by Jason Prati
“The God of the Hebrews has revealed himself to us; let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to the Lord our God” (Exodus 5:3)
Many times throughout chapters 3-8, the reason given for the Exodus is worship. In Moses’ first encounter with God in the burning bush, God commands him to tell Pharaoh that “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God (Exodus 3:18).” Here in Exodus 5, Moses and Aaron fulfill the Lord’s command. They could have given a whole angry list of reasons to shout at Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free: the hardship of their labor, the injustice of the oppression, the affliction that they bore. However, the reason given is to worship. “Pharaoh, we need to get out of Egypt for a couple of days for a “Church service,” would that be cool with you?” The reason, at first glance, seems bizarre. Yet, in the context of the Torah, it is the fundamental reason of human existence.
“In the beginning,” our Triune God, who is a deep communion of persons, creates the cosmos as the location in which others can share in this eternal love. The spiraling out of creation forms a “Cosmic Temple,” a place set apart in which creatures would be able to share in this love, with humanity made in the divine image placed at its heart. N.T. Wright in his work “The Day the Revolution Began” writes that “humans were made to be “image-bearers,” to reflect the praises of creation back to the Creator and to reflect the Creator’s wise and loving stewardship into the world (pg.99).” Humanity is meant to be the royal priesthood of this Cosmic Temple, given the command by God to “serve/avodah” and “guard/shamar.” These two words are used again in Numbers for the work of the priesthood in the Tabernacle: “Now they [the priests] shall perform duties [shamar] for him and for the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, as they minister [abodah] at the tabernacle; they shall have charge [shamar] of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, and attend to the duties [shamar] for the people of Israel as they minister [abodah] at the tabernacle. (Numbers 3:7-8).” At its core, worship is the proper use of our priesthood – we give ourselves fully back to our God who is giving Himself fully to us. Sacrifice, fundamentally, is love-transformed humanity. N.T. Wright again states that “Worship was and is a matter of gazing with delight, gratitude, and love at the Creator God and expressing His praise in wise, articulate speech (pg. 100).
Yet, we failed at this vocation. We turned from exercising our priesthood in this proper manner to offering worship to ourselves and things in the created order. We tried to be “God without God.” We began to offer sacrifice to false idols, these “powers” and “forces” which bring distortion, brokenness, and pain ushering in the Empire of Death. You can see this in the obvious examples of the idolatry of money, power, greed, and sex. It was not for nothing that they were treated like gods in the ancient world, as seen in the various forms of Ba’al idols. Times have not changed much. In the Garden, we turned from our true vocation as priests. All of this has led to true slavery, which is the ultimate rule of the Pharaoh of Death, landing us in our own “Egypts.”
However, we have a God of love who has come to rescue us. He has heard our cries and calls us out to avodah in the wilderness. When Pharaoh asks Moses to just stay in Egypt and sacrifice, Moses retorts that it would not be right to do so “for we shall sacrifice to the Lord our God offerings abominable to the Egyptians (Ex. 8:26).” The slaughtering of sheep and bulls would be unthinkable to the Egyptians who revered them as living images or representations of the gods. It seems likely that God has commanded the reason for the Exodus to be “worship” as not only the cultic renunciation of Egyptian idols, but once again to reorient us back to proper worship and our true vocation. We are called to leave Egypt, renouncing the false idols of this world and to be lead back into the Garden to avodah (serve) and shamar (guard) the Lord who created us for this purpose.