Exodus Part One: Deep Dive
CONSECRATION & MONOTHEISM
As we venture into Exodus, I want to explain to you the term ‘monotheism’, which might help you understand not only the Israelite community but God’s call for consecration and Jesus’ single-mindedness when it came to other religions and gods.
Monotheism means ‘the belief in one God or the oneness of God, it is to be distinguished from the understanding of polytheism (belief in many gods) or atheism ( the 1st Century belief that there is no god)’.
As you read the Old Testament, you are going to hear this sound of exclusive consecration, a calling for the people of God to be separate, consecrated to God alone. Not to marry into other nations, to be called out from among them. It is the sound of a husband, jealous for His bride. They are His people, He is their God. They are His chosen nation, set apart for Him alone. Unfortunately, with Israel and her adulterous ways in turning to other gods, we are starting to hear another sound, the language of Israel and her ‘harlotry’, especially when we read the prophetic books in the Old Testament like Hosea.
one god only
In our western culture today, we find it hard to understand why people would need to reiterate consecration to one God only. Our society does not function as it did in the ancient 1st Century world where many gods were common and the most effective strategy to get your way was to call on the god that could best meet your prayer request or best fulfill your desires.
The Egyptians were a polytheistic people (many gods), and had many different gods with many different functions. It is incredible to read Exodus and see Pharaoh’s ‘magicians’ go head to head with Moses and Aaron with miracles; they match them miracle for miracle in the beginning, but as you read, you’ll see they come to a point where they have to concede to Moses and can no longer replicate the miracles and plagues that God was performing. God showed Himself as supreme above all gods and above their sorcery.
Trashing tip: I read a paper once that showed how the plagues addressed each main god within the Egyptian culture, slowly conquering every god under the Almighty – look this up and make notes in your Bible as you go! It’s so interesting, and shows how our God is more powerful than any other.
You see, in Egypt, the people had alternatives to following Yahweh; they had options, they were exposed to different alternatives and God was calling them to be consecrated, to be set apart, without idolatry, free from the worship of other gods. Let’s have a look at some scriptures that confirm monotheism in the Bible.
Deuteronomy 4:35 ‘You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides Him there is no other’.
Deuteronomy 6:4 ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one’.
Malachi 2:10a ‘Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?’
1 Corinthians 8:6 ‘Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live’.
Ephesians 4:6 ‘One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’.
1 Timothy 2:5 ‘For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus’.
the danger of idolatry
Idolatry means to worship idols, or to have extreme admiration and love for something or someone. Exodus 20:1-6 addresses this concept of idols. The first three commandments address our heart towards God, number three is without excuse: ‘You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God’ and again in Chapter 20:22, ‘Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold’”’.
God, from the beginning, addresses our heart condition and need for a natural idol. But is idolatry harmless? Our idolatry changes us when we worship something other than God. NT Wright, in one of my all time favourite books, Surprised by Hope, says this about idolatry:
‘When human beings give their heartfelt allegiance to and worship that which is not God, they progressively cease to reflect the image of God. One of the primary laws of human life is that you become like what you worship; what’s more, you reflect what you worship not only to the object itself but also outward to the world around. Those who worship money increasingly define themselves in terms of it and increasingly treat other people as creditors, debtors, partners, or customers rather than as human beings. Those who worship sex define themselves in terms of it (their preferences, their practices, their past histories) and increasingly treat other people as actual or potential sex objects. Those who worship power define themselves in terms of it and treat other people as either collaborators, competitors, or pawns. These and many other forms of idolatry combine in a thousand ways, all of them damaging to the image-bearing quality of the people concerned and of those whose lives they touch’.
Jugen Moltmann states that ‘Idolatry demands a sacrifice. And the sacrifice we bring to the idols of our desire are great. In our personal life the one-sided orientation toward accomplishment and success makes us apathetic and uncaring’.
God’s instruction for exclusivity and single focus in our adoration and worship of Him alone shows us that we have a high calling and it is to reflect His glory alone. I reflect what my face is turned towards, I reflect what I worship and if I am worshipping something other than God, then I am therefore reflecting something less than what I am destined to reflect. Look at Exodus 34:29.
E 34:29 ‘When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord’.
our fickle humanity – stay true to him
If you want to see a clear reflection of how easily our hearts slip away from complete devotion to God no matter how many great signs, wonders and things He does for us, have a look at Exodus 32. It is a sad and clear reflection of our humanity. God is giving Moses the law, with concern and love for the people, while the people feel He is taking too long and abandon Him to seek guidance in a golden calf made by their own hands. They bow down to it, sacrifice to it, have a festival to honor it and then do the worst thing: give it the glory for bringing them out of Egypt.
This story is a strong warning of how easily our human heart to swayed towards idolatry. We are called to have our heart aligned in worship to one God. Our God is three in one, we have chatted about that in our Trinitarian doctrinal studies.
Our heart is be called in complete devotion to Him as our Provider, Saviour, Creator, God over everything. No matter what alternatives our culture or society provide for us, we are called to reflect His glory alone. Complete devotion to Him allows our heart to remain in overwhelming gratitude for all He has done. No idol is getting the glory in my life for the provision and blessing of God, are they in yours?