Saturday, November 30, 2013

Example of Parallel Symmetry From Exodus 19

Parallel Symmetry is a type of literary structure found in the Bible where a set events happen, such as A-B-C-D, and then these same themes are repeated, A'-B'-C'-D'. Recognizing this pattern can help identify a progression, clarify the text, or even reveal subtle issues.

At the time when the Ten Commandments were told to Moses, he heard the voice of the Lord but only partially obeyed it. If you have a Bible available, I am looking at Exodus 19 and 20.

The Lord called to Moses out of the mountain stating, "If you [plural] will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured people …" (Exodus 19:5 ESV). When Moses stated this to the people, they all agreed. Everything is good so far; the Lord's voice will provide direction and they will obey it.

The Lord then positioned Moses as spokesman, "… that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever" (v19:9). God was granting authority to Moses, but I suggest He was not stating Moses must be the only conduit. He was not precluding the people from listening directly to His voice.

See if you can see where Moses did not follow the voice of the Lord:

Lord's instructions Moses' actions
A. Consecrate the people and tell them to wash their garments (v10) Consecrated the people and they washed their garments (v14)
B. Tell the people to be ready for the third day, for the Lord will come down on the mountain and be seen (v11)
Told the people to be ready for the third day (v15a)
C. Set limits for the people: if you touch the mountain, you will die and not live (v12,13a)
Told the people not to touch a woman (v15b)
D. The trumpet will sound a long blast (v13b) On the third day, there was thunder, lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast (v16)
E. The people shall come up to the mountain (v13c) Moses took the people out of their camp and brought them to the foot of the mountain (v17)

Did you see it? Moses did not tell the people about touching the mountain!

Please allow me to paraphrase the relevant portions of this story's remainder (Exodus 19:18-20:21):
the Lord told Moses to go up the mountain and then privately stated to him, "Warn them about the mountain!" Moses told the Lord of his hesitation; apparently he did not like the limits that the Lord had set. The Lord said okay, go down, get Aaron, and bring him up. The Ten Commandments were then spoken.

One of the saddest verses of the Bible is then stated by the people to Moses. In their fear they said, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die" (v20:19). I suggest that because Moses had failed to warn them correctly, they misinterpreted the source of the thunder, lightning, and trumpet. Instead of learning how to properly hear the source, they intensely feared the source. Moses said, "Do not fear" but the people stood at a distance. They missed it.

Eventually these people all died in the wilderness, for only those under 20 years of age at the time of the exodus were allowed to enter the Promised Land. Immediately prior to this new generation's entry, Moses gave a new appeal: "Obey his [the Lord's] voice" (Deuteronomy 30:2). Once again, the Lord was stating the importance of listening and obeying His voice.

God does speak and it is always for the good. I, like others, need to be more consistent about listening and then obeying our Lord.

If you enjoyed this analysis of Exodus 19 and 20, you should also appreciate the many Biblical insights in my book Joshua's Spiritual Warfare: Understanding the Chiasms of Joshua. You can also see this book on Amazon.