Archive for January, 2015

Panis Angelicus: Man ate the bread of Angels (Ps. 78:25).

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27, 2015 by ancienthopes

In the desert, two things were happening for the Israelites at the same time. First of all, they were facing death daily. Their problems were real and serious. In the last post, they faced poisonous water. No one can last long in the desert without water, and the problem is compounded considering the provisions for a whole congregation of people. Now after traveling a few days, they came to the Wilderness of Sin (16:1), the first of seven deserts crossed by the Israelites in their journey to the Promised Land. Food now becomes a problem. In these difficulties, God never makes light of their plight. He is remarkably patient with the people. The other thing that is going on is God’s marvelous provision. He displays his power at the Red Sea, and turned bitter water into living water, led them to springs, and now was about to provide for them bread from heaven, the “bread of angels.” We must not be quick to condemn the Israelites for murmuring at every test along the way. Again, Israel is everyman; she is a mirror into our own souls. It is shallow to assume that if we had seen all the wonders they had seen that we would calmly walk through the desert joyfully, always in expectation for the next miraculous provision. This is the ideal, but how many of us actually live the ideal in spite of all the evidence of God in our lives? Here the Israelites are so angry at God for leading them into the desert that they utter a death wish (16:3), and fantasized about the “fleshpots” in Egypt as if their former masters were their cooks and waiters. The problem is that they were living by their senses, from the outside in, and not the inside out. We humans lose our dignity when we live from the outside in, always driven by our physical appetite. Our dignity is living from the inside out, from the spirit in the depths of our being, which in turn rules the soul with its reason, imagination, will and emotions, and from there to our sensual and physical exteriors. (See The Haunted House “… I was afraid…” Sept. 24, 2013) It is this dignity God is intent on restoring. Israel finds herself now in the school of God. Exodus chapter 16 is a classic text in spiritual formation. God addresses their need for food, but He does so in a most directed way. YHWH rains bread from heaven down upon them, but they must be extremely careful with how they handle it. They are to gather only what they daily needed. The miracle here is not only that the bread came from heaven, but that however much anyone could gather, in the end each individual had just the right amount for him or herself. (16:18). This informs us that God fully satisfies everyone no matter what capacity they have to receive, whether things spiritual or physical. But if we become gluttonous and try to hoard things physical or spiritual, what we gather rots and turns to stench as the manna did if the Israelites kept some overnight (v. 20). God was teaching them to enjoy Him morning by morning with their daily bread without fear for the future. Moreover, they were to gather it each of the six days of the week, and only on the sixth day were they to gather for the Sabbath day, for on the Sabbath day there was no manna. The Sabbath is not a day where the people were to gather; it was their dignity to rest in the presence of God. In God’s school we are to learn not to live to eat, but to eat to live, not to live from the outside in, but from the inside out. Spiritual formation is all about restoring our dignity lost at the fall when humanity chose to live by the senses and not by the spirit. No purely natural explanation for the manna will suffice. The name itself, derived from the Hebrew mah hûʹ (man hûʹ is an etymological corruption from which we get the word “manna”), means “What is this?” The Hebrews themselves did not know, and could only compare it with coriander seed and honey wafers. We do know that it was material and thus earthly, but that it was “from heaven” as well. It was so special that the Lord commanded Moses to place some in a jar “before the Lord” for all generations to come (vv. 31-36), and ultimately placed in the Ark of the Covenant (Heb. 9:4) at the very heart where the transcendent God touched the temporal, the most holy place on earth. This connection with heaven and earth makes Manna a clear type of Christ who in His incarnation was both from heaven as the Eternal Logos and made of this earth through the Blessed Mother, as well as the Eucharist, where Jesus plainly teaches that His flesh is the bread of life come “down from heaven,” (John 6:22-71). God always works salvation through the physical; it is never purely a spiritual affair.

Bitter Water: Bitter Hearts

Posted in Uncategorized on January 21, 2015 by ancienthopes

Now that deliverance was accomplished and Israel was birthed into a new creation through her “baptism” in the Red Sea, it was time for her to take her next step with her God. Israel is every man, every woman. What is true about her in these narratives is true about us all. Salvation takes on the same pattern of creation: God draws us out of chaos, sets up order, bringing us to rest. Israel was taken out of chaos, that is, Egypt. Though taken out of chaos, chaos has yet to be taken out of her. Ahead is the long six day process of putting to order the primal elements of our souls. Rest is attained only by degrees, in fits and starts, not fully realized in this life. Moreover, it is interesting the text never tells us that Pharaoh died in the battle. This is because, as we have said before, Pharaoh represents that “old man,” or “seed of the serpent” (See The Battle Begins: An Allegory, November, 2014) which never really dies in us until our physical body dies. He remains, even though defeated, a force to be reckoned with, representing that part within us which is in rebellion with God.

It was always YHWH’s intention to take Israel into the wilderness. It is there, and only there, that God can really deal with our interior chaos. True, we were made for the fertile earth, the garden. But a garden on the outside does not match well with chaos on the inside; it would be like remaining in the garden after the fall, partaking of the tree of life with darkened hearts. The Cherubim would not allow this duplicity. YHWH therefore takes them three days journey into the wilderness (Ex.15:22). Of course, three days stretches out to forty years, the span of a lifetime in those days. This life is a journey with God through the wilderness. The garden is the goal.

The people do not know themselves. The last we saw, they feared God and believed in YHWH and Moses (14:31). This was before their three days journey into the horrors of the desert. The Goshen of their former days of slavery was fertile delta country. When placed under this extreme situation, it is no wonder that they remembered “leeks and onions” (Num. 11:5) and not the whips of their former cruel masters. Their first trouble was bitter water. Imagine experiencing a thirst onto death, coming upon water, only to find that it was poisonous. This is a real problem; death is always near at hand in the wilderness. The natural reaction is murmuring. Murmuring is the sign of bitter waters of unbelief within. Indeed, YHWH placed them before bitter waters so that they could have a visible image of their invisible interiors. God’s tests are always serious and exactly to the point.

That the real problem wasn’t the bitter water itself is evident by YHWH’s response to their murmuring. YHWH “showed” Moses a “tree” which, when he threw it into the water, it became sweet. Evidently, the tree was missed by all and had to be “shown,” therefore it took a revelation to see it. A murmuring heart that focuses on the chaos blinds us to what is really there. Of course, the tree motif takes us back to the Garden in Eden, and functions here as the tree of life creating the living waters of Eden. The point is that God changes chaos into life as at creation. But the lesson takes us even further. The context would have us link the healing of bitter water with the healing of Israel’s interior diseases picked up in Egypt, the “world” (15:26). True, Egypt’s diseases on one level mean physical diseases, but as we have seen before, the physical is directly related to moral and spiritual condition.

God heals the interior through external circumstances. It was a harsh lesson. But God’s motives in all of this are made clear in the conclusion of the matter where He led them to Elim. In this place there were 12 springs of water and seventy palm trees (15:27). Twelve is the number of tribes of YHWH’s covenant people, and seventy is the number for the totality of the nations of the world (Gen. 10). The oases of life’s desert journeys sustain the body and soul, and remind us from whence we originated as well as point us to our journey’s end.

The Bard’s Song

Posted in Uncategorized on January 12, 2015 by ancienthopes

In the old world, no mighty military feat would be complete without a bard to compose a song or ballad that would immortalize the victory. And so we have it here with “The Song of the Sea” (Exodus 15). However, because of its rich theological content and its direct address to YHWH praising His attributes, we may also consider this an ancient hymn that opens up for us the heart of Hebrew worship. It is surely one of the oldest songs in the Bible (so Albright).

The hymn has two parts to it. The first is a highly poeticized description of the battle itself and how YHWH triumphed over Pharaoh’s chariots (15:1-10). It is interesting that although YHWH is likened to a “Man of War,” He is not at all like any human warrior. He is incomparable not only because He is incomparable God (15:11), but also in that He does not fight like any human warrior. Human warriors kill directly. On one hand, we can say that since all life is initiated and terminated by God, God does take life directly, as we clearly see in 12:29. However, on the other hand, the narrative depicts YHWH warring through nature, such as we have seen with the plagues and here the watery deep. In the Hebrew cosmology, God has so “rigged” nature that if humanity breaks moral and spiritual boundaries laid out at creation, then creation itself will war against the culprit. In other words, there is a symbiosis between natural and the moral/spiritual. We see this in the prose description in 14:21-29 as well as in this song where it is clear that what happened was supernaturally initiated by Moses’ stretching out his hand creating a wall for the Israelites to walk through on dry ground, but yet we see the God did this naturally through His wind. It is useless to argue over a supernatural explanation or a naturalistic explanation, for the two could not be separated in the Hebrew cosmology as it is in our modern thinking. Humans are punished through nature for their moral choices as Pharaoh was. This hymn does not celebrate a God that loves to kill as a warmonger, but a God who established boundaries, both physical and moral, by which we can happily live, and if we break them, nature itself rises up against us. God both judges and saves through nature.

The second half of the song reveals the purpose of this mighty deed of salvation. We have seen how the battle is depicted in terms of creation (See Unleashing Chaos on Chaos, January 6, 2015). YHWH’s strategy was to lure the Egyptian army to the watery deep where God separated the waters, creating dry land to save Israel, but unleashing them upon the Egyptians. This parallels the first six days of creation where God divided the waters from the dry ground and filling them with life, especially humanity, culminating with the seventh day of rest in God’s cosmic temple. Here the battle culminates in the establishment of a new humanity in Israel and the establishment of a new land, a new garden “planted” by God on a new mountain (v. 17), a restored rest. YHWH’s act of deliverance and establishing Israel on the land promised to Abraham is as important as creation itself; indeed, it is but a continuation of creation. It is a sanctuary not made, like Babel, with human hands, but is established by YHWH’s own hands (v. 17). Chaos will not win out, but “The Lord will reign forever and ever.”

The same pattern that we see in creation and in this battle is also the same pattern we see in the salvation of each individual. We are born into spiritual and moral chaos, and God’s saving acts in our lives are much like the separation of light from darkness, dividing the watery deep from fertile ground in the internal caverns of our soul, subduing its sea monsters lurking within. The goal is the same as creation and this battle at the sea, bringing our interior sanctuaries into the rest of the seventh day, worship in union with God. When this happens, we cannot help but sing hymns to God for our deliverance like Moses, Miriam, and the sons of Israel did. Yes, this old bard’s song, this most ancient and original of hymns, becomes ours.

Unleashing Chaos on Chaos

Posted in Uncategorized on January 6, 2015 by ancienthopes

YHWH dismantles his foe in three stages. Having toyed with Pharaoh in the first stage of the battle with the 3 sets of 3 plagues culminating with an unnatural darkness reminiscent of the pre-created state (See YHWH’s Strange and Terrible Weapons: The Plagues on Dec. 8, 2014), and winning the battle of the firstborns in the second stage of the battle (12:29-32), YHWH now leads forth His people as a great captain of war with a plan to destroy Egypt’s army, the best in the world (13:17-14:31). He does this by trickery and by engaging the powers of chaos against Egypt, the great symbol of moral and spiritual chaos.

We see that YHWH did not lead Israel in the most direct way to the Promised Land (13:17). The word “lead” (Heb. nāḥâ, but with the 3 mp suffix, nāḥām, “lead them”) in this context is military in nature, and is a pun on the verb pen-yinnāḥēm, “lest they change their minds,” when they face the Philistines in war (Heb. milḥāmâ – note the nḥam alliteration and assonance) at the border. YHWH’s low estimation of Israel’s warfare prowess is directly followed with the curious fact that this rabble of ex-slaves was armed (v. 18), which, of course, verges on the humorous in comparison with Pharaoh’s elite troops. It is YHWH’s intention to prepare a grand spectacle where Israel stands back, as if before a stage, to see YHWH destroy the mighty Egyptian army all by Himself (14:13-14).

YHWH sets this stage by leading them into the desert. The desert is not only the context of this battle (13:18, 14:3) but of the rest of the Pentateuch. As we have seen before, the desert motif is associated with the formless earth of the pre-created state, that which is inhospitable, the opposite of the Garden and its river of life. Immediately the question arises, “how shall this vast crowed survive even without an enemy at their heels?” The second primal element of chaos is the watery deep, here described as yam suf, the Red/Reed Sea. There are all sorts of speculation as to where or what body of water this refers to. For us, we assume with the narrative that this is a historical event that happened at a substantial body of water, wherever it may have been. However, we simply cannot miss the cosmic dimensions with which our text frames this battle. YHWH intentionally leads the people “toward the Red/Reed Sea” (13:18). The word “suf,” often translated “Reed,” sounds much like the word “sof” to the Hebrew ear, which means “end.” Following this clue, we see that YHWH is leading his people, as well as the Egyptians, to the very “end,” or “edge,” of the watery deep, which for Pharaoh’s army, means death. Finally, the third primal element of chaos, that of darkness, is instrumental in the fight as well, as we find in 14:20, right before the very end, where we see the angel of the Lord coming between Israel and Egypt with a “cloud and darkness.” YHWH therefore is engaging the three primal elements of chaos that we have seen at creation in his battle with Egypt, especially the watery deep (See Genesis 1:2, Primal Elements of Chaos and Primal Fears on April 30, 2013).

Pharaoh is tricked by the fact that Israel is now in a vulnerable situation, hemmed in by the desert and the sea (14:3). YHWH hardens his heart to go after them with his all of his chariots (14:6-9). The Israelites respond in fear (14:10ff.) in spite of the supernatural leading by the cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. These moved in between the Israelites and the Egyptians to separate them that night. Moses stretches his hands over the sea, and YHWH responds by driving the sea back with a strong east “wind,” “dividing” the waters for them to cross over on “dry ground” (cf. Ex. 14:22,29 with Gen. 1:2, 6, 9, 10). Egypt’s army perishes in the watery deep (14:28).

The language and imagery intentionally connects this event with creation. What happened at the sea was not merely a historical event, but a cosmic event parallel to creation itself. By delivering Israel out of Egypt, YHWH was effecting a new creation; the very inception of human salvation, for all humanity will trace its salvation to this event. It is noteworthy that the text explicitly states as an outcome that even the Egyptians shall “know that I am YHWH” (14:18). To “know YHWH” is to enter into truth and thus salvation itself. After all, YHWH was not fighting an ethic war as if He hated Egyptians, but what Egypt as a nation represented; the world in conflict with YHWH. YHWH unleashes chaos on chaos!