[This post continues the line of thought from my previous post, "When Salvation Hurts."]
Israel’s 40 years of wilderness wandering was a form of acculturation. They had left all the familiar scenery, the familiar sights and sounds, tastes and smells. And now they were ambling about in dust-choked hinterlands. What they were familiar with in Egypt may have been oppressive and brutal… but at least it was familiar.
We are creatures of habit. We adapt and adjust, usually to patterned, consistent routines. Defamiliarization disorients and confuses. We miss home even if we’ve prayed to escape it. Those of us who have bid farewell for the horizon know that once the landing gear skids the tarmac, we have to start re-adjusting. New time zone. New language, maybe. New unspoken cultural codes. New currency. New people. Before long, the disorientation takes its toll. Dislodged from home, our bodies, minds and even our souls need time and care to re-adjust and re-adapt.
The Israelites had spent four centuries in Egypt. Four centuries of acculturating to Egyptian life, Egyptian talk, Egyptian agricultural practices, Egyptian climate, Egyptian religious over- and under-tones.
“Tell them “I AM” sent you.”
After all those decades extending roots into Egyptian sand, a bush burns and a voice speaks: no more. An itinerary is issued. The tickets are one-way. Time to pack. And in haste. Forget the yeast. Just through some dough in the kiln and bake it. Quickly. Let’s grab the kids and go. Now.
Israel’s culture shock had less to do with the desert than it did with the tour guide. The desert had little culture with which to shock. The culture into which Israel was being baptized was the culture of “I AM,” of YHWH. On Sinai he gave his laws, laws that would shape and define a new society. These laws would establish a new culture, the culture of YHWH in which Israel was to live. Saturated with the new media of God, Israel had to re-adjust, re-adapt.
Salvation can come like a massive dose of culture shock. Life before God is not like life anywhere else. Egyptian values, Egyptian talk, Egyptian religious ideology—none of it would do before the One who had wrested their roots out of the sand to plant them elsewhere. For Israel, the realm of Pharaoh was replaced by the realm of YHWH. This new God-King demanded a specific way of life. It had to be learned. For most of the adults, it was a culture un-learnable. That generation was so resistant to acculturation, so invested in the oppressive culture of Egypt, that they beleaguered forty years until their expiration in the sands between Egypt and Canaan.
Salvation is culture shock. The culture is God’s. The shock is from holiness and living by faith. A life of trusting, of believing in daily manna, of gathering quail that appeared out of nowhere, of following new laws—the realm of YHWH requires drastic disorientation. New speech has to be learned. Former religious imagery has to be un-learned. The iconography of Egypt must be dismantled and replaced with the aniconography of “I AM.”
Familiarity does not come. Never. The furious, portentous rumbling and trembling of Sinai established that fact for Israel. A ghastly cross and an empty tomb establishes it for us. Who is this God, the God who speaks from fire, whose weight crushes mountain summits, who permits his own death… then parts waters thicker than the sea and comes out through his own tomb? No cozy sentimentality can be developed with this God.
But no refuge is sweeter. No rescue is stronger. Give me that one-way ticket. Time to pack. In haste. Grab the kids. Let’s go. Now.