31 October 2011

thunder and plunder

"The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians." (Exodus 12:36)

Plundering is an activity which is supposed to be reserved for the strong, the mighty, the upper-end, the winners.  Here, against all of the wisdom and understanding of both modern and ancient world, it comes from the hands of slaves as they exit the front door of one of antiquity's most impressive civilizations. The ancient Israelites plundered the spoils of Egypt and began their migration into a land they believed to have been promised to them.

Of course, the exodus is at the foundation of the corporate identity of Israel, and the apostle Paul could easily reflect on this slave plundering when he spoke of how God was going to be glorified in his weaknesses, or how the weakness of God is mightier than human strength.  Slaves are the losers, exile is for those who have survived, and oppression was the result of defeat.  In Egypt it happened gradually, since Joseph summoned his family to come to the place where what his brothers intended for evil God intended for good (Genesis 50:20).  Over time they settled and became comfortable, watching as their freedoms eroded slowly and gradually, until they were faced with the back-breaking task masters of Pharaoh.

Regardless of how they reached this point in their history, it was evident that now was the time for them to go.  With many questions, much confusion, ten plagues and a Passover later, it was clear that this 'weakness' of God on behalf of his people the slaves was unravelling the might of the Egyptian empire.  And they plundered.  They were on the side of the winners.  They prevailed.

It is not coincidence that those who still follow the God of Israel in the modern church are faced with the same dilemma: we wish to plunder the riches of culture and achieve the status of winners, rather than be the losers of our society who must learn their place in the world.  It is not for the church to plunder the culture in that we strip it of all its riches, but rather come out as those who have truly subverted the status quo and have asserted the authority of a different kingdom.  Hence, we must learn just how ancient Israel pulled off this dramatic upset of an empire.

We must, as did they, learn that we are slaves first to Almighty God and not church workers, cultural servants, or people here to help.  Such endeavors might be well and good, but they are not the essence of who we are as a people.  This is not the thunder of power and might being displayed for all to stand in awe of our own projected greatness.  Rather, it is the life that emerges from death, the strength that rises out of weakness.  In echoing the self-identification of the apostle Paul, we are slaves of Jesus and are thus completely surrendered and bound to his will.  This is how those who are otherwise seen as marginalized losers of culture will come to have overcome from the most unexpected of places.

Of course, it will greatly help God's people to learn that there is no strength or security in such riches - they exist only as God's blessing and tools for further expansion of his will.  We must never lose ourselves in the blessing but continually serve the Creator from which they originate.  When we miss out on this God is more than willing to wait for a generation to respond to his life.  Slaves plundering the empires of the world?  This is what happens when the shadow powers are confronted with the true Lord of the world.

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