God’s Attack

Monday, March 26, 2012 — Week of 5 Lent

Richard Allen, First Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1831

Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 957)

Psalms (morning) 31 // 35 (evening)

Exodus 4:10-20(21-26)27-31

1 Corinthians 14:1-19

Mark 9:30-41

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

There is a fascinating story in our reading from Exodus today. It comes to us only in a fragment. We don’t have the context of the original story to help interpret it. It seems as if the Biblical editors have included it here in connection with the mention of the firstborn son of Pharaoh who will be killed at Passover.

The story begins, “On the way, at a place where they spent the night, the Lord met (Moses) and tried to kill him.” Moses’ wife Zipporah saves Moses by circumcising their son and touching Moses’ genitals with it, saying, “Truly you are a bridegroom of blood to me!”

Why does God attack Moses, the one whom he has called for a special mission? There is no explanation. But there are some other similar stories elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures. Jacob wrestled with God all night, holding on desperately until near dawn, when he was blessed and injured. Balaam the prophet would have been struck down by the angel of the Lord except that the donkey he was riding saw the angel and turned off the road. There is a moment in the Joshua saga when he sees an armed man standing before him and Joshua challenges the man; it is the commander of the army of God, and Joshua falls down before him in worship. There are several divine attacks upon the people of Israel, including a plague in the wilderness and the visit of the angel of the Lord in Bochim cursing Israel for failing to drive out the Canaanites.

It seems that one of the characteristics that sometimes accompanies a sense of calling from God is an attending sense of threat or attack from God. We can feel ourselves to be both obeying God and attacked by God. The fear of following God and the fear of not following God can be closely related. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel, says Paul. Let this cup pass from me, says Jesus, sweating blood. Sometimes the path of obedience can seem like the choice between two threats. Sometimes we must fight and wrestle with God before we can survive to do what we must.

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