Friday

], ‘If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.” (v. 14-15)

Exodus 33:1-23 Friday 27 July 2018

Psalm: Psalm 107:17-32


Background

“For nothing in the world is it worth turning one's back on what one loves. Yet that is what I'm doing, though why I do not know.” In Albert Camus’ 1947 novel, La Peste, a plague has been ravishing the town of Oran which has been quarantined for six months. The town’s doctor, Rieux, and the journalist caught up in the quarantine by circumstance, Rambert, are contemplating why each has chosen to stay, risk death, and pass up the chance to escape and be with the person they love most in the world. Turning their back on their loved ones is a decision to not turn their back on the call they feel to help the townspeople. Turning their back is not a sign that they do not love their life partners – in fact it can even be a sign of how much they do love them, because to devalue their own personal integrity by failing to respond to human need and suffering would leave them less of a person, and less able to love in their personal lives.

In chapters 32-34 of Exodus there is a painful see-sawing relationship between God and the people. After the people turn their back on the Lord through worshipping the golden calf (Exodus 32), the Lord responds in one paragraph with wrath and then in the next with mercy. In none of the ways that the God and the people turn their backs is there an end to a loving relationship. It is only because God loves the people that God is both wrathful in exercising holy justice and merciful in offering holy love. In verses 1-6 of today’s passage the Lord’s presence is withdrawn from the people – God will not be present with them in the Promised Land – but then after Moses pleads that this will rob them of their very identity (verse 16), God finally relents in favour of mercy (verse 17).

Verses 7-11 do not easily fit with the flow of this narrative. Chapters 32-34 are clearly a patchwork of fragments put together by a careful editor wishing to portray the loving pain of the relationship between the Lord and the people. This ill-fitting section, which appears to refer to an earlier time, is perhaps best seen as a reminiscence of what they stand to lose with the declaration of God’s absence in verse 3.

Finally, God will be present with them and reveals his glory to Moses. Even then God is not fully present – only with God’s back turned (verse 23) can Moses survive this awesome experience. The turned back of God is not a rejection, but a demonstration of love and mercy towards Moses.


To Ponder

  • How do you experience God’s presence, and God’s absence?
  • Are they always opposite experiences, or is the holy just and loving God involved in both presence and absence?
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