lamps, mood rings and shag carpets.

God reveals his Divine Name as I AM THAT I AM. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says “The divine name is mysterious just as God is mystery. It is at once a name revealed and something like the refusal of a name, and hence it expresses God as what he is - infinitely above everything that we can understand or say: he is the ‘hidden God’ (Is 45:15), his name is ineffable, and he is the God who makes himself close to men.” (CCC 206).

God tells Moses that the journey of the children of Israel to the Holy Mountain from Egypt will take three days. Like every other number in scripture, the number of days in the journey is not without significance. Three, the number of the Holy Trinity, is a number which symbolizes divine action.

In Chapter 4, we have the puzzling episode where Moses falls violently ill and his wife Zipporah circumcises their son, touches the bloody foreskin to her husband’s genitals and says ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me!” (Exodus 4:24-26). What does this mean? Nobody knows. According to the Navarre Bible, the Church Fathers tended to comment on this passage allegorically, saying that Moses blessed his wife and children by means of this rite, to give them a share in the fruits of his salvific mission.

Verses 29 through 34 tell how Moses and Aaron gathered together the elders of the people of Israel and explained their mission to them. “And the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped.” God’s plan for deliverance can be put into action only if men are ready to believe in it.

In Chapter 5 Moses has his first audience with Pharaoh. It doesn’t go well. Pharaoh says that he doesn’t know the god of the Hebrews and he will not let the people go. Oh, and by the way, you slaves can go and get your own straw to make bricks with and you better not let production go down. For following the commands of God, the children of Israel will be punished and suffer at the hands of “the world.” This will always be so. Those whom God chooses undergo all kinds of trials but we should put our trust in God alone.

Pharaoh would not have been completely ignorant of the God of Israel. To Pharaoh, who is considered a living god, the God of Israel is the god of an insignificant tribe of slaves. Pharaoh’s statement “I do not know the LORD” doesn’t mean that he doesn’t know about the Hebrew God but that he does not recognize that such a god really exists or has authority over him. Just like Pharaoh “the world” today doesn’t know the LORD and doesn’t care what his commandments are. The secular world has its own agenda and secular cultural elites like the media and Hollywood just can’t understand or comprehend religion or religious people. To them, the Christian Church is a backward relic of ages past which should soon pass into oblivion. Just like the children of Israel, we today can expect much opposition and persecution from the pharaohs of modern western culture.

COMING SOON: Exodus Chapter 7, The River of Blood.

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