Threat and danger concentrate the mind exquisitely. They bring matters of life and death to the fore. Lesser arguments drop away.
Israel’s constitutional narrative considers through the lens of threat and danger the fledgling nation’s trek out of servitude in Egypt, into the still lethal wasteland of wilderness, and then into a land of promise that was—importantly—a place possessed by others who were not eager to hand it over to a wannabe people and their peripatetic god.
Accordingly, the narrative places warfare and survival squarely within the realm of commonplace. This is no well-rested civilians’ tale.
Yahweh lives among his people not only as a terrifying force for purity that can bring low in an instant the casual offerers of ‘strange fire’. He is also Israel’s Defender against the external adversary. The Lord is Israel’s advance guard, scouting the hills ahead of them by day and returning to rest in the nation’s bosom by night.
One prays accordingly:
So they set out from the mount of the LORD three days’ journey with the ark of the covenant of the LORD going before them three days’ journey, to seek out a resting place for them, the cloud of the LORD being over them by day when they set out from the camp. Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say,
“Arise, O LORD, let your enemies be scattered, and your foes flee before you.”
And whenever it came to rest, he would say, “Return, O LORD of the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”
One leans with the combined force of longing and aspiration into a future where Yahweh will have cleansed the landscape of mortal dangers. One speaks as though the people had already expanded to fill such a good land, overlooking the paltry numbers of the day in favor of the aspirational ‘ten thousand thousands of Israel’.
Such language and the conceptual world in which it makes itself heard can be vainglorious, ethnocentric, murderous, and fantastical.
Or it can shape for untold generations the soul of a people who survive only because their Lord has been good yet again, chasing off its enemies and multiplying children who will grow up and tell their children and their children’s children how it is to traverse dangerous terrain with Yahweh out ahead in the mist. And right here, in the midst.