Advent Week 2: Sinai

Today we continue our journey:  The Israelites were living under Egyptian oppression.  They cried out to God, and God heard.  More than that, God did something about it.  He sent a deliverer.

Moses was born, and through a bizarre series of circumstances wound up being raised in the palace of Egypt as one of Pharaoh’s children, then found himself on the run for murder.  God met him in the desert, then commissioned him to go to Pharaoh and intercede for the Israelites.  Reluctantly, Moses went.

Pharaoh eventually came around to seeing things Moses’ way, but it took some convincing.  Read the early chapters of Exodus to see how this went.

Ultimately God brought Israel out of Egypt.  But this was not the end of the story; it was only the beginning.

God brought the Israelites to Sinai, and it was here that He spoke.

What happened at Sinai was unprecedented.  Never since Eden had God addressed a group of people at once.  He had spoken to individuals (Abraham, Noah).  Angels had spoken on behalf of God to multiple people.

But it was never anything like this.

This was God breaking the silence between Himself and humanity that had existed since Eden.  This was humanity disconnected from God , and God beginning the process of reconnection.

No other religion has anything like this as part of the story of its beginning.  No other major religion has been birthed out of God addressing a whole group of people all at once.  Further, it happened out in the wilderness.  Not in or near a city, or in a nation.  Not on any land that one people group could claim as its own.  Rather, it happened on land that belonged to no one and everyone.  Thus, what happened here was for all people.

The plan was that Israel would be the hands and face and feet of God to a world that didn’t have a clue what He was about.  They would be a new kind of nation.  They would be the anti-Egypt.

So God gave them what we know as the Ten Commandments, to teach them a new way of being human.  Up to this point, Israel had known nothing but slavery.  Slavery dehumanizes.  God needed to teach Israel how to be human, how to live in authentic human community.

Thus the Ten Commandments.  These did not come about as a condition for Israel to be in relationship with God.  These did not come about at all until God had gone out of His way to bring Israel out of Egypt and establish a relationship with them.

The first commandment:  Have no other gods.  The Israelites’ humanity is tied to remembering their liberation from slavery, which was a gift from God.  If they forget God, then they forget their story.  They forget what it is like to be in slavery, and they eventually wind up back in slavery.

Commandment 2:  No images of God.  Why?  God is people.  The people of Israel ARE the image of God that shows the world what God is like.  No other images are necessary.

Commandment 3:  Don’t misuse the name of God.  Carry it properly.  Do the things God would do.  Be concerned about the things God would be concerned about.  Act on behalf of the poor and oppressed.  That is how God would act.  It is how God did act on behalf of Israel.

Commandment 4:  Take a day off.  You’re not slaves anymore.  You’re worth more than how many bricks you make.  Your worth comes from God, not from how many bricks you make.

The rest of the commandments, and all of the laws that follow, are all about how to be human.  How to live in this new kind of human community.

God’s words to Israel at Sinai could be summed up as follows:  “I brought you up out of Egypt.  Now go and make this happen for others.”

This was an invitation.  Would Israel accept?  For the answer, we must go to Jerusalem.