The Original Shoobies

They are not from here, but from another state altogether. Foreigners. They speak differently, and follow customs we frankly find revolting. We didn’t invite them, but our govern­ment said they could come. There seem to be more and more of them all the time. The roads are jammed! Why don’t they go away and leave us to enjoy our own place in peace? Their only positive contribution is the value they pump into our local economy.

Shoobies? No! The Israelites in Egypt.

Jacob and his clan had descended into Egypt because a regional famine threatened them with starvation. Long-lost son Joseph would be able to provide for them there.  But even from the beginning they never fit in. They were shep­herds, and “every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians.” The Israelites were aliens on someone else’s turf.

Painful as Israel’s presence in Egypt was for both parties, her sojourn there was necessary if Jacob’s ragtag progeny were ever to coalesce into a nation. God had made unique promises to Abra­ham, including “I will make you into a great nation.” But the patriarch’s great-grandsons seemed intent on anything other than uniqueness and unity. By a Canaanite woman Judah fathered three sons, two of whom were evil and Yahweh killed. Ten of Joseph’s  brothers sold him as a slave. Some nation!

So God sent them into quarantine in Egypt. There, in Goshen, they had to stick together and stay separate because Egyptians disliked shepherds. They multiplied and retained their national identity until they grew into the mighty horde that Moses led out. God sometimes has to lead us through hard times in order to shape us into the kind of people he can bless. Easier on us if we would simply obey the first time around.

Israel was not to forget those uncomfortable years. “You shall not wrong a shoobie or oppress him, for you were shoobies in the land of Egypt…. The shoobie who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were shoobies in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21 and Lev 19:34, slightly modified). Maybe when we have visited Lancaster or NYC the natives have rolled their eyes at us, as well.

Up Close and Personal

When I was young my family sometimes camped at the foot of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington. One day we drove the auto road to the summit. Though hot and muggy down below, the air was cool up top. Decades later, Glenna and I returned, together with our own two sons. We decided that instead of driving, we would hike up. You see so much more when you do that. The mountain, the trees, the clouds, the birds, the cascades in Peabody River. Encased in the cocoon of our car as kids, we had missed so much.

Last Sunday afternoon I kayaked off 58th St. After crashing through the breakers you no longer notice the chatter and clutter of the crowds on the beach. It’s you and the ocean—up close and personal. In our digital days, surrounded by screens, we run the risk of relinquishing experiencing reality.

The incarnation is God up close and personal. God used to speak to Israel through the prophets. But you can learn only so much through words. So “in these last days he has spoken to us in his son.” In Jesus we find God—visible, tangible­, up close and personal, where we can see and understand. How close did he get? “What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands we proclaim to you.”

Will we reciprocate, or try to keep God at arm’s length? He wants more: God walked the garden in the cool of the day calling, “Where are you?” You are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Yahweh used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.

What about the Bible? It is easy to drift along with a distant acquaintance, to re-translate Psalm 119:11 as “Thy word have I installed on my phone, that I might swipe through as someone reads.” How regularly do I sit with open Bible, no one else’s guidebook, but only a notebook, pen, and the Spirit of God, in order to probe and record what God is saying to me?

Come on! Does God really care about individuals? “To the one who overcomes I will give a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but the one who receives it.” God relating to us—up close and personally.