A Homiletical Spiral for Preaching Old Testament Narratives
- Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The opening chapter of Exodus reports that the Israelites were subject to harsh treatment in Egypt some time after Joseph had passed away. Enlisted in compulsory labor, they became the victims of an unnamed pharaoh's ambition. The conditions of the servitude became so severe that Ex 3.9 relates how YHWH had "seen the oppression with which the Egyptians were oppressing them." YHWH eventually brings Israel out of Egypt through the leadership of Moses with "an out-stretched arm" and defeats the Egyptian gods, chariots, and king after demonstrating his awesome power. Upon making a show of the Egyptian gods in particular, the Israelites (and the Egyptians) would have understood that YHWH was indeed the God above all gods. However, the Pentateuch highlights how the people's hearts were stubborn and how, immediately after meeting YHWH at his appointed mountain, they made a molten calf and worshipped it as the god who had freed them from Egypt. It is curious, though, that Aaron then announces "a festival to YHWH" (Ex 32.5). It may not be the case that the people rejected YHWH as the God above all gods or as the God to whom they were forever indebted. Even so we can maintain that the people proceeded to worship YHWH in a way that YHWH did not condone, especially since portions of the Pentateuch itself purport to be the very 'manual of worship' that YHWH had prescribed (notably Ex 20.1-6). In light of the book of Exodus, then, we might also expect Egypt to appear in other narratives in association with false worship.
III. Connecting Egypt to the Monarchy
The editors of DTR present Deut 17.14-20 as if it anticipated the Israelite monarchy. The Israelites were permitted by YHWH to install a king, provided that it is one that YHWH himself chooses. A key prohibition imposed upon the king, interestingly enough, is that he was not to go back to Egypt. The prohibition may refer to Ex 13.17 where the narrator explains why God did not lead the people through the land of the Philistines: because he did not want the people to consider going back to Egypt under threat of war. Notwithstanding, as soon as Ex 14.12 the Israelites express their desire to "serve the Egyptians". The lure of Egypt repeatedly manifests itself in the complaints of the Israelites throughout the wilderness narrative. Deut 17 specifically warns a hypothetical, future king of yielding to this very temptation. What does "go back to Egypt" mean? How would a king go back to Egypt? Deut 17 specifically warns of strengthening the Israelite army in any way that relies on Egypt's power, but there may be more in mind than strictly military affairs.
David's son Solomon built the first temple as YHWH had promised. However, before he accomplishes this (in fact, immediately after the narrator explains how the "kingdom had been established in Solomon's hand"), the narrative recounts how Solomon "became son-in-law to pharaoh, king of Egypt" (I Kgs 2.46-3.1). Next, he recalls how "Solomon loved YHWH by walking in the statutes of David his father, though he sacrificed and offered sacrifices in the high places." Very early in his career, the narrator relates the beginning of the end of Solomon. Though Solomon fortified the army through Egypt, it was the matter of worship that ultimately troubled the biblical writer. It is not too much to suggest that the monarchy had been established by YHWH as a concession. The monarchy was thought to have somehow posed a threat to the proper worship of YHWH and to foster a false reliance upon the king or upon sheer military might during times of war, but, despite obvious flaws, David had been donned with a legendary status with regard to his right worship of YHWH as well as his military success. Only with such a king at its head could Israel be in a position to rightly order its worship of God under peaceful conditions in the land. Though much more could be said with respect to the monarchy, our third step will be to integrate these observations with the pericope at hand.
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