Moses is one of the biblical characters that I identify with. Are there particular biblical characters that you identify with?
Although I identify with Moses there are lots of differences between me and Moses. I wasn’t adopted, I didn’t grow up in a royal household and you will be please to know that I have not killed anyone. I did, however, spend a lot of time telling God that I thought he was calling the wrong person (my period of discernment which needs to be at least one year took me 7 years). Last week we heard the beginning of the conversation that God spoke to Moses through the burning bush. The conversation is actually a bit longer than the reading we looked at last week. I will give you a summary. You might also like to look at this clip from the Dreamworks’ animated musical film Prince of Egypt, which is a good summary very close to the biblical text.
Last week we heard Moses ask God “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” and also “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God answers both of Moses’ questions and then in the bits we did not hear tells Moses: “Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt” (Ex 3:16-17)
Moses answers with a but…“But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” (Ex 4: 1). So God offers to give Moses 3 signs. He will be able to throw his staff to the ground and it will become a snake, he will be able to make his hand become leprous and then heal it and he will be able to turn water to blood. Still Moses argues with God saying: “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Ex 4:10) Ever patient God responds “go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” (Ex 4:12) But Moses says, bluntly this time, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” (Ex 4:13). So God offers his brother Aaron to work with him to be his mouth piece.
I imagine Moses, warn out from arguing with God, hang his head in resignation as he goes back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Please let me go back to my kindred in Egypt and see whether they are still living”(Ex 4:18) secretly hoping he will say no. But Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.” So Moses took his wife and his sons, put them on a donkey, and went back to the land of Egypt; and Moses carried the staff of God in his hand.
Moses and Aaron went and spoke to Pharaoh asking that the people of Israel may be able to go for 3 days so they could to celebrate a festival in the wilderness. Pharaoh’s heart is hard and refuses and not only that he makes the working continues for the Israelites slaves even harder demanding the same number of bricks but without providing the straw, so they also need to collect straw themselves. So, Moses turned to God and said, “O Lord, why have you mistreated this people? Why did you ever send me? Since I first came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has mistreated this people, and you have done nothing at all to deliver your people.” (Ex 5:22-23)
Have you ever agreed to do something you felt God was calling you to do hoping that since God had called you it would be easy and been disappointed to find that it was not as easy as you had hoped?
God promises the people ‘I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. (Ex 6:6-7) But the Israelites; would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery. So Moses and Aaron, at the direction of God, go to Pharaoh and perform signs, after all asking nicely didn’t get them anywhere. Moses’ staff turns to a snake, and uses the staff to turn the water of the Nile to blood and so on through the plagues of Egypt.
Then there is a warning of a final plague. “Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die…” (Ex 11:5).
God’s actions against the firstborn of Egypt echo Pharaoh’s own murderous policy, in which he commands midwives to kill newborn Hebrew boys (Ex 1:15-16). Pharaoh acted out of fear of the outsiders in his midst (Ex 1:8-10). This fear set him down a murderous path that ultimately contained the seeds of his own downfall. God acts not only in response to Pharaoh’s heinous crimes, but also to ensure the future of the promise. God’s actions against Pharaoh are not merely “eye for an eye” retribution: you killed my sons, so now I’m going to kill yours. Even still I admit to being uncomfortable with the idea that God would unleash these horrors on people even if they are oppressive and murderous, killing the babies of another people. I am even more uncomfortable with the idea that God would harden Pharaoh’s heart so that such destruction needed to take place. As I look at world history it is not too hard to find evil and hard hearts.
I wonder if here we have attributed something to God that in humanities own making? It seems to me we are more than capable of hardening our hearts ourselves. How do you respond to this image of God?
That brings us to this week’s reading, the story of Passover. The Passover ritual is the beginning of a new identity for the people of Israel in which they are no longer slaves but a liberated people. This new beginning is symbolised in it being the beginning of the calendar year: “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you” (Ex 12:2).
The meal itself is also symbolic. They will eat bitter herbs (Ex 12:8), a sensory reminder of bereavement and suffering to be tasted, chewed, swallowed, and digested. The flat bread (Ex 12:8), made without yeast, is a bread of haste and readiness. The instructions for cooking the lamb are specific; not raw or boiled since the waters of Egypt have been a source of death (Ex 12:9). Rather they are to cook it in the fire, a reminder of the fire of God’s presence in the burning bush, and foreshadowing of the fire that will lead them through the wilderness to new life.
Passover also ritualizes readiness, urgency, and vulnerability, “This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded (a modern equivalent might be with leg braces on), your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly” (Ex 12: 11). Passover is meant to be practiced with a sense of haste and disquietude, with the awareness that liberation may arrive like a thief in the night. Although the Passover is the first victory over the tyrant, Pharaoh, it is by no means the final victory. We are forgetful creatures and need to be reminded. We need to be reminded for those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. And if the oppression is repeated, so must the liberation be. In Christian tradition, communion serves as that reminder. The theological good news out of this event is that whenever God’s people cry out under the burden of oppression, liberation will come about. And more than that God does not just hear the cry of the chosen people, a single nation or group of people, the good news is God hears the cry of all who are oppressed and need liberating.
Rev Tammy Hollands