So far the Shema Summer has gone either exactly or better than I had planned. I expected to be able to knock out the readings for the weekdays with ease because there is a lot of downtime while at work in the Tech Center. After I began blogging, I expected I'd be able to keep up with it fairly regularly during the weekdays too (see above). And finally, I expected that I would be a bit behind after the weekends because... well, it's the weekend and I don't want to do work-type things on the weekends in the summer. However, I was pretty pleased that I instinctively read the sections for Saturday and Sunday on their assigned days. Regularity in a reading schedule is something I am not very familiar with outside of the last two semesters of college, so it is cool to see that some of those habits are sticking (and hopefully will stick even more by the time I graduate from college). Of course I keep telling myself that I'm only reading 10 chapters a day. It's not like you're reading five times that much each day (like I would during the school year). But hey, I'll take whatever I can get right now.
That said, my reflections on these chapters in Exodus are more broad than my reflections in Genesis. The theme of being brought into the wilderness by God is a theme that pervades not only Old Testament theology but even contemporary theology. I recall a month dedicated to this theme at my church in Defiance, Family Christian Center. This theme is also explored by the biblical scholar Frances Young in her book Brokenness and Blessing, where she asserts that the early church fathers picked up this theme immediately.
What is the wilderness? It is a place of trial. A place of testing; a place of finding the truth (Rowan Williams, Christ on Trial). It is a place where we are brought to see who we really are. In Ex. 13:17-18, the Lord brings the Israelites through the wilderness after bringing them out of Egypt. For most of the Israelites, that situation must seem like going from the freezer to the frying pan. What lies in the desert that is better than Egypt (Ex. 14:12)?
The wilderness is dark, wet, and scary. It reveals an inconvenient truth about ourselves. Who are we and what are we made of? It reminds me of the beginning of the movie 300 when young Leonidas is sent into the wilderness to see if he can survive on his own. Obviously, he does survive but others are not as fortunate. When left to their own instruments they fail.
So would the Israelites if not for God. The Egyptians would have tracked them down at the Sea of Reeds. No way to cross, some probably would have tried and drowned; others would have turned back and faced lifelong slavery or torture or death; maybe they would have had the hat trick and gotten all three. Recognize also that if it were not for God the Israelites would have still been stuck in Egypt.
But time and time again God delivers the Israelites from certain failure. Whether parting the Sea of Reeds, turning the bitter water into sweet water, or raining manna from heaven, God is always there for the Israelites; always providing, always delivering. The wilderness is a place of trial, but God is there in those trials. God is there and always delivering and providing. I sound extremely cliché right now because this seems like the feel-good message everyone hears at least once a month at church but as much as I hate repeating this dime-a-dozen message, it is important that we recognize that God is there for us in our trials. God is there for us in the wilderness.
God is there in our trials because the Lord God is our God and we are God's people. The Israelites went into the wilderness and were tried again and again, revealing more about themselves that they were never aware of in Egypt. But what was the most important thing they found out? That they are God's people. God continued to deliver them because they are God's people and because the Lord God was their God. What they found out was their close relationship with God. They found out that they are God's.
I chose this background for this blog because I thought it would be fitting when we got to the wilderness sections of the Pentateuch (Exodus and Numbers), but also because this theme is evident not only in the Old Testament but also in the New Testament; Jesus is tempted (read: tried) in the desert by the evil one (Rowan Williams, Christ on Trial). The daunting trees and the suffocating atmosphere of the wilderness is being broken down and overpowered by God's magnificent and healing light.
For further reflection: What does it mean that God brings the Israelites into the wilderness to avoid taking them near the warring Philistines (Ex. 13:17-18)? Do you think this is another act of deliverance or not?