Tag Archives: Exodus

The Song and the Story

The Song and the Story (CaD Ps 136) Wayfarer

to him who led his people through the wilderness;
His love endures forever.
Psalm 136:16 (NIV)

Psalm 136 is one of the most fascinating of all the songs in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics we all the book of Psalms. The ancient Hebrew songwriter crafted it in such a way that the the meaning and metaphor of the lyrics are as much in the structure as they are in the words. First, there’s the organization of the the theme:

  • Six verses about creation
  • Six verses about the Hebrews deliverance from slavery
  • One verse about the Hebrews being led through the wilderness
  • Six verses about the Hebrews conquest of Canaan
  • Four verses that echo/summarize the previous themes
  • A final call to praise God

There is no other psalm in the anthology of ancient Hebrew song lyrics that utilizes the call and response device as this song does. Twenty-six times the refrain “His love endures forever” is used. That number is important because for the ancient Hebrews, the letters of their alphabet also did double-duty as numerals. Every letter was used as a number. When you add up the numerical values of the letters of the Hebrew name for God: YHWH (Note: the Hebrew alphabet doesn’t have vowels) the total is, you guessed it, 26.

As I thought about the structure of the song, I couldn’t help but think that it parallels every life story, my life story.

I have a creation story. There’s the time in which I was born, the family in which I was raised, the community of my childhood, and the events that set me on my path in life.

Like the Hebrew exodus from slavery, I have climactic events that shape and define my life journey. My decision to follow Christ and subsequent call to proclaim His message, my being cast in a film and meeting the mentor who would play an instrumental part in my life, my early marriage, the births of Taylor and Madison, the divorce that would end my first marriage after seventeen years, and the unexpected arrival of Wendy in my life.

Like the Hebrew wilderness experience, I have my own stretch of life’s road in which I wandered in the wilderness of my own choosing. I chose the path of the prodigal. I ran. I squandered. I was unfaithful to those I loved most. I had my own pig-slop “Aha!” moment. I had to find my way back.

Like the Hebrew conquest, I have my own slate of victories in life. I have accomplishments, awards, and successes.

And, through it all, God’s faithful, enduring love is woven through every major success and every tragic failure. His love is woven through my best moments and my worst. In his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth, Paul wrote that at the end of the Great Story that contains all stories, including mine, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love. he adds, “The greatest of these is love.”

In the quiet this morning, as I look back at my own story, I am realizing just how much God’s love shows up like the repeated refrain of Psalm 136. I am also reminded that like the 26 love refrains the song writer metaphorically employed to point me to God, Yahweh, I am pointed to a God who is love incarnate, which is the destination and goal of my entire story and life journey through this world. If I’m not growing into love in increasing measure as Jesus defined it, then I am (perhaps even with the best of intentions) headed in the wrong direction.

Exodus (May-Jul 2020)

Each photo below corresponds to a chapter-a-day post for the book of Exodus published by Tom Vander Well in May and June 2020. Click on the photo linked to each chapter to read the post.

Chapter 1: Of Tribe and Time

Chapter 2: “Out of the Water”

Chapter 3: The Call

Chapter 6: Spiritual Sight and Hearing Impairment

Chapter 8: A Spiritual Contrast

Chapter 9: Judgment and Judiciousness

Chapter 10: God Revealing, Then and Now

Chapter 12: Doing Something

Chapter 13: Road Trip

Chapter 14: Into the Water

Chapter 15: Music and the Blues

Chapter 16: Roughing It…Not

Chapter 17: Whining Then and Now

Chapter 18: The One-Person Org Chart

Chapter 19: Parental Covenant

Chapter 20: Spiritual Batting Average

Chapter 21: An Accomplice to Change

Chapter 22: Losing the Truth of Loss

Chapter 23: “Jesus People Very Nice”

Chapter 24: Called to the Quiet

Chapter 25: Tent to Temple to Table

Chapter 26: From Bricks-and-Mortar to Flesh-and-Blood

Chapter 27: The Church’s Blueprint

Chapter 28: God Friended Me

Chapter 29: Another Choice

Chapter 30: I Smell

Chapter 31: Sabbath

Chapter 32: Before Old Things Pass Away They Often Lure Me Back
Chapter 33: Breaking a Stiff-Neck
Chapter 34: Positively “Horny” with Light
Chapter 35: The Question that Makes All the Difference
Chapter 36: More Than Enough

Chapter 37: Worth Repeating
Chapter 38: A Lesson in the Margins

Chapter 39: Building People

Chapter 40: The Continued Exodus

You’re all caught up! Posts will be added here as they are published. Click on the image below for easy access to other recent posts indexed by book.

Click on the image above for easy access to recent chapter-a-day posts indexed by book!

Playing the Role I’m Given

At that time, too, I [Moses] entreated the Lord, saying: “O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what god in heaven or on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! Let me cross over to see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and the Lebanon.” But the Lord was angry with me on your account and would not heed me. The Lord said to me, “Enough from you! Never speak to me of this matter again! Go up to the top of Pisgah and look around you to the west, to the north, to the south, and to the east. Look well, for you shall not cross over this Jordan. But charge Joshua, and encourage and strengthen him, because it is he who shall cross over at the head of this people and who shall secure their possession of the land that you will see.” Deuteronomy 3:23-28 (NRSV)

Casting a show is one of the more difficult things about being a director. You can have throngs of people audition but only so many parts to go around. It’s crucial to make sure you have the right people in the right roles and there are so many things to consider about an actor when deciding which role you want her/him to play including ability, experience, physicality, chemistry with others, and the ease of working with her/him.

Without fail, people will be disappointed with the roles in which they are cast. It’s a universal. Even as I write these words I can quickly name specific roles from long ago productions in which I still believe I should have been cast. Everyone who is a part of theatre for any length of time experiences this. There’s something at the core of our fallen nature given to this seed of both envy and pride. That person thinks he/she should have been cast in that role. Feathers get ruffled. Feelings get hurt. Some refuse to play the role in which they were cast. Others grudgingly accept the role they were given, but infect the rehearsal process with their grumbling and disgruntled attitude.

Today, I’m finding parallels between God’s direction of the events in Deuteronomy and the experience of directing and leading a production. In today’s chapter we find Moses, who was the lead character in the wildly successful Exodus from Egypt, wanting a lead role in the sequel production, Conquest of Canaan. He entreats God, the great Director, with a little flattery and then begs for the part. The Director seems a bit frustrated with the incessant grumbling and insists that the lead role in Conquest belongs to the actor who was cast (Joshua) and there will be no further discussion of the matter.

One of the most difficult yet rewarding lessons I’ve learned along life’s journey is that of choosing contentment in the roles that I am given. This is true whether we’re talking about a bit role on stage or the role given me by God in the on-going production of Life. When I stop whining about not having the role I desire and pour myself into the role that I have been given, then it’s a win-win-win for myself, the Director, and everyone else in the production.

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The Events Which Define Us

ExodusWhen Israel came out of Egypt,
    Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    Israel his dominion.
Psalm 114:1-2 (NIV)

There are sometimes life events which, for good or for ill, help define who we are and give us a sense of identity. I’ve seen it happen in families, in which a young child dies or a parent commits suicide and the family system shifts to ceaselessly revolve around that tragic event. I’ve seen it happen with sports teams, in which a team like the Boston Red Sox live under the “curse of the Babe” for almost a century, and my beloved Cubs continue to languish under the curse of the Billy Goat and tragedy of the Bartman ball. I’ve seen it happen in cities like my hometown of Des Moines, when the great flood of 1993 created a new sense of community out of a sudden lack of fresh water. I believe that Americans are only beginning to understand how the events of 9/11 and their aftermath have changed and defined us.

For the people of Israel, the defining event was the Exodus when God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the promised land. The story is retold and referenced countless times in the Old Testament by the historians, prophets, and poets. Thousands of years later, it continues to be retold and celebrated by millions of people around the world each Passover.

Today’s psalm is one of many lyric references to this defining event. It was likely written after the time of Solomon when the kingdom was split in two. Notice the reference to both Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the northern kingdom) in the verse above. The song writer uses this common heritage to remind the people of both nations that despite their present political differences, the Exodus unites them in a common bond.

Today, I’m thinking about the events which helped forge my identity and gave definition to the person I have been, am now, and am becoming. What family events, even those from previous generations, affected my family system which influenced that person I became? What happened in my hometown, in my country, or the larger ethnic group from which I came that has impacted me personally and culturally? What would happen if I understood them with greater clarity? Which are worth celebrating? Which should I let pass away?

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 5

Digitally Remastered.
Image via Wikipedia

“You were afraid, remember, of the fire and wouldn’t climb the mountain. He said:….” Deuteronomy 5:5 (MSG)

When a music group becomes very popular they eventually repackage their most popular songs in a “Greatest Hits” CD. A popular movie will eventually be re-released again and again as a Directors Cut, an Anniversary Edition, or an Unrated version. What many people don’t realize about the book of Deuteronomy is that it’s basically an Anniversary Edition of what’s already been told in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. Deuteronomy is a “second reading” or “retelling.” You’ll notice in today’s chapter that Moses says, “remember when you were afraid” and then recounts the events of Exodus and the ten commandments.

A few years ago I was meeting with some bloggers and happened to complain that I felt that I was running out of things to say on my professional blog.

“Then say them again,” one wise old blogger said to me matter-of-factly. “Do children hear their parents the first time, or do parents have to repeat themselves over and over before it sinks in?”

Sage advice. No matter how old we get, we are all still children. We need to hear the same truths over and over again, packaged in different ways and spoken by different voices. God knew that the ten commandments would not sink in on the first reading. Truth is not a one and done enterprise. We need to “remember.” We need to pick up the greatest hits version, then the bootleg series and then we’ll want to listen to the remastered copy.

God is not finished with me. I will never be finished with His Message. I will continue to be a wayfarer trekking through its Truths again and again and again until the journey’s end.

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Chapter-a-Day Exodus 26

Toms bass

"Make The Dwelling itself from ten panels of tapestry woven from fine twisted linen, blue and purple and scarlet material, with an angel-cherubim design. A skilled craftsman should do it." Exodus 26:1 (MSG)

I own an electric bass that was hand-made by my brother. Each time I play it, I marvel to think that it had once been a couple of blocks of wood in my brother's hands. The craftsmanship is amazing and the sound it makes is spectacular. Each time I play the low B string I can feel the deep, vibrating rumble all the way to my toes. I think back to the cheap department store special on which I first learned to play. The difference in structure, in playability, and in the resulting sound between that bass guitar and the one my brother crafted is so vast as to be comical.

God is an artist and a craftsman. He created the world and all that is in it with infinite complexity. As I read through the detailed description of how he wanted the tent of dwelling, the first dedicated sanctuary for his presence on Earth, built – it is no wonder that he calls upon "skilled craftsman" to do the work. God didn't want a blue-light special. God wanted a hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind work of art full of color and artistry. This portable temple must have been breathtaking to behold.

Today, I meditate on the things I offer God (e.g. my time, my money, my talents, my life), and I wonder if God feels like I'm constantly handing him a cheap, department store knock-off. God is an artist. God is a skilled craftsman, and I know he wants the very best of me that I can possibly offer.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 25

The ark.

Let them construct a Sanctuary for me so that I can live among them. You are to construct it following the plans I've given you, the design for The Dwelling and the design for all its furnishings. Exodus 25:9 (MSG)

As I read through the instructions that God gave Moses for constructing this amazing portable tent of God's "Dwelling," the Ark of the Covenant, and all the items to be used in worship, I'm reminded that I am God's dwelling on earth. Since the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2, our bodies are become the temple of God. I find it interesting that we constantly want to associate God's presence with a church building, a temple, or a sanctuary – when God makes it clear in His message to us that old things have passed away, new things have come. He no longer dwells in a building made with hands, but in the bodies and lives of those who believe.

And, as I read through these exacting instructions, I'm reminded of what a special place is required for God's presence. In Exodus, the tent of meeting (a.k.a. Tabernacle or Dwelling) required time, work, construction, craftsmanship, sweat, toil, dedication, and obedience to make this place suitable for God's dwelling.

Today, I'm reminded that my body is God's place of dwelling. The same time, work, sweat, toil, dedication and obedience is required to make my body a special place for God's presence, and I should care for it as such.

I guess I'm finding time to work out today 🙂

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 24

O'hare nightmares.

Then Moses climbed the mountain. The Cloud covered the mountain. The Glory of God settled over Mount Sinai. The Cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day he called out of the Cloud to Moses. Exodus 24:15-16 (MSG)

Wendy and I made our way back from the east coast yesterday. We'd been there for four days on business and we were tired. We'd already extended our stay by a day. United gouged us on price for changing our itinerary.  Then, it was just one of those days. I spilled scalding hot coffee on myself. Wendy left her iPod on the plane. We had to scurry around the bowels of O'Hare airport to file a lost article report. The more tired we felt, the more impatient we got.

Upon reflection, it is still a wonder that we could wake up looking over the Atlantic ocean and walk through our back door, fourteen hundred miiles away, in a matter of a few hours. How discontent, how impatient we've become.

I found it interesting that for all the pomp and fireworks on the mountain, God did not call out to Moses for seven days, and Moses was up there on the mountain for forty days and nights. I can't imagine how impatient people got waiting for him to come down.

Today, I'm reminded that God exists and operates beyond linear human timelines. His purposes are far greater than my modern day impatience, lack of contentment, and petty demands. God, help me let go of my self-centered impatience, and find rest in your perfect will.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and paytonc

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Chapter-a-Day Exodus 23

"Bring the choice first produce of the year to the house of your God." Exodus 23:19a (MSG)

It's good for me to regularly contemplate who, or what, is getting the "choice first produce" of my life.  I think about my time, my energy, my income, and my attention. How am I budgeting life? Where is it all going? It's easy for me to immediately think that God is getting my very best, but if you lay out the evidence – what does it say?

Today, I'm taking stock and asking God to help me discern those places in my life where I am not giving Him my best. Then comes the hard part – making the necessary changes.

Chapter-a-Day Exodus 11

God saw to it that the Egyptians liked the people. Also, Moses was greatly admired by the Egyptians, a respected public figure among both Pharaoh's servants and the people at large. Exodus 11:3 (MSG)

I have long been intrigued by the idea of God's "favor." Growing up, I noticed that there were many capable children in my class, but every once in a while there was one or two who seemed to have "favor" with the teachers, adults, and their peers. It wasn't that they were rich kids. It wasn't that they came from powerful families. It wasn't that they were particularly smarter or more gifted than other kids. They weren't even brown nosers. Nevertheless, you could see that they had a certain affinity with those around them.

As I read through God's message, I see a tiny thread woven through the fabric of the story. There is a string of God's favor that is given to certain individuals at certain times that God's purpose can be accomplished. Abraham had it with his neighbors. Jacob did, as well. Moses had it with the Egyptians. David had it with the people, as did many of the leaders in the book of Judges. I don't believe favor can be acheived by effort, nor can it be attained through some recipe of our own desire and good works. There is something much deeper and more spiritual involved.

Like Jabez, however, I believe we can seek God that He might grant us His favor at the right time and place to accomplish His purpose in us.