Holy Slaughter?

Ever read a passage of the bible and say “Really? Did I just read what I thought I read?”

As I have been reading through the bible this year following the Life Journal Reading Plan, I read this week a passage that has been bugging me for a couple of days.  I am both drawn to this story and repulsed by this story.  If you have access to a bible, you may want to open it up and read Exodus 32:19-35 because I would like your comments on this biblical passage.

In Exodus 32, Moses – the great leader and prophet of Israel – comes down from Mount Sinai and his meeting with God to find the camp in an uproar. The people, in Moses’ absence, had an idol crafted in the image of a calf and were worshiping this creation.  Moses, under the direction of God, issues a challenge for those committed to the One, True God (Yahweh) to join him, strap on a sword and then kill their brother, friend, and neighbor.  3,000 people died that day in the camp by the sword of those aligned with Moses. And this was justified.  Really?

I am repulsed by this story because of the apparent ease with which human life was terminated and that it was justified in the name of God. This happens all too frequently in our world today and it sickens me.

I am drawn to this story because of the challenge it issues to my personal holiness. Am I so committed to God that I would obey God’s command even if it meant eliminating those closest to me?  There are several teachings in the New Testament of the bible that reissue this challenge.  In Matthew 10:34-39, Jesus issues the challenge directed toward our allegiances when he says he “did not come to bring peace, but a sword. . .turning a man against his father, a daughter against her mother” and that anyone who loves family above Jesus isn’t worthy of God.  1 Peter 4:17 says that judgment is to begin with God’s household – interpretation: anyone who claims to be on God’s side ought to be submitting themselves to purification.  Now, I am quick to jump into these conversations and interpret them as ‘spiritual’ (that is, God is addressing issues of heart loyalty) and metaphorical (family divisions aren’t real).  I believe it is true that this lies at the core of these passages’ teaching (along with a conviction that the judgment which may terminate a person’s life belongs solely to God and not with humanity – check out Acts 5:1-11) but it is also true that a Day is coming when real, physical, men and women, even family members, will be judged by God and permanently removed from God’s presence.

So I am drawn to these passages because they challenge my personal holiness. At root, the issue is our understanding of God’s holiness. The essence of who God is is so radically different than who I am as a human that I have a tendency to reduce God to something more manageable; something less threatening (a golden calf?), and in so doing rob God of what makes God uniquely God – holiness. The personal challenge is: Do I value God’s holiness. Does my life align with God’s?  Do I value God’s character over my comfort? I mean, I am a relatively good person but is good ever enough when measured against God’s holiness? When I stand before the One, True God (Yahweh) in all his holiness, will I be destroyed?

See, I really don’t have a good interpretation for the passage in Exodus 32 other than my own inner struggle and the challenge it presents to me: live wholeheartedly for God (and leave the judging to God too). . .and after all, isn’t that what the Kaleo Life is all about?

What about you?  Repulsed by this passage? Drawn to the challenge of this passage? Or something all-together different? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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