I haven’t read through the entire Bible since my freshman year of college.
For seven years now, I’ve preferred to hang out with my favorite books (hello 2 Corinthians!) instead of plopping down with the crazy uncle at the family reunion (how’s it going, Song of Solomon?).
But at the beginning of the year, I decided to attempt to read through the whole Bible again. It seemed like I’d avoided Nahum long enough and that he probably deserved a second chance.
All read-through-the-Bible attempts start off great in the crazy action of Genesis, but get waylaid in the doldrums of mid-Exodus. There, there’s not so much action and as obscure directions about how to rip sacrificial birds in half before burning them on the altar. Hmm.
This morning, I started the book of Leviticus. Pray for me.
One thing I think has kept this reading program on track is that it directs you to read four chapters a day – one chapter from four different books. It started in Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Matthew 1, and Acts 1 and proceeds from there. So when I hit the book of Job and struggled to get through chapter after chapter of his depressing friends, Mark and Romans were there to buoy me.
As I’ve tried to stay focused through these last chapters of Exodus, John’s vivid analogies have kept me coming back.
And I’m glad, because the real point of this whole post is what I noticed at the end of Exodus.
(Yes, I just told you I wasted three minutes of your life with that little Bible-reading history. I do hope you’ll forgive me.)
By the book’s name, we know it’s supposed to be about the flight of the Israelites from Egypt to the “land flowing with milk and honey”. Through plagues and parting red seas, we’re waiting for the Israelites to get to the Promised Land.
Except – in extremely poor novel-writing fashion – they never do. At least not in the book of Exodus. The major tension of the story – whether or not they make it to the Promised Land – does not resolve.
The end of Exodus has never stood out to me before like it did this time. Instead of the story of Exodus resolving with a grand entrance into the Promised Land, it ends with the Israelites completing construction of the tabernacle and growing used to following the rhythms of the visible presence of God.
We know that getting to the Promised Land is going to take them three more books due mostly to the fact that they get 40 years tacked onto the journey because of their lack of faith. Their constant complaints don’t make the journey any more successful.
The entire final five chapters of Exodus – an entire eighth of the book! – are dedicated to getting the tabernacle right. How much time in their journey does that represent? How long were they stopped in the desert while the builders hammered out gold and bronze to cover the altars and lamps and carrying poles?
It seems to me that in this whole desert experience of the Israelites – from the stopping to build a tabernacle to the drastic punishment for their lack of faith in the character of God – God’s primary goal was not to take the Israelites to the Promised Land.
If it had been, He would’ve whisked them there quickly and efficiently – overlooking their complaining and waiting to give the law and build tabernacles until they’d reached their destination.
I think God’s main goal in all of this was exactly what happens at the end of the book of Exodus. He was looking for them to know Him. He wanted them to recognize His presence, to be at home in His character.
They were waiting for a blessing of flowing milk and honey. So they complained when they got manna and desert sand in their shoes.
And the whole time, God’s presence was hovering over a structure they themselves had built. They were being guided by an imminently faithful God.
The mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known… the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
I complain way too much about sand in my shoes.