[Note: The following is the attached prepared text for a Bible Study given to the Portland, Oregon United Church of God congregation on Wednesday, May 19, 2021.]
At the end of my last Bible study I discussed how it was that Israel found itself at Mount Sinai at the time of Pentecost with God seeking intimacy with them. I would like to begin this present Bible study at that point, because the scene at Mount Sinai between Israel and God helps set up a dynamic that continues its way throughout the entire Bible. And it is a sort of dynamic that we do not often think about when it comes to God. If we consult the general culture when it comes to thinking about Jesus Christ, the songs that people sing about Jesus Christ in contemporary Christian music seem a lot like love songs. We tend to think of Jesus Christ as a desirable partner, and yet what we find in the Bible is that Jesus Christ, both in pre-incarnate and during His time on earth, is shown as having a passionate but unrequited longing. And it is this longing, and its relationship to Pentecost, that I wish to explore in this Bible Study.
Let us begin in Exodus 19. Let us set the stage. Israel has been brought out of slavery by the plagues given to Egypt, and God has performed miracle after miracle for an Israel that has continually whined and complained. God has destroyed the Egyptian chariot army, delivered Israel through the Red Sea, provided them with the gift of the Sabbath as well as with daily food and helped them gain water in from bitter lakes and through it all Israel has failed to understand what God was doing. After seven weeks of leading Israel into the wilderness to Mount Sinai, God is about to reveal to Israel why it is that He has taken such an interest in them and in their well-being. And the results are not what we would tend to expect. Exodus 19:1-9 reads as follows: “In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain. And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord. And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.” So Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.”
Israel promised with these words in this passage that they would obey everything that God commanded them. Did they do so? Not at all. If there is anything in the Bible that is obvious it is the failures of Israel to obey God even though they swore in a covenant to obey Him completely. Do we obey God completely though? No, we do not. But it is not only with God that we fail to follow our oaths all that well. When a man and woman are brought before God in marriage, there is typically a section in which the two of them promise that they will remain faithful and committed to each other through wealth and poverty, sickness and health, good times and difficult times, until death do they part. The words are easy to say, but hard to do. Such was the case here. It would have been wise for Israel to have said something that reflected the seriousness of what they were committing to rather than to say that they would do all that was commanded of them by God. Had they known themselves or known God better, they would have been far less casual about their promise and oath to obey. And such should be the case for ourselves as well.
In stark contrast to the blithe commitment that Israel made to obey God, when God revealed Himself and sought intimacy with His people, Israel’s response is something that we need to pay attention to. When Israel finally understood what God wanted, their response was panic and terror. We find this in Exodus 20:18-21, right after the ten commandments are given. In Exodus 20:18-21, we read the following: “Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” And Moses said to the people, “Do not fear; for God has come to test you, and that His fear may be before you, so that you may not sin.” So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.” What we see in this interaction set up an enduring response between the way that Israel reacted to the longing of God for intimacy. Where God showed a desire to be close to Israel, Israel desired to be far away from God. Where God was generous to Israel, Israel was ungrateful and unappreciative to God. Where God desired obedience from Israel, Israel was wayward and unrighteous by the standards that they had committed themselves to. It is only those few people who were committed to God who responded to God’s entreaty and God’s invitation by drawing near to God and approaching Him instead of running away the way so many others did.
Indeed, a great part of the Pentecost story is the longing of God to draw near to Israel and Israel’s response to run away from God. And it is not as if God was unaware of Israel’s reluctance to respond to his desire for intimacy. Indeed, just as Israel showed their fear and terror about God’s longing for intimacy with them just after God gave them the ten commandments at Mount Sinai, God explains the implications of their fear in Deuteronomy 5:23-33, right after the ten commandments are given again to Israel shortly before they were to enter the promised land. Deuteronomy 5:23-33 reads as follows: ““So it was, when you heard the voice from the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, that you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes and your elders. And you said: ‘Surely the Lord our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God speaks with man; yet he still lives. Now therefore, why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die. For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived? You go near and hear all that the Lord our God may say, and tell us all that the Lord our God says to you, and we will hear and do it.’ “Then the Lord heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the Lord said to me: ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. Oh, that they had such a heart in them that they would fear Me and always keep all My commandments, that it might be well with them and with their children forever! Go and say to them, “Return to your tents.” But as for you, stand here by Me, and I will speak to you all the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I am giving them to possess.’ “Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.” But Israel did not have a heart to fear God in the right way, and to obey His commandments. They only had a fear of God in the way that made them find the desire of God for a close relationship with them awkward and uncomfortable.
It is worthwhile to consider this for a while. What is it that Israel found uncomfortable about the longing of God for them? How can we understand Israel’s perspective and see how it is that God and His intense and serious and prolonged interest in them was viewed by that wayward and rebellious and stiff-necked people? We can better understand the dynamic that existed between God and Israel regarding the relationship that God wanted with them when we consider the words of the prophets. Let us now turn to Ezekiel 16:1-14. This chapter is a lengthy and somewhat graphic discussion of the toxic relationship between God and Jerusalem. And in looking at the first part of this particular chapter, we may better understand the reasons for the fear and terror of Israel towards the desire of God for a relationship. Ezekiel 16:1-14 reads as follows: “Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: “Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born. “And when I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ Yes, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare. “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord God. “Then I washed you in water; yes, I thoroughly washed off your blood, and I anointed you with oil. I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord God.”
There is a lot going on in this passage, and a great deal of it is unpleasant for us to dwell on. Yet it is worthwhile for us to understand what is being said about Jerusalem here because it gives us plenty of reasons why Israel’s response to the longing of God was so negative and also why the longing of God is something that is as problematic in our own day and age as it was in the days of ancient Israel. This particular passage discusses the experiences of Israel and Judah in slavery as being children abandoned in their afterbirth without any care or affection. And God took the abandoned child of Israel and adopted her as a ward. This is something that used to be a custom but has since fallen into disrepute. In the Middle Ages, for example, it was very common for girls among the nobility who were direct vassals of the king to be assigned to unmarried but loyal courtiers as wards. These wards, who were typically older men, would manage the properties inherited by the young heiresses and profit from it during the time the young women were still minors. And, if they were shrewd enough, they themselves would choose from among their wardships a young woman to take as a wife, and they themselves would then have been in the position of having groomed and prepared a girl from childhood to being a bride for themselves. It might well be imagined that this sort of dynamic in a relationship has come under a great deal of scrutiny and criticism in our contemporary age.
Yet it must be admitted that the sort of relationship that God is engaging in with the Jerusalem personified as a female is precisely the sort of relationship that would raise eyebrows and a great deal of criticism today. At Israel’s birth as a people, they were enslaved in Egypt and experiencing generations of the trauma of slavery and oppression. They were kept under strict and brutal control as a potentially hostile alien population, subject to infanticide, and given the thankless chore of making bricks without straw under a strict quota system. It is unsurprising that a people in such circumstances would long for freedom but also be unprepared to handle it successfully. The way that God describes his care for Israel is something that people might uncharitably consider to be exploitative. An abandoned baby is allowed to grow up naked and somewhat wild, and when she has matured in adolescence God bathes her and clothes her and gives her generous gifts and then binds her to him in the covenant of marriage. And the timing of this covenant of marriage is precisely the festival of Pentecost when Israel promised to obey God and to be His royal priesthood and holy nation, or in short, his bride.
Yet though God frequently portrays Himself as being married to Israel, and the accounts of that marriage are seldom happy ones, there is a frequent theme of the marriage being an unequal one. If the longing of God for Israel and then, after that, for believers, is something that is consistent in its intensity, it is also something that is consistently viewed in the Bible as being between unequals, and thus something that has a great deal of potential for exploitation. It is to the credit of the Bible that the Bible does not sugarcoat the potential problems in the relationship between God and His people in marriage. God describes the period of caring for Israel over the course of years, in giving generous gifts, and in offering marriage at the moment of puberty to a young woman who has not known love and care and concern from anyone else other than Him in such a way that recognizes Israel as being in a position where exploitation was a very real threat and concern. Were God anything less than perfectly righteous, then we would view Israel’s reluctance not with scorn but with a great deal of sympathy and understanding. It is in fact only because God is perfect and without sin that such an unequal relationship is to be viewed as a glorious thing rather than as an abusive and exploitative relationship, as it would be between two flawed human beings.
It is worth nothing that when relationships are explored in the Bible that are viewed as being symbolic of that between Jesus Christ and the Church and God and Israel, it is worthwhile to note that this same unequal power dynamic exists, with the same potential for exploitation, but the same reality of elevation rather than degradation because of God’s character trumping the vulnerability of the young woman. Let us see this dynamic in the book of Ruth. As we have noted before, the book of Ruth is read on Pentecost by Jews and the events of the book of Ruth take place between Passover and Pentecost. On a surface, reading, it is easy to celebrate the awkward but loving courtship of Boaz and Ruth and their marriage after a courtship of some seven weeks or so, but paying attention to the power dynamic that exists between Ruth and Boaz, we can see the same sort of elements that exist in the story that we read in Ezekiel 16. When Boaz meets Ruth in Ruth 2, they do so as unequals. Let us look at Ruth 2:1-10 and see how this inequality between Boaz and Ruth is vividly and consistently portrayed by the text: “There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz. So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered him, “The Lord bless you!” Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, “It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.” Then Boaz said to Ruth, “You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Have I not commanded the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” So she fell on her face, bowed down to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?””
How many ways are Ruth and Boaz different and unequal? Ruth is a woman, and Boaz is a man. Ruth is a landless widow, and Boaz is the head of a large household of servants. Ruth is poor, on the edge of starvation, having to glean, stooping down to pick up the scraps of grain left behind by the reapers, in order to eke out a subsistence existence for herself and her widowed mother-in-law Naomi. Boaz, on the other hand, is immensely wealthy, someone who can (and does) afford a great deal of generosity to her. Ruth is a foreigner in an unfamiliar place where her people are looked down upon and where immigrants were not viewed very highly. Boaz is among the noble class of Bethlehem, a place where he grew up and where he was among the elders. If that is not enough, Ruth is relatively young, and Boaz is old enough that he calls her “my daughter,” expressing his being a generation or so older than she is. Each of these differences individually would be enough to make Ruth vulnerable to abuse and exploitation were not Boaz a righteous and honorable and decent man. And yet all of these vulnerabilities are present. And there is even one further source of vulnerability that may not seem obvious. Matthew 1:5 records that Boaz was the daughter of Salmon by Rehab, the Canaanite harlot of Jericho, and thus Boaz would have in addition to his attraction to Ruth as a beautiful young woman also a strong sense of emotional longing as someone who would be drawn to someone like Ruth because of the similarity of her situation to that of his own beloved mother. All of these sources of vulnerability can lead to the exploitation of young women by older men, of poor people by rich people, of foreigners by the native born, and so on.
And yet what we find in the story of Ruth is not the exploitation of Ruth by Boaz, but rather the elevation of Ruth through the generosity and longing of the somewhat shy Boaz. Boaz’s subtlety and restraint in dealing with Ruth is remarkable, and he seems particularly unwilling to coerce her or push her into a relationship with him despite his obvious interest in her. Let us note how this takes place in two respects, because these mirror the ways that God acts with restraint in His dealings with believers. First, Boaz shows his generosity to Ruth in a way that is obvious to others but that is hidden from the recipient of the generosity, so that Ruth is not shamed by the gesture. That is precisely what we find in Ruth 2:14-23. In this passage we see Boaz’s generosity to Ruth, as well as her gracious response to it. Ruth 2:14-23 reads: “Now Boaz said to her at mealtime, “Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back. And when she rose up to glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. Also let grain from the bundles fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.” So she gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. Then she took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. So she brought out and gave to her what she had kept back after she had been satisfied. And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.” Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also said to me, ‘You shall stay close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’ ” And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, and that people do not meet you in any other field.” So she stayed close by the young women of Boaz, to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest; and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.”
Here we see that Boaz gives Ruth some food during lunch, and notices that she holds some of it back, signifying that she and Naomi not have enough to eat and that food scarcity is an issue. He then solves the problem of her shortage of food by telling his reapers (but not Ruth) that they are to intentionally but subtly leave food intentionally for her to gather and to even allow her to take grain from the sheaves rather than wait for the remnant to be left behind to glean. Ruth is, however, not aware of this generosity as she works after lunch for the rest of the afternoon. It is only when she returns home with an entire ephah (or more than 9 gallons) of prepared grain that Naomi is alert to the fact that someone paid attention to Ruth. And when Naomi realizes that it is Boaz who has been generous, she feels some sense of her faith restored because she realizes God has not abandoned her to lonely and poor widowhood after all.
We see the second aspect of Boaz’s generosity to Ruth in Ruth 3 when Ruth has proposed levirate marriage to him. And again, this generosity is complex and nuanced in its nature. Ruth 3:1-15 reveals this proposal and it again points to the nature of the vulnerability that Ruth had and the fact that her elevation rather than degradation depended on the character of Boaz. Boaz’s noble character is what prevented Ruth from suffering abuse in what was a very vulnerable position on her part. Ruth 3:1-15 reads: “Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.” And she said to her, “All that you say to me I will do.” So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet. And he said, “Who are you?” So she answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.” Then he said, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. Stay this night, and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you—good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as the Lord lives! Lie down until morning.” So she lay at his feet until morning, and she arose before one could recognize another. Then he said, “Do not let it be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” Also he said, “Bring the shawl that is on you and hold it.” And when she held it, he measured six ephahs of barley, and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.”
It rather goes without saying that it would not be safe for most attractive young woman to go to the bed of an older single man and sleep at his feet after he had gone to sleep happy and content after eating and drinking. Besides the normal vulnerability of a young woman in bed with an older man who is clearly interested in her and has made that obvious to her and to everyone else in the town, we add to this the vulnerability that comes when someone has had alcohol. And yet nothing untoward happens in this account, contrary to our cynical contemporary expectations. And not only does Boaz not take advantage of Ruth, graciously and conditionally accepting her offer of levirate marriage and expressing gratitude to her for choosing to marry him despite his being considerably older than she is, but he allows her to rest and then sends her home with six measures of grain before people can recognize her so that she can return home safe and sound without being recognized and thus subject to the gossip of the community, who might find it stretching the bounds of credulity to interpret her coming from where Boaz was in a charitable and virtuous light.
Let us note the parallels that exist between God in Ezekiel 16 and Boaz in the book of Ruth. Both of them express an intense longing for marriage with a young woman whose place in life and whose life experiences make her highly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. In both cases God and Boaz are portrayed as being older, wealthy, powerful men and Ruth and Israel are portrayed as being beautiful but poor young women. The difference in the fate between Ruth in particular and Israel as a whole is in fact that Ruth responds positively to the longing of Boaz while Israel rejects the obligations of the marriage relationship with God. But in both cases we have God and Boaz being placed in a position where they could, if they were not virtuous men, have taken advantage of the young women they were attracted to. It is character, and not circumstance, that is decisive in determining what happens in the two accounts. Boaz is a good model for Jesus Christ as a kinsman-redeemer both because of his generosity but also because of his restraint and his refusal to take advantage of his many sources of personal and positional power to exploit and take advantage of the young woman he is drawn to. If this restraint and refusal to take advantage are rare, they are a proper picture of the character of God.
Having seen, therefore, that God consistently portrays Himself as being in a position of superiority to Israel and that their attraction is not between equals but between a being of considerable power and one who is vulnerable on account of traumatic life experience as well as positional inferiority in multiple aspects, let us ask whether this is something that is found in the New Testament as well. First, let us ask, did Jesus Christ show the same unrequited longing for intimacy with the Jews of His time that He showed towards Israel in the accounts that we have read so far in Exodus and Ezekiel? Indeed, He did. Let us turn to Matthew 23:37-39. In this passage we see both the longing and the frustration of Jesus Christ towards His generation. Matthew 23:37-39 reads: ““O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”” So far, so good.
Let us then follow this up with another question. Does God still show the same deliberate attention in the New Testament to those who might be considered to be vulnerable to exploitation that He showed earlier? In short, can we see the people whom God deliberately calls as being those whose outsider status makes them a potential target for predators and abusers? Let us turn to 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. Here see precisely that God has chosen the same sorts of people to call as He did with regards to Israel. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 reads: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence.” Just as was the case with God calling Israel, we see that God deliberately chooses those who are viewed as foolish, those who are weak, and those who are viewed as base to put to shame those who glory in themselves. It is the noble character of God that prevents this intense attention from being abusive and exploitative, just as it was before.
Let us follow this up with another question. Does God show the same attention to giving gifts to His people that He did in previous times? That is precisely what we find when we look at Ephesians 4:1-8. Ephesians 4:1-8 reminds us that God is the giver of gifts and someone who expects us to remain united to Him and with each other: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”” We can see, so far at least, that God’s approach to humanity has not changed. He still longs for an intimate relationship with His people, still deliberately chooses to have relationships with those who are vulnerable, and still shows His love through generosity.
We noted earlier in Deuteronomy 5 that God recognized that Israel did not have the heart to respect and obey Him. Is this a problem that God has addressed in his dealings with the Church and with His future dealings with Israel? That is precisely what we find according to Hebrews 8:10-12. Hebrews 8:10-12 reads: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”” So far we have seen that God seeks to preserve the unity of faith, provide gifts, and to give believers a new heart and have His laws written on our minds through the giving of His Holy Spirit.
Given the role of the Holy Spirit in demonstrating God’s love for us and also for furthering the goals of intimacy, it is unsurprising that we find the Holy Spirit to be intimately connected to the festival of Pentecost. And here too we find the combination of God’s longing for intimacy with believers, the day of Pentecost, and God’s generosity to mankind. This is precisely the confluence of factors we see in Acts 2:1-21. These are familiar verses to us for Pentecost, but let us read them in light of a pattern of God’s longing for intimacy with mankind entering a new level. Acts 2:1-21 reads: “When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, those dwelling in Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya adjoining Cyrene, visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?” Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.” But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; and they shall prophesy. I will show wonders in heaven above and signs in the earth beneath: Blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord. And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” Here we see, as was the case when God showed Himself on that Pentecost at Mount Sinai, that there was the same divided response to God’s desire for intimacy, namely that some were drawn to God as believers to receive His Holy Spirit and accept God’s offer of a relationship with Him, and others drew away and tried to distance themselves from God.
Let us ask another set of questions about the parallels between how God worked with Israel and how God works with us today? Does he have the same end goal in mind? In short, does He use the same language to discuss His intimate relationship to us as believers that He did to ancient Israel? Yes, he does. Let us turn to 1 Peter 2:1-10. Here we find Peter putting believers into the same place with God that Israel was in Exodus 19, where we began. 1 Peter 2:1-10 reads: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious, and he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone,” and “a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed. But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” Just as God was unequal in proposing marriage to a young Israel who had not experienced mercy and graciousness in an evil world, so too God offers salvation to us under the same circumstances, with the same promise that if we follow God and walk in obedience to His ways that we will be a royal priesthood and a holy nation.
And does God have the same end goal in mind for us? Does God want to unite us in marriage to Him as He married Israel at Mount Sinai in Exodus? Yes, He does. Let us turn in closing to Revelation 19:6-9. Here we read, as we might expect, about the marriage supper of Jesus Christ. Revelation 19:6-9 reads: “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!’ ” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.”” When Jesus Christ returns, it will be time for Him to marry the Church, and so to fulfill the longings that He has had for thousands of years to be intimately tied to the Church whom he freed from slavery, whom He groomed and prepared to make a proper bride to Him through a long period of time, and who He showered with generosity. But that is a subject for another day.