Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Exodus 23:20-26 Promises and Warnings

"See, I am sending an angel ahead of you
to guard you along the way
and to bring you to the place I have prepared.
Pay attention to him and listen to what he says.
Do not rebel against him;
he will not forgive your rebellion, since My Name is in him.
If you listen carefully to what he says and do all I say,
I will be an enemy to your enemies
and will oppose those who oppose you.
My angel will go ahead of you and bring you
into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites,
Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites,
and I will wipe them out.
Do not bow down before their gods or
worship them or follow their practices.
You must demolish them and break their sacred stones to pieces.
Worship the LORD your God,
and his blessing will be on your food and water.
I will take away sickness from among you,
and none will miscarry or be barren in your land.
I will give you a full life span."

Exodus 23:20-26 (NIV)

I think that one of the most striking aspects of this passage is that God sent someone to go ahead of the Israelites to guard them and bring them to the place which He had prepared for them.  We have seen this figure recently, in Exodus 14:19 :
   "Then the angel of God,
who had been traveling in front of Israel's army,
withdrew and went behind them." 
That time, the angel of God had moved behind Israel's column in order to protect them from the approaching Egyptian army.  Previously, this angel of the LORD had appeared to Hagar, Abraham's Egyptian maidservant and the mother of his son Ishmael.  You can read more about that encounter here.  As that article details, this same angel of the LORD meets Hagar in the desert as she flees from her mistress Sarah.  Hagar marvels that she has seen God and lived to tell about it.  Also, this 'angel' speaks in the first person tense ["I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count." (Genesis 16:10) ] as He makes claims that only God could accomplish.
The conclusion which I have reached is that this angel of the LORD is Jesus Christ, in what some call a 'preincarnate' [i.e., before He came to earth in human form to die on the cross for the sins of the world] state of being.  Now I don't expect skeptics to just agree with this conclusion because I said so, but the evidence for this is very gradually revealed throughout the Old and New Testament -- some call this 'progressive revelation' -- so I will have to ask you to be patient because I am trying to not get side-tracked out of my intent to proceed through the whole Scriptures and investigate what they say.  'Side-tracked' is actually not the best way to express this, for I believe that all of Scripture reveals something about God and His plan for the salvation of the world, so every portion of God's Word is important.  However, at this point I have not yet written summary articles listing the evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ or the reliability of Scripture or several other topics which would be useful.  I intend to, but in the meantime, I wanted to just keep moving ahead and noting the evidence which turns up along the way.
At any rate, the Israelites are told three things regarding this angel of the LORD:
  • Pay attention to him.
  • Listen to him.
  • Do not rebel against him.
Let's think about these things for a moment.
Pay attention to him.  There were a lot of things competing for the Israelites' attention at that point.  After all, they were on a journey (along with a large number of people) through a desert on their way to the land which God had promised to Abraham about four hundred years previously.  [I know that there were an incredible amount of pronouns in that sentence -- ten, I think -- but it just came out that way.  If anyone can diagram that sentence, I think that they should get a prize of some sort.]  None of these particular Israelites had ever been there before.  There were enemies along the way, and when they arrived, the people of the land might not take kindly to these newcomers, even though these Israelites' ancestors had lived there previously.  However, God is telling them to pay attention to this angel [the word can also mean 'messenger'] whom He has sent.  "Pay attention" seems to call for a lot more than just casual listening, doesn't it?  It implies that what is going to be said is of crucial importance.
Listen to him.   Although this seems very similar to the "Pay attention" command above, it must be implying something different, or at least repeating for emphasis.  I think that there is a difference in that "Pay attention" seems like sitting up and taking careful notice of what is being said, while "Listen to him" seems to imply that they should actually do what He is telling them to do.
Do not rebel against him. While the above commands urged attention and obedience, this one, I think, urges the Israelites to avoid taking actions which would be counter to what He said.  In other words, they should avoid any disobedience against what He will command them to do.  There are additional instructions with this command.  God explains that they should not rebel against this messenger because such rebellion would not be forgiven.  Why? "...since My Name is in him."  What does that mean?  Well, I have read that in those times, a person's name meant a whole lot more than just a simple handle to identify someone.  Instead, it implied their whole character and attributes...their very being.  In the light of our discussion above about just who this angel of the LORD was, it is very interesting that God says that His own Name is within this messenger.  Now I suppose that you could just say that God had simply given this one His own authority to act in this situation, but even that is significant, like, 'Here, you can function as Me, -- God --  in this situation.', which would be rather disturbing in itself if that person wasn't God.  Just saying.  At any rate, it is clear that for their own good, they had better listen and obey what this messenger with the authority of God will tell them to do.
In fact, this passage goes on to say that if they will listen carefully to what this messenger says and do all that God says, He will protect them from all their enemies.  Actually, it says more than that.  If they obey, God will be "an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you."  To me, that says that God would take an active part in dealing with those who oppose Israel.

[Of course, at that point I could not help but think of Israel's situation today.  God is still in an ongoing covenant relationship with Israel.  Scripture also says that He does not change.  What does that mean when Israel's enemies threaten her today?  You can draw your own conclusions.  Let's just say that I would not want to be one of those enemies who threaten to annihilate Israel or push Israel into the sea.]
This same angel of the LORD would go before them, bring them into the land which God had promised to Abraham and his descendants, and wipe out all the inhabitants of the land who oppposed them.  Some of the peoples who were residing in the land were the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites.  It is worth repeating that the ancestors of these peoples had been given an opportunity to know and serve the true God during the days of Abraham [and probably additional times previously].  In fact, one of the reasons which God had told Jacob (Abraham's grandson) for why the Israelites would be living in the land of Egypt for the next four hundred years [right before Jacob was leaving for Egypt to join his son Joseph during a severe famine] was because the iniquity [sins] of the people of the land had not yet reached the point of no return.  God was giving the people of the promised land additional time to repent of their sins and turn to Him.  Apparently, they hadn't done so as a nation, although perhaps certain individuals within those nations may have come to know the true God.  Now, four hundred years later, things were at the point where God knew it was time to deal with those nations which continued to worship false 'gods'.  As promised, Israel was returning to the land which God had given their ancestors.  The inhabitants of the land would have to deal with the consequences of their own rebellion.
The ironic thing about today is that some insist that Israel has no place in the promised land, or that it belonged to other peoples.  I wonder what they would think about the fact that part of the reason God took Jacob and his descendants away for a while was to give those other nations more time to come to repentance?  The nations or people groups who oppose Israel today are likewise being given a chance to acknowledge the God of Israel.  I certainly believe that God continues to keep His covenant with Israel and preserve them as a nation.
God warns the Israelitess to avoid participation in idol worship and to get rid of any traces of idol worship which remain in the land.   Instead, they were to worship the LORD, and then His blessing would be upon every area of their lives.  God would bless their food and water, and remove sickness, miscarriages and barrenness from them.  They would enjoy a full lifespan.

I might add that God also disciplines the Israelites.  We haven't yet arrived at the place in Scripture where we will discuss how God, after many years of warning the Israelites to stop worshipping other 'gods', sent them back out of the promised land and into captivity and allowed other nations (Assyria, Babylon) to take over the promised land or to take his people into captivity.  There, too, God was not just being capricious, but was disciplining Israel with the purpose that she would return to the worship of the true God.

God is always righteous in the way He does things, even though there are many aspects of His judgments which we do not understand.  There are some tough questions which can be asked about why the innocent suffer during these wars and times of discipline, but God can be counted upon to do what is right, even if we do not totally understand His reasons for doing it.  His character assures us of this, and He also explicitly states that His ways and thoughts are not always going to be what we might expect:
" 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD.
'As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.' "
Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) 

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