This week the portion in Exodus and its companion in Isaiah are incomparably beautiful both in what they share and what they teach.
As we have studied, God rescues us from the “narrow places” in Egypt in order to bring us into the expansive and lovely ways of the promised life.
On the surface of the tale in Torah, the people leave the Sea and arrive at Sinai. Moses is called by God to be given direction and then recites the Divine Instruction to guide the people’s way.
In Isaiah, the prophet also is called by God to take on the mission of guiding the people.
Though the two different meetings are centuries apart, I believe they fundamentally go together. Even more, they both teach us about how, in our own time, we can best live in covenant with God and serve Divine purposes.
First, let’s look at the plot more deeply.
God tells Moses at Sinai: “If you obey Me and keep my covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure…And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.”
Three days later, Moses approaches God again, with the people, clean, within boundaries, and ready for next steps. Moses, then, instructed by God, offers the people the beginning of the great revelation in right living, the Ten Commandments.
The account of Isaiah’s meeting is also consequential but full of fantastic details. Isaiah sees God sitting upon a high throne, along with angels in the heavenly Temple, and witnesses the most remarkable interaction there.
Isaiah feels impure to be in such a setting, much as the Israelites surely feared they might be at Sinai. Once cleansed, he hears God’s words, in which the Divine seeks a messenger to speak to the people.
God knows that the people can hear and see, but they’d shown, from all the bad they had done, that they did not comprehend their obligations. Isaiah is told to inform them that until they see, hear, and understand in order to “repent and be healed,” their cities “will become desolate,” and “abandonment will be great amid the land.” Yet, importantly, there will be a remnant in which “the holy seed will be the vitality of the land.”
What does this teach us?
First, I believe there’s a Moses in each of us, as well as an Isaiah. We, too, are called to go to God, and we do so in our prayers, our mediation, our study, and our service. We, too, strive to be pure in our going. And God tells us when we draw near that our task is to comprehend the path forward through our eyes, ears, mouths and hearts.
Yet, it’s different after Sinai. We have the words. We’ve inherited them as perhaps our richest legacy from our faithful predecessors. As Moses teaches in his last oration: “It is not in heaven, so that you have to ask, ‘Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’…No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.”
So, having been blessed with God’s words, we are expected to use our God-given capacities of sight, hearing, speech, and wisdom to keep to them.
Our way should never be one of desolation or abandonment. We can be the remnant that repents of straying and return, healed. Then, when we follow God’s direction, we become His treasure. When we become priests and a holy nation, we live to serve others and become bestowers of peace in the world.