God and Israel as political actors
Friday, Jan. 19, 2024 - The Lord of Hosts p/d 1 of 8
When Pharaoh does not listen to you, then I will lay My hand on Egypt and bring out My hosts, My people the sons of Israel, from the land of Egypt by great judgments.—Exodus 7:4 NNAS
Good morning! In this first devotion in the new “The Lord of Hosts” series, we compare Egypt’s view of fleeing Israel with God’s view of Israel as an ordered army—and community. We also consider the new names God and Israel take on as political actors. Beginning with its second devotion, “The Lord of Hosts” series examines our public potential within the Bible’s federal approach to politics.
Just before Israel’s emancipation from slavery, God gets a new name, and Israel gets a new descriptor. God states to Moses his name, unknown to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: “I am the Lord.”1 God then sets out to prove his lordship by emancipating Israel: “You will know that I, the Lord, am your God, the God who frees you from your labour in Egypt.”2 Even the syntax of his announcement befits a lord: “I am the Lord” takes on the speech pattern of a king. Ancient Near Eastern kings would begin their proclamations with “I am Mesha,” “I am Yehawmilk,” and the like, Umberto Cassuto points out.3 God does so presumably because like a king, he will intervene in history as a political actor.
Israel is about to act politically, too, so it becomes “hosts.” “Hosts” here doesn’t mean a great mass of people. Instead, in the Bible, “hosts” means “battalions” or “armies”—military divisions. Like the Lord, the hosts of Israel will have to live up their new name in short order. Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea await.
At this critical moment, Israel’s “hosts” designation must have come across to both Pharaoh and the Israelites as a joke. As Robert Alter points out, it seems “wry and surprising” that God would use this orderly, military term to designate “a mass of wretched slaves who will be fleeing from their taskmasters.”4 But God uses it, telling Moses that he will bring out from Egypt “My hosts, My people the sons of Israel.”5 Whether or not we do so ourselves, God sees us as political actors.
As if to substantiate God’s view of his people as hosts, Exodus follows up God’s pronouncements with a brief genealogy. This genealogy, covering three tribes and a few families, are much like the longer biblical genealogies that account for Israel’s families, clans, and tribes. The present genealogy prepares us, as Exodus puts it, to understand God’s view of these fleeing slaves as “mustered in their tribal hosts.”6 This genealogical enumeration signifies that Israel will leave “not like slaves who flee from their master’s house, but as a free people that goes on its way in ordered hosts,” Cassuto says.7
The best is coming! Gain new perspectives for your own thinking and inspiration for your public heart by reading today’s devotion in the context of this series’s later devotions.
The Trinity models politics! Mankind’s answer to the Trinity—manipulation, exploitation, violence—has blinded us to our public God and our own public lives. Paid subscribers gain insight and inspiration to jump-start their quest for a just and public world through access to the complete 52 devotional series. They also can comment in response to 52 sets of discussion questions. Once we have enough paid subscribers, they can also contribute to 52 Zoom meetings and start new chats about all things political devotions.
If you’re not ready for a paid subscription, you still get plenty! You have access to the first devotion in each of the 52 devotional series, the ability to contribute to chats, and access to accounts of my bumbling attempts to live this material and my interviews with those creating public space (all in the Public Spaces blog and podcast, free to all). The next post you’ll receive in these weekday devotions will be the first one in the next devotional series.
Exodus 6:2-3 REB. God says in Exodus that he appeared to the patriarchs as “El Shaddai,” often translated as “God Almighty.” Exodus 6:3 KJV, NNAS, and REB. “The Lord” is a translation of “YHWH.” Alter, Hebrew Bible, Vol. 1, 234-35n3.
Exodus 6:7 REB.
Cassuto, Commentary on Exodus, 76.
Exodus 7:4 NNAS.
Exodus 6:26 REB.
Cassuto, Commentary on Exodus, 88.