Scripture Study and Reflection on the Life of Moses - Part III
God Chooses Israel as He Chose Moses
By Mark F. Whitters, Ph.D.
This is the third in a series of Scripture meditations on the life of Moses as presented in the Book of Exodus. The struggles of Moses as savior of the children of Israel prefigure Jesus Christ, savior of the world.
Sinai does not ever again dominate the biblical landscape of Israelite history, except for one instance: Elijah goes back to Mount Horeb for renewal (1 Kings 20). Apart from the poetic allusions to the wilderness and the Sinai pact, the biblical writers generally wanted to keep the focus on the land Israel had inherited. The Pentateuch however stresses that the actual foundation and identity of Israel occurred outside of its national boundaries, as it were, and outside their own efforts. God accomplished the work unilaterally; Israel did not generate itself as a nation, devising its own laws or political processes. Thus, the operative word again is “liminal” zone where man and God meet.
The same thing happened to Moses, who was unilaterally selected and safeguarded by God in his infancy and non-Hebrew upbringing. Even more relevant was his sojourn in the Midian wilderness and his marriage there. Once Moses was isolated from his familiar surroundings, God revealed himself directly in the burning bush. So also once Israel is isolated from its adopted refuge in Egypt, God offers the covenant.
If we take this angle on divine election we see that Sinai tells the story of the “romance” with Israel from the Lord’s (the “bridegroom's”) point of view. The text suggests that the relationship is easy from his point of view: he took her into his grasp like an eagle with its fledgling (v. 4). He is completely in charge; though she may not be completely trust him. The wooer knows where he wants to take the relationship and all the cards are in his hands as far as strength and wealth and experience are concerned. The eagle is a virile and high-flying bird. It epitomizes self-control, transcendence, and freedom – and yet the image of the eagle also connotes risk, danger, and courage.
The marriage image also might flow from the idea that Israel is God’s “treasured possession (segulla) among all the peoples” (v. 5). This is the first time the term occurs in the Scriptures, and it occurs often thereafter. Even in the New Testament it occurs twice. Titus 3:14 says, “[Jesus Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” It also appears in 1 Peter 2:9-10 with two other terms that seem to be rather parallel: “holy race and royal priesthood.” It is the “treasured possession” idea that is not obvious in its meaning.
What does it mean to be a “peculiar people” or a “treasured possession”? How are God’s people singled out and designated as God’s favorites? It seems unfair that God would have such preferences, but perhaps a marriage metaphor is intended. The word in its Akkadian context suggests “possession,” as in a king being the possession of a goddess. So perhaps it is something that has been purchased at a great price. Perhaps a great redemption price or dowry has been required of the Lord to obtain it. This would fit the marriage image from above. Another Near Eastern parallel comes from a Ugaritic treaty: “Now [you belong?] to the Sun, your Lord; you are [his serva]nt, his property.”
What about the relationship between God and his “possession” Israel, from Israel’s point of view? We can only imagine Israel's experience of the relationship based on other chapters of Exodus, but clearly Israel is learning to trust on a day-by-day basis. Will the manna come through today like yesterday? Should the Israelite not take twice or three times as much today just in case it does not come tomorrow? Now Israel is trying to survive on daily faith that the manna will miraculously appear instead of a constant and altogether ordinary diet of lentils and onions.
The other image is that of the eagle with its fledgling. Imagine what it would be like to be the fledgling, learning to fly either by being dropped from the eagle wings into a free fall or by holding for dear life to the back of a high-flying bird! The fledgling is unskilled, lame, and dependent. Thus, one might now see Israel’s point of view. The beloved is wholly dependent on the lover in this espousal covenant, that is, Israel is in quite a vulnerable place as it follows God in the wilderness. A covenant with such a sovereign and transcendent God is a risky business.
It was much easier for Moses who
won Zipporah as his bride. Even then it was Zipporah who saved him from
death, putting Moses in her debt as a “bridegroom of blood” (4:25-26).
Now the shoe is on the other foot, with Moses and Israel dependent on God
for their lives. One might understand why Moses was so reluctant at first
to serve as God’s representative to Pharaoh and why Israel remained stiff-necked.
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