What follows is the first draft of a book I’m working on tentatively titled “I Yahweh, Take You Israel” which is based on a series of messages I did on the 10 Commandments. As Christians we often have a jaded view of the Law and hopefully this book will give us a fresh look at one of the most important parts of the Bible. Hopefully the book will be available later in 2018. Stay tuned for more previews!
Chapter 2: A Wedding at Sinai.
It rained on my wedding day. Some people would take that as a bad omen, but we really didn’t care and for a variety of reasons. First of all, our chance of marital success is not linked to meteorology. Secondly, it made for some really cool pictures. Most of all we didn’t care if it rained or not because the day wasn’t about the weather. It was about two people making a commitment before God and man to live together in an exclusive love relationship as long as they both shall live.
Weddings are joyous occasions. For many young women, they dream of their wedding day all their early lives – how they will look in their wedding dress, the flowers, the attendants, their father, and their soon to be husband. There is something universally happy about seeing two people in love, and starting a new life together. One can’t help but smile.
I would like to make the bold proposition that one of the ways which we can view the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai, and the law itself, is through the lens of marriage vows between God and His people. I know, that sounds absurd but please hear me out.
A Little Bit of Context
The giving of the law at Sinai didn’t just happen out of nowhere. The Israelites weren’t simply wandering around in the wilderness suddenly and unexpectedly stumbling upon God on the mountain. There is a context in which the events of Sinai occurred and understanding it deepens the impact and richness of the law.
For 430 years the Israelites were in Egypt, from the time Joseph and the other sons of Israel moved there to escape famine, until the time the entire nation walked out after the first Passover. In some ways Egypt acted as an incubator for a nation to grow from around seventy people to millions of people. This, of course, was all part of the fulfillment of God’s original covenant with Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing… (Gen. 12:2).” Needless to say, seventy stragglers from Canaan does not constitute a “great nation” or descendants as numerous as the stars. Despite the oppression of slavery God used the time spent in Egypt to grow Abraham’s physical descendants, and He never forgot about them or the covenant.
I can only imagine the feelings of abandonment that the Israelites must have felt as Pharaoh ruthlessly heaped increasingly exhausting labor on them. Then, in an effort to weaken the burgeoning nation further he ordered the extermination of the Hebrew sons at the hands of the midwives. When the midwives showed that they feared God more than man, Pharaoh ordered the male infants to be thrown into the Nile and drowned. As it often does, the situation looked mighty grim for the people of God. Then, almost imperceptibly, God began to move.
First, God used Pharaoh’s daughter to rescue Moses as he floated down the Nile. Then, perhaps to help preserve his Hebrew identity, God allowed Moses’ own mother to nurse him. After growing up in Pharaoh’s household Moses found his way into the wilderness after murdering an Egyptian. It was here, during his forty-year waiting period that God spoke loud and clear to Moses and shared His plan for redeeming His people out of Egypt by His mighty power.
Looking at the ten plagues that God sent on the Egyptians it can seem like senseless violence and suffering on an entire nation. No doubt, the plagues brought untold suffering on the people of Egypt, but it was in no way senseless. In fact, it was a perfectly calculated series of events prescribed by God with the express purpose of showing, “you [Pharaoh] my power and to make my name great on the whole earth (Ex. 9:16).”
It is essential to understand the plague events of Exodus represent God’s judgment on an entire system of false religion as well as a display of His mighty power for the deliverance of His people. Whether it suits our modern sensibilities or not, there were real, spiritual forces at work in the Egyptian religion. When Moses and Aaron approach Pharaoh in Exodus 7, Aaron threw his staff on the ground and it became a serpent. Then, in a show of force, Pharaoh’s “wise men and sorcerers” did the exact same thing “by their occult practices.” Sure, Aaron’s snake ate the Egyptian snake, but it was no optical illusion, something transformed their staffs into snakes. This pattern continues with the water turning to blood (Ex. 7:22), and the frogs (Ex. 8:8). It wasn’t until the plague of gnats that the magician’s power failed to meet God’s challenge.
God’s plan in all of this was two-fold, to show His superiority over all other gods, and to distinguish His people from the world. When Pharaoh pleaded with Moses to get the frogs removed from the land Moses let him choose when the frogs would go away. Why? “so that you may know that there is no one like the Lord [Yahweh] our God (Ex. 8:10b).” All of the Egyptian gods were no match for Yahweh and that corrupt system of false worship was being exposed for what it was – impotent.
By the time the forth plague rolls around something interesting happens. Up until this point the plagues seem to have affected everyone in Egypt, Hebrew and Egyptian alike. However, in Exodus 8:22-23 God tells Moses to give this message to Pharaoh, “But on that day I will give special treatment to the land of Goshen, where my people are living; no flies will be there. This way you will know that I, the Lord, am in the land. I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign will take place tomorrow (emphasis added).” This distinction is reiterated explicitly for the fifth, seventh, ninth, and tenth plagues. The message is clear, there is a God greater than all the false gods, and He has a people – Israel – that is His special people. The knight in shining armor has arrived.
God distinguishing between Israel and Egypt through the plagues, and the other events of Exodus becomes part of the love story between Yahweh and His bride that reaches a zenith at Sinai. Generations before, God had chosen Israel to be His special people to carry out His creative, and redemptive purposes on earth. Those people had been in captivity for four hundred and thirty years, now it was time for God to carve them out of the midst of Egypt and redeem them for Himself as a bridegroom retrieves his bride for the wedding ceremony.
To be continued…