Monday, April 8, 2013

Reboot the Pentateuch: The Scene Shifts - The Game of Thrones

This is part 14 of 20 in a series about the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. In it we will explore the context of the book, specifically its relationship to the Egyptian culture of its day.

Click here to read the entire series.

As we have discussed through our series, Moses was the inspired author of the Pentateuch--the first five books of the Bible. They were not meant to be read as five books, but as one: they were simply divided into five scrolls due to the length of the works. The Jews also referred to these not by five different names, but by one single name--Torah. When Jesus spoke of Torah, He spoke of the entire five books, read together as a single message.

When you look at his works as one coherent message--a message inspired during the escape from slavery in Egypt--you must read it in light of the culture of Egypt in order to understand what it means. We saw how there are key messages in the Creation Song and in all eleven sagas received by Moses, as a result of reading it in its proper, Egyptian, context.

This first half of the Torah, which we now call Genesis, tells Moses' people how God brought them into Egypt and that Canaan was their appropriate home--and reminded them that all of the patriarchs left Canaan but eventually as part of God's grand plan were returned home:  Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph all ended up in Egypt, while Jacob fled to the east. All left (or were taken from) the Promised Land, but God arranged things to bring them back. That is the overarching theme of Genesis, and it is meant to be a comfort to those followers of Moses who are led out of Egypt and have to re-conquer Canaan.

So today, we shift the scene. And it is interesting that this falls so soon after the restart of the popular HBO show Game of Thrones, because I used that term back in December when laying out this series.

The "game of thrones" that gives the book and movie series its title refers to the way that the characters try to manipulate major world events in order to create the kingdom that they desire. It is like a giant chess match, except that the winner ends up with a kingdom. And the loser...well, as Cersei says to Ned Stark in the series, "When you play the Game of Thrones, you win...or you die."

So why do I say God is "entering the Game of Thrones?"

Well, for the first half of Torah, God has stayed out of politics completely. Think about it: for unknown millennia, and at least 3000 years of civilization, YHWH has been completely uninvolved in the founding and development of nations and kingdoms. Egypt has risen to a major world power, China has risen to a power in the East, Sumeria is powerful, hundreds of local kings are spread throughout the Middle East and Egypt...and God is involved with none of them. He has no priests in these areas (except for the priest-king of Jerusalem, Melchizedek). He gives them no instructions. He simply does not get involved at all. His interactions, as far as we can tell, are limited to one small tribe in Ur, as they spread into Canaan and eventually end up enslaved in Egypt.

But that is all about to change. Because starting with Moses, God gets involved in the Game of Thrones.

God is about to start arranging people like chess pieces to bring about His will of creating a new kingdom, a priestly kingdom, in Canaan--the kingdom of Israel (named after Jacob the patriarch). This Unknown God is going to rescue His people in a dramatic way, and establish an entirely new kingdom. Most of these people He is rescuing do not even know who He is or how to worship Him: they have been raised as slaves in the homes of their masters in Egypt, and most probably see their tribe's YHWH as the mightiest of the gods...but they probably think Egyptian gods still exist. (Remember, that was the entire purpose of Genesis 1, to disprove the notion!)

In the remainder of this series, we will see God do miraculous things and, for the first time, set up a kingdom. The purpose of this kingdom (as you will see later) is not to be the greatest world power...but to be a kingdom of priests, a light shining on a hill for the entire earth to see. They will be given an extremely restrictive set of religious laws to follow, to show what 'holiness' and being set apart for God is all about. They will be tasked to be the priest-kings of YHWH. And this will set the stage, eventually, for the Ultimate King, the Messiah, to come.

As you know by now, I have divided this series not by book or chapter, but by logical section. First I divided it into two halves: what Moses received (Genesis) and what he witnessed (Exodus-Deuteronomy). Here in the second half, I further divide it into the five key sections of God's game of thrones:

  • God rescues a people (Exo 1-18)
  • A new nation is formed (Exo 19-24)
  • A new religion is invented (Exo 25-Lev 27)
  • A new land is inhabited (Num 1-25)
  • A new constitution is ratified (Deut 1-24)

 These are the five steps God will take to set up His kingdom. Next week we will see how He rescues His people from slavery. Then we will see how He forms a nation. Then He will invent Judaism for the first time. Then the people will settle in their new land. Finally, God will write their Constitution.

Please join me as we continue this series.