Thursday, April 09, 2009

Moses the Non-Rescuer and Exodus 2 - 4

Reading Exodus and The White Tiger
This post was brought to you by several mugs of TWG's Vanilla Bourbon red tea and the sugar high of half a slice of Cedele chocolate almond cake.

Like any good inspirational story of character-building overcoming of infanthood trauma, a biography of Moses (only, like, the greatest non-divine prophet in the history of the Jews) would have started off well, exciting many a literary agent. Against the systematic, empire-ordained genocide of Hebrew male infants, his mother not only managed to keep him alive for 3 months after birth (Exodus 2:2), she was later paid by the pharaoh's daughter to bring him up (Exodus 2:7-10). The miracle baby was then adopted into royalty (Exodus 2:10b) and a wonderful comfy future.

What delicious potential. What great things to expect from the lad.

For the next 40 years (cf Acts 7:23), Moses was schooled in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, which was nothing to sniff at. More than proficiency in reading, writing and 'rithmetic, the wisdom of the ancient Egyptians included well-structured governments and legal systems, agricultural science that resulted in prosperous bustling marketplaces full of food thanks to nifty irrigation works, the strategic know-how and technological advancement that produced an unrivalled military force, and the science/mathematics behind the matter-of-fact mummifying of loved ones and the building of pyramids in their backyard that has yet to be satisfactorily explained by modern intellectuals.

(Furthermore, he wasn't too bad a looker. In fact he looked rather like a movie star, Charles Heston to be exact . Or perhaps that should be Karl Marx.)

Not only was Moses merely well-versed in all this, he also had the makings of a great leader, being "mighty in his words and deeds" (Acts 7:22). And great leaders, the ones world history textbooks don't call nasty names like "tyrant" or "despot", normally have a heart for the common people, especially the oppressed. Right on cue, "after Moses had grown up" (quite a bit: he was 40 years old, but they hadn't invented red sports cars then) he looked upon his own people slaving away (literally) at their hard labour (Exodus 2:11). Seeing one of the children of Israel being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down his bully (Acts 7:24). He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand (Acts 7:25).

But the very next day, while he was trying to settle a dispute amongst 2 Hebrew men, one of them spat at him saying "Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?" (Exodus 2:14). He came to his own but his own did not know him? Well, no Obamessiah reception for this one. In fact, the people he had been trying to save probably blabbed about his little heroic deed to the authorities and the next thing he knew, he was running for his life (Exodus 2:15).

Cut to another 40 years later (Acts 7:30) and a rather old Moses was still in self-exile in Midian. Probably the region's most educated sheep herder, he was content to dwell in his father-in-law's house with his wife and son (Exodus 2:21).

On one of those same old-same old days, Moses stops for a stare at a bush that is burning but not consumed. And God speaks to him, telling him that he has seen the affliction of the Israelites and will deliver them from the Egyptians and bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 2:23-25, Exodus 3:7-10). Moses was his rescuer-designate.

We would expect Moses to jump for joy at this point shouting,"Yay! This is more than I ever dreamed of!"

But instead we see a rather cagey character:
Moses: But who am I that I should do this rescue? (Exodus 3:11)
God: Don't worry, I will be with you, (Exodus 3:12)
Moses: Erm, ok. But what if the Israelites ask me who you are? (Exodus 3:13)
God: I AM WHO I AM. Just tell them I AM sent me. I made promises to Abraham, Issaac and Jacob. And I am going to fulfil these promises just like I said I would. And the Israelites will listen to you. And I will make sure that the pharaoh lets them go. (Exodus 3:14-22)
Moses: Yeahhhh, so you say... but they may say that you didn't really appear to me? (Exodus 4:1)
God: Ok, here're 3 signs you can give them: (i) the staff-to-snake sign, (ii) the on-off leprosy sign, (iii) the water-to-blood sign. (Exodus 4:2-9)
Moses: Riiight. Well, actually I'm really rather bad at public speaking. (Exodus 4:10)
God: No problem. I made your mouth. I will be with you and teach you what to say. (Exodus 4:11-12)
Moses: Actually, can you just ask someone else? (Exodus 4:13)

At which point, if you were his momma, you'd have asked God leave to smack some sense into him there and then to spare him from being consumed by fire from the burning bush for his irritating unbelief and lack of faith in God:"Say 'yes of course I'll do it' and 'thank you' to the nice God, Moses.".

So we realise that Exodus isn't really a biography of the great Hero of the Faith. Perhaps if the charismatic Moses had brought the Israelites out by his own civil/human rights revolution, there might have been a cult of Moses and Moses t-shirts. But it was when Moses had nothing to boast of that God used him. What better way to demonstrate that this rescue is all about the Faithful God of the Faith. It's about God's initiative, God's power, God's timing, God's way; God's unrivalled, unshared control over everything in the world, in all of history.

If one could read Hebrew, the early narrative had God's fingerprints all over it. The vessel in which the baby Moses was laid is described in English as "a basket" made of bulrushes and daubed with bitumen and pitch (Exodus 2:3). The Hebrew version wriggles its eyebrows, calling the vessel an "ark" - a noun only otherwise used in the Bible in relation to God's own perservation of Noah & co in the days of the Flood. Also, the seeming superficiality of Moses' mother in keeping him because "he was a fine child" (Exodus 2:2) or because "they saw that the child was beautiful" (Hebrews 11:23) is given deeper meaning in the Hebrew "ki-tov" (and in the Greek, "asteion") - which might have been translated "she saw that he was good". Stephen in Acts 7 goes one step further to say "and God saw that he was good" (Acts 7:20) - nudge, nudge, wink, wink. The language of Genesis 1, of God's perfect creation, of God's design for his perfect creation in order.

We know that God works in tandem with faith. Faith in God is the assurance of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1), the assurance that God's promises will come to pass because he is able and willing to fulfil them. And faith is confirmed by the very obedience that stems from such faith (eg. "this shall be the sign that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain" (Exodus 3:12)).

But by the end of Exodus 4, not only is there the evil pharaoh dude, we are also stuck with a stiff-necked people unwilling to be rescued and a similarly reluctant rescuer-designate whose reluctance stemed from having so little hope that God would fulfil his covenant that he hadn't even bothered to keep his part of the covenant by circumcising his son (Exodus 4:24-26).* Not exactly a bunch of people awash with faith, or even faith as small as a mustard seed.

But knowing God, he will make a way where there seems to be no way**. Exciting times ahead. Buckle in for the ride.

PS: With so many parallels to the real Messiah-Who-Could, is it any surprise that the writer of Hebrews compares Jesus to Moses, albeit a far far better, a perfect infact, version (Hebrews 3)?

*the same way, maybe, we do not bother to obey God nor mortify sin nor love him and neighbour, nor preach the gospel to the unsaved etc because we do not really think there is a God, or that he has the power to turn the hearts of even the most hardened sinner, or that his way of maturing us through trial and suffering is the best way, or that the Day will come, or that he will judge all who are not in Christ, or that he will make us give an accounting for all we have said and done in the flesh...

**applies only to God's promises to his creation, not to our promises to ourselves and others.

Current Read/Think-through of Exodus

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