My reading of the events of Exodus 19:
(This is the preparation chapter for God giving the Big 10 to his people.)
Three months after Pharaoh, Pharaoh (Whoaaa!-Oh!) let God’s people go, God told them, through Moses, “See what I did? Now, listen to me and you’ll be my people. You’ll be a people by whom others will know and experience me.”
The people replied, “Yes, let’s do it.” Then they were consecrated which, as best as I can tell, meant they went through a lot of rituals to make themselves ready for the Big Show.
God then gave Moses some instructions about how all of this was going to go down. Moses was going to go up to the mountain, and the people couldn’t come up. Not only that, but if they even touched the mountain they were to be stoned to death or murdered by arrows.
There was fire and there was smoke and an earthquake and some back and forth between God, Moses, the people, and then God reiterated that they can’t come up to the mountain, because some of them might die.
This seemed different from the first time God made the warning, when God told them to be killed for touching the mountain. This time, the warning was more about natural consequences. Regardless, Moses replied, “Yeah, I already told them that.” God said, “Set limits around the mountain and keep it holy.”
As an over-thinker, I am appreciative of God setting those limits on the mountain. Because when I hear “Don’t touch the mountain!, I automatically thought about all the times I’ve been driving out west and see mountains and think “Where do those start?” Like, where is the exact point when the land goes from not being the mountain to being the mountain?
But less you think I’m going in the fundamentalist direction of the need for parameters around piety and holiness, think again. When reading this chapter I thought about all the smoke involved in Orthodox worship services, images of fire and wind in charismatic worship services, and two seeming disparate quotes.
The first is from Annie Dillard in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk:
“Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”
The second was from a random tweet that I saw:
“Deconstruction is an untangling. It’s a desperate attempt to untangle God from Mark Driscoll. Matt Chandler. Dave Ramsey. Piper and Dobson. The common thread is men who would say, ‘this isn’t my opinion. It’s Gods. Take it up with Him.’ And now we are.”
If that last quote seems out of place, allow me to explain. I’ve been reflecting on the recent historical phenomenon of people leaving evangelicalism after all the big-wig evangelical sold their souls to Trump and Trumpism. I think the conventional wisdom has been that some people in the pews were upset that these leaders didn’t believe the things they had been saying all along about the need for virtuous, Christlike leaders in the halls of power. I thought that for a long time. But now I believe it is something different. I think people are saying, “Hey. We believed God was all you said God was. Strong. Mighty. Loving. Merciful. But now we see you were literally just playing with fire, using God to get us to do what you wanted us to do. But now that we see that you aren’t Moses, we’re walking up to the mountain to see God for ourselves. And we don’t need you anymore.”
And that’s what I thought about when I read Exodus 19.
One thought on “Exodus 19: Playing with Fire”
Dude. I love this. I especially resonate (haha) with the way in which you’re reading the experience of the post evangelical with power and God. In my view and in my own experience you’ve nailed it.