I must admit, teaching is something that I enjoy. Walking alongside others as we together look to understand and apply God’s word is an unparalleled privilege – albeit a mite stressful at times as we get to grips with new concepts or ways of relating to how God reveals himself in and through Scripture. Thank-you to the dozen CSTAD students for the week together :-) A week in the Pentateuch – most of it in the book of Genesis – provided a great opportunity to stretch minds and hearts and understand the foundations that God has given us for our faith.
The Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible, the Torah of the Jews – really is the foundation of everything else that follows. Genesis traces history from God’s original creation through the calling of the patriarchs to their entry into Egypt. It is the book of beginnings, written to help Israel understand where they had come from – and thus also where they were headed. The first part of Exodus describes the miraculous intervention of God in history to free the descendants of Jacob from slavery and set them on a road to new life. Exodus continues through Leviticus and Numbers giving them ethics for living, basic laws to govern their life together and their worship of God, all in the context of God’s dealings with the people over their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. And Deuteronomy concludes the Torah with a much needed repetition of the essence of God’s laws before they entered the promised land, calling the people to commitment to God and his purposes for them.
All very interesting, you say, but what immediate relevance does all this have for us? Detailed instructions about priests’ ephods and sacrifices, mildew in houses and leather belts or what to do if you find your neighbour’s donkey wandering down your road hardly seem the most important things for today’s Christian to know about. No wonder most of us skip over these sections of the Old Testament and stick to the more familiar ground of the Psalms, stories of the like of David and Goliath, or some of the more comforting passages from Isaiah.
This is understandable, but we need foundations for our faith just as much as the people of Israel did then. As they were leaving Egypt and making their way into the promised land, Moses was looking to provide a solid base for the new nation. He needed to give the Israelites a framework which would enable them to develop their new national identity, an identity rooted in their purpose as the people of God.
Identity. Israel needed to know its identity in God, and so do we. Like them, our identity is rooted in our purpose in God; unless we are clear on our purpose – where we come from and where we are headed – we will not really know our identity. Just who are we as the people of God? What does God want of us? What is life about? Is our time on earth merely a waiting room for heaven? Or does God have something more for us? Understanding purpose is basic to knowing our identity in God.
Like Israel at that time, we need to know that our life is not about mere survival or even enjoying God’s blessing during our time on earth. More, so much more than this, we are heirs of the promise given to Abraham, the father of all those who believe: “I’ll bless you … so that you will be a blessing… and through you all the people of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). Our identity is rooted in this promise: we too are to receive God’s blessing, but not as an end in itself. We are to be channels of blessing to others, from our next-door-neighbour to the most distant nations of this world. We are blessed to be a blessing.
This promise applies to all of us as individuals, but we are also called to serve God together. Like Israel, we too are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation – a people that belong to God. Created by him, we have been freed to serve him. Our “Exodus” was not from physical slavery in Egypt but from slavery to sin. And like Israel, we now live “to proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
This is who we are in God: blessed to be a blessing, called to live out the good things that God gives us in such a way that others can see who he is and find him too. This is our identity; don’t settle for anything less.