Recently, I spent a weekend away from home. At my host’s home the TV was on every waking hour, and the default channel-setting was cable news. Because that’s not the way things are at my house, I was ill-prepared for the barrage of spin masked as information, of talking-head self-promotion masked as concern for my welfare, of exclamation points masking the need simply to keep me from turning the d*** thing off or, perhaps worse, from changing channels. The assault was relentless and soul-crushing.
My host’s car brought no relief. Two words: talk radio. According to the voices on the radio, the only right and righteous bearing in today’s world is equal parts rage against office-holders who are destroying our society, and dependence on the radio voice’s authoritative interpretation of how the destroyers are destroying.
As if I were being providentially set up for some sort of cosmic lesson, I was yet more recently invited to teach a one day “flyover” of the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Awesome, I thought. I’m a New Testament guy, and I get too little opportunity to teach the Table of Contents! Besides, I wonder what the view is from above 30,000 feet.
Exodus is a story of deliverance. What difference does it make to believe in divine deliverance? Well, without that belief, you have two options. One is that things are the way they are supposed to be. If you have a problem with the status quo, the problem is you. The other option is that things are not the way they are supposed to be. With no belief that there is deliverance, you desperately try to become the deliverance yourself, or you slide into sullen resignation, or you simmer in suppressed rage. With a belief in deliverance, you have no illusion about the rightness of things as they are. But if you believe the biblical account of deliverance is true, you receive the gift of deliverance to the extent that it has come, and you trust the One who promises that the gift will eventually be given in full measure. And in the meantime you live out the gift’s logic as best you can, along the lines of Ex 23:9: “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus is a story of consecration. Doing right can’t be done without worshiping right: “I will show Myself holy … you are to distinguish between the holy and the common” (Lev 10:4,10). Worshiping right can’t be done right without doing right: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18)
Numbers is a story of sojourn. The wanderings of the two exodus generations provide a mirror of our addiction to sin, faithlessness, and forgetfulness of redemption’s gift. The first generation tests God 10 times (14:22), the second just about as many, Moses presumptuously strikes the rock when he’s simply told to command the rock (20:8,11). It’s a tangled and frustrating tale; and it really is like looking in the mirror. But the narrative tucks in amazing hints of God’s mercy — e.g., a red heifer slaughtered “outside the camp” (in promise of a Son who would likewise be slaughtered “outside the camp” — compare Num 19:1-3 with Heb 13:9); and a bronze serpent raised on a healing staff (in promise of Jesus being lifted up on likewise healing wood — compare Num 21:8-9 with John 3:14-15).
Deuteronomy is a story of renewal. Even though — or precisely because — the middle portion of this book is an elaborate expansion of the 10 Commandments, this book makes it clear God is after our hearts and our love. “Circumcise your hearts” “Love the Lord your God.” The best news is that God says he’ll fix our hearts: “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, in order that you may live” (30:6). That’s because when he says the commandment to love God is near enough that we don’t have to go up to heaven to bring it down (Dt 30:11-12), he means it — the Obedient One came down (see Rom 10:6). He lived what it is to love God, and in his accursedness for our not doing so, he became both the gift and the promise of that into which we are being transformed (Rom 8:29).
Who gets to narrate my world? The Book.
Escapism? No. It’s so I can bring something besides anger and paranoia to a world that needs:
- The hope of a God who brings deliverance to the worst of enslavements
- The consecration of a people who love God’s holiness and who love their neighbors with his holy love
- To hear again and again that if life's sojourn proves we are foolish, it also provides ample evidence that we are boldly and grandly loved.
- To know there is a God whose bold and grand love will finally make new our cold hearts and all things as well.