This post is one of seven reflections on the whole narrative of the Bible as a story of God’s hospitality. To read these posts in order, click here.
As soon as humanity and God become strangers, God embarks on an unlikely mission to welcome people back, back to God and back to each other. This mission of hospitality pops up all over Genesis, but really begins to become clear in the Exodus story.
God sees the Hebrew people—strangers in a strange land, greeted by their hosts with chains and infanticide—and reaches down to welcome them out of oppression and into a new home, a promised land prepared specifically for them. God feeds them when they’re hungry, gives them water when they’re thirsty, and gives them rest when they’re weary. God’s people reciprocate God’s hospitality by welcoming God in the center of their camp, but only for a moment. Soon, they construct a new, more visible god, forcing out the God who welcomed them and rejecting the hospitable space they had been offered.
But God doesn’t stop trying. God starts back up with their children, clearing the way for them to move into the land they had rejected, transforming a hostile, crowded space into a friendly, empty one. And as the Israelites inhabit their new home, they invite God to take up residency as well, building a house for God in the center of their city. And, as scandalous as it sounds, God moves in, accepting their hospitality and sharing a space on earth with the people who ha d for so long been so unwelcoming.
Still, it becomes immediately clear that cohabitation does not always indicate hospitality. As quickly as God’s house is built, Israel begins to build new homes, homes for their kings and homes for their homemade gods. It grows increasingly obvious that God is only welcome in Israel on Israel’s terms—as one of their many sources of authority and fortune. In other words, God’s not given space to actually be God; Israel’s hospitality is revealed to be exploitation.
So God moves out.
And perhaps the most telling part of this whole period is the stuff God says on the way out; the indictment of Israel is pretty harsh. For example: “You exploit your workers, withhold food from the hungry, leave the poor wanderers without shelter, keep clothes from the naked, and even abandon your own flesh and blood. And you wonder why I’m no longer sticking with you?” Despite the hospitality God had shown them, God’s people fail to welcome those who most needed welcoming, a sign that not even God is welcome among them any longer.
But God doesn’t stop trying. As always, God responds to their inhospitality with hospitality, this time in the most risky way–God heads back to welcome them in person.
For further, better reading, I suggest the rest of the first half of the Bible, just up to the point that some of the font turns red.