Saturday 5th September 2020
Exodus 32: 30 – 35
On the next day Moses said to the people, ‘You have sinned a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.’ So Moses returned to the Lord and said, ‘Alas, this people has sinned a great sin; they have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will only forgive their sin—but if not, blot me out of the book that you have written.’ But the Lord said to Moses, ‘Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; see, my angel shall go in front of you. Nevertheless, when the day comes for punishment, I will punish them for their sin.’ Then the Lord sent a plague on the people, because they made the calf—the one that Aaron made.
What surprised me was the idea of being ‘blotted out of the book’. I wondered where else in the Bible we might find reference to this book, what it meant to the people of Israel and for the early Church.
In Psalm 69 David is in deep trouble and wants God to blot his enemies out of the book of life. In Daniel 7, it’s part of divine judgement: ‘the books were opened’. Luke 10 has the story of the 70 going out to proclaim Jesus’ message of the Kingdom, and on return are told ‘Rejoice as your names are written in heaven’. There are various references in Revelation, particularly 20:15, again in the context of judgement ‘Your name is written in the book of life’.
My childhood understanding was that God has a book and your name needs to be in it: a vast list of good people who will go to heaven, but one that you can easily be deleted from if you do something wrong. Clearly the Israelites were doing something very wrong with their idol, limiting God and reducing him to a human-made image, and Moses had to plead with God to keep them in the book, even offering himself in their place.
I wonder now if it’s more about keeping faithful to God, working with him not against him, doing the work allocated to you, participating as a forgiven human in God’s unfolding story here on earth. In this sense, our names in the book of life would not be entries in a directory, but part of an interactive story that we are involved in both as individuals and communally. Faith alive and active: gift of an eternal source, renewed for every generation (The Nature, Faith and Order of the URC).
Take my life, and let it be
consecrated, Lord, to thee;
take my moments and my days,
let them flow in ceaseless praise.
Take my hands, and let them move
at the impulse of thy love;
take my feet and let them be
swift and beautiful for thee.