Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Hebrews 11:27: Moses' Vision of the Invisible

As I continue to work through my chapter on Hebrews, I am always struck by a certain productive ambiguity the homilist often exploits. One ambiguity is in a passage that I often just pass over in chapter 11. Indeed, the style of hall of faith of Hebrews 11 often makes my eyes glaze over, although I recognize the rhetorical effectiveness of its genre.

Nonetheless, this time I was struck by the following line (11:27):

πίστει κατέλιπεν Αἴγυπτον μὴ φοβηθεὶς τὸν θυμὸν τοῦ βασιλέως, τὸν γὰρ ἀόρατον ὡς ὁρῶν ἐκαρτέρησεν.

By faith he left Egypt not fearing the anger of the king, for as seeing the invisible he endured.

Immediately, I read this in two ways. Because of Moses' paradoxical vision of the invisible (i.e., God), he endured Pharaoh's anger. The vision gave him the strength or ability to endure. The other reading is that he endured the rare and frightening vision of God, the very sight of whom kills (since one cannot see God and live). Indeed, in Hebrews, as far as I have seen, only Moses is granted a vision of the invisible God. Moses also sees the "type" of the heavenly things, from which he builds the "copy," "shadow," or "antitype" of the earthly tent. Moses sees much in Hebrews, and vision language applies exclusively to him. Is it that of all humanity, only he could bear the sight of God or God's glory (at least pre-Christ)? On the other hand, what is the role of the "as"? Does that somehow qualify the vision? Did Moses, "in a way" see the invisible? Perhaps by seeing God's glory or the reflection of God's Glory, the Son, from afar (see 1:3)? Indeed, the previous verse makes Moses a proto-Christian, since he suffers abuse for (or of?) Christ. Nonetheless, it is difficult to endure even a refracted vision of the invisible, if, indeed, that is the gist (or one of the gists) of this line.

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