Many Christians and many non-Christians have difficulty reconciling the God of the Old Testament with the God of the New. The story of the capture and subjugation of the “land of milk and honey,” is bloody and brutal. That story also supported the Europeans in the invasion of the Americas—kill those who will not submit.
We don’t have enough time or space to look at the many questionable passages here, but we have part of the answer in the reading from Exodus. As Moses approached the burning bush, God said, Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. ESV
In this account, the holy ground is at Horeb, also called the mountain of God. As we read through the Bible, we come to realize that holy ground is wherever God interacts with His people. The true meaning, then, is that all ground is holy because God is everywhere.
We can learn about God’s actions in ancient times by a careful look at Horeb. While you can visit Horeb today, to do so will require visiting several mountains that claim to be the mountain of God. It is somewhere in the Sinai, which is much larger than Israel itself. Horeb may refer to a range of mountains of which Mount Sinai is one.
That is fine. We know God is everywhere, so why have tour buses lined up around one place, where hawkers are selling genuine photos of God, autographed?
The first message of this reading is that God is here. Wherever I am, He is here.
Verse 4 gives us another lesson in the form of two names for God. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush. ESV
The first name used is Lord, in Hebrew, Yehwah, or the Tetragrammaton. It is יהוה in Hebrew and is considered the name God allows humans to know, though not His true name. His true name has never been revealed to us. By the First Century, speaking the name was allowed only to priests in the Temple. When the name appears in a reading, Jews, then and today, substitute another name—generally Adonai, or HaShem (The Name). Yehwah is used 5,410 times in the Old Testament.
The name translated as God, in this case, is Elohim. El is a generic name for a god in Hebrew. Elohim is used for the One True God in the Bible. Elohim is the name used in verse 6. I am the Elohim of your father, the Elohim of Abraham, the Elohim of Isaac, and the Elohim of Jacob. ESV But we also see El used alone to mean the One True God. El is the name used by David in Psalm 63—Oh El, You are my El.
Lest we get hung up on one name, the Bible has dozens of names for God. The name to use is the one that best fits a situation. [Sidelight: Jehovah comes into English from German scholars. In German, the yh sound is best matched with j. The y in German is nothing like it is in English. So, in English, the name should be pronounced Yehovah which is the way Germans pronounce it.]
Verse 9 reads, And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. ESV There are a couple of things to consider here.
First, God knows what is happening to the Hebrews. He chose them before they were a people when He called Abram to follow Him. God planned for Abram to have 12 great-grandsons and for them to wind up in powerful Egypt. The descendants spent centuries there, knowing little of their past. Eventually, they were forced into slavery.
We do not know the extent of their slavery. In the preceding chapters of Exodus, we read that slavery was designed to exhaust the men so that they would not father so many children. Failing that, Pharaoh ordered all male babies to be killed. This is the reason for the account in Matthew of Herod ordering the deaths of all male children under age two and of the escape of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus into Egypt. Egyptians saved Jesus as they saved Moses.
Point two. The Hebrews were not the only people on earth who were harshly treated, yet they were the only ones rescued by God. It was not because they were faithful to God, nor was it because of the faithful midwives of chapter 1.
God chose the Hebrews centuries before they became Hebrews. Over many centuries, God gave the people lessons about his power; culminating at first in the Exodus, then in the kingship of
David, and finally in Jesus.
We must never forget that God chose us, not that we chose Him. Our only choice is to accept God, or not.
Read my earlier comments on this theme here.
Be righteous and do good.