El Shaddai repeats an older command to fill the earth, to spread out. But it’s like the humans have no ears – again they come together in direct obedience to El Shaddai’s command – they try to build a tower to the heavens. So they are scattered by El Shaddai, their language confused.
And now enters another significant character: Abram. El Shaddai looks at the world and, once again, sees the tragedy that occurs when the people do not live under El Shaddai’s rule. El Shaddai picks Abram to be his people. He sets Abram apart, renames him Abraham, and promises him Lordship - El Shaddai’s rule, a people – his descendants, and land – the promised land.
The story progresses.
El Shaddai watches as Abraham takes some steps backwards and then forwards, moving in the right direction. El Shaddai demonstrates his joy in working against the odds by giving him his promised descendant at a very old age.
El Shaddai’s people continue to grow – and he is blessing them. But they are still wanderers, with no place. We hear now some of the stories that we are told in Sunday School – of Isaac, Jacob and Esau, of a multi-colored coat and some time spent in prison. In many ways, these stories are the build-up in El Shaddai’s story. Introducing characters, setting up the stage, expanding his people to be more than simply one family. At the end of the story of Joseph, the descendants of Abraham – those called the Israelites, a people without a land or leader – are stuck in Egypt, enslaved. And while oppression is a place that they will soon become familiar with, this oppression feels different – it was not an act of disobedience that put them there.
Out of this place – this difficult place – comes the defining moment of the first half of El Shaddai’s story. For four centuries, El Shaddai is forced to listen to the cries of his people. Then, finally, he sends in the rescuer.
It’s not that the Israelites are perfect and El Shaddai is calling them because of that. They are no more innocent than their masters. But El Shaddai provides them a way out – follow my instructions, and I will rescue you. The word that many today use is “liberate”. In fact, an entire stream of theology – liberation theology – finds its roots in the event that we today call the Exodus. Perhaps we don’t always understand what happens next – the Israelites are commanded to slaughter a pure and spotless lamb, putting its blood around their doorframes. When the angel of death passes over, it will spare their house if they obey.
I can just picture the fear in their eyes – a respectful fear, a concerned fear. They know that something big is happening as they huddle in their homes in anticipation of what El Shaddai is about to do. And then they breath a sigh of relief as the darkness overtakes the land and – and - and – they look to the firstborn in their home, feeling the pulse and seeing movement – knowing that El Shaddai has spared them.
They are liberated. They walk out, El Shaddai’s people, looking for El Shaddai’s land. It is in this event – and the events that follow that the Israelites receive their identity. A nation needs a governing body, and shortly after they leave Egypt they receive El Shaddai’s laws. These laws are given as a response to what El Shaddai did. “I freed you, so live like my people.” What does that look like?
El Shaddai gives his people ten instructions – if they are followed, the life that would follow would be blessed for two reasons: 1) El Shaddai would bless it. 2) The natural consequences of the obedience is blessing, because El Shaddai created the world that way. When people live in peace with each other, blessings happen. When El Shaddai’s ways are followed, life happens. We get a glimpse here of what it means to live under El Shaddai’s rule. Easy? No. But blessed? Yes.