GOD AGAINST THE GODS
The business of the biblical witness is not to tell us about the historical, cultural, religious, political or literary climate of the day though in the process of doing what it does it reveals a lot of that.
For example, Genesis 1 & 2 sets itself against its environment in which the gods of the nations whose stories are told in the Enuma Elish or the Baal Cycle or the many myths of Sumeria and Egypt. In the Bible God as God has no mythology—he isn’t created, he doesn’t war against other gods to become the chief god nor does he die or be killed and somehow come to life again. Stories like that occur in the mythology of the polytheistic world to explain their experience with nature.
[How to you explain wilderness sitting next to fertile land—as in Egypt? You invent warring gods—the multi-tasking Sekhmet [fierce godess whose breath created the desert] over against Osiris [god of the Nile who makes Egypt fruitful]. How do you explain floods that destroy and rains that bring prosperity—as in Babylonia or Sumeria? You invent gods who oppose one another—Marduk and Tiamat. How do you explain the winter fruitlessness and the summer harvests—as in Canaan? You tell stories about Baal’s death and being brought to life again. How do explain storms in Canaan? You tell stories of Baal when he is greatly angered [but see Psalm 29 that defies Babylonian and Canaanite flood and storm explanations and see Psalm 82 where God scornfully dismisses the gods of the nations who are the inventions of the “wise” humans who yield the power over people].
Because they couldn’t control or bribe nature they personified the forces of nature and made offerings to them to appease their anger or gain and keep their good will and blessing. When foreign armies threatened them they called on their gods to protect them and when they were defeated they would confess the limits of the gods they worshiped. This distorted thinking showed itself in Israel from time to time. See 2 Chronicles 28:23-26; 1 Kings 20:23-28; 2 Kings 16:7-16.
Genesis 1 & 2 says all that is nonsense and it is the one true God, who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who walked into Egypt and publicly exposed that entire pagan theology. “I alone am God, I created and shaped the world in harmony and fruitfulness; I created the human family and redemptively cursed my creation to ultimately bless it. The gods aren’t to be feared or worshiped.”
Multiplied millions now and in ages past have not heard these truths; they’ve been heard by multiplied millions without being “heard” but Christians have been blessed to hear them. These are the envy of the ages, said Jesus in Luke 10:21-24! [And with that profound privilege comes the mission to speak the truth they been blessed with to a harassed and burdened human family—enslaved by gods ancient and modern, with and without idols.
Whatever else the Exodus events tell us [and they tell us many profound truths] they tell us that God is opposed to cruelty and all forms of oppression. God has created humans to love and be loved, to rejoice and love righteousness and in our living to reflect him as his image. He has made it clear to us that we can’t live fully without him—we were made for him and for one another and while we may be content with a relatively trouble-free life we were made for more than that. Some of us have come to know this and while we rejoice in the pleasures of life and thank God for them there’s that in us that can’t be content with these. There’s a hunger in us that can’t be filled even in a lovely life in a world such as ours now is. Click here.
The truth God revealed about himself and gave to Israel and then to the NT People of God has suffered greatly at the hands of those to whom it has been given. The distortion of this “gospel” of God has led to cruelty and apathy that defies description and can only be acknowledged with profound sadness, embarrassment and shame. The task God entrusted to believers remains the same—get to know Him; get to know his creation purpose to bless humanity and bring it to a glorious climax in and under the Lordship of Jesus Christ at his final coming and ceaselessly to tell those truths now, in speech, in liturgy and sacraments and daily life.
“Look unto me and be saved all you ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other!” Isaiah 45:22