Last night in class we walked through Moses’s story, start to finish. We talked about the basket and the river and the princess, the nursemaid and the murder, the desert and the burning bush. It is a familiar story even to those who don’t go to church. Every Easter, flip through the channels and you’ll find Charlton Heston holding a staff aloft in front of parting water.
This time through, however, there was a new story inside the old familiar one. I knew the story. I’ve heard it. I’ve colored in the Sunday School coloring sheets about it in my youth. But it didn’t stick out like it did this time.
When most people retell the story, Moses grabs his belongings, ties it to his staff, grabs Aaron and heads off to Egypt to tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” Pharaoh says “Tough tookies, cookies!” to Moses and God sends the plagues one after another, nasty vile diseased attacks until Pharaoh could take no more and sends the Israelites out of Egypt.
We skip right over Exodus 5.
Moses doesn’t first request freedom for God’s people….he requests a festival. He and Aaron go to Pharaoh and ask for the Hebrews to be allowed 3 days to go have a festival to God in the wilderness. Pharaoh replies he doesn’t know the Hebrews God and he isn’t going to give them 3 days vacation from slavery to go have a party. They have work to be done.
Moses and Aaron press the point and Pharaoh becomes irritated. He sends word to the slave drivers and overseers that they are not to give the people straw to make the bricks, they are now to require the Hebrews to gather the straw and make the bricks, but they get no more time allotted to carry out double the work. They can’t meet this goal and so the slave drivers beat them. The Israelite overseers go to Pharaoh and asks why he’s done this and how is this fair. Pharaoh calls them lazy and sends him off with the same demands, now covered in insults in the ears of the people Moses came to try and liberate. This sets Israel against Moses and they tell him off for making trouble for them.
Moses then speaks to God and says, in essence, “What are you doing? Did you really send me here to be an annoyance to Pharaoh and for you NOT to rescue your people?” God says, “Look out. I’m about to blow the lid off this joint.” You know, He essentially said that….just in more holy language.
I know we rush through this part of the story if not skip it all together so we can get faster to the blood and locust and boils and death which is far flashier than not making bricks. But last night I couldn’t rush through it. I read it and then reread it and then read it again. I wondered why Moses didn’t ask for freedom from the first go. I wondered why God doesn’t have a voice before the request is made. I wondered what the purpose was in allowing Israel to become put out with the liberating leader. But none of that is what drew my eyes back over the page again and again. It was this starting at verse 6….
“That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies,”
…and then skipping to verse 15…
“Then the Israelite overseers went and appealed to Pharaoh: “Why have you treated your servants this way? Your servants are given no straw, yet we are told, ‘Make bricks!’ Your servants are being beaten, but the fault is with your own people.” Pharaoh said, “Lazy, that’s what you are—lazy! That is why you keep saying, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to the Lord.’ Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”
Not ouch because Pharaoh was mean to this faceless mass of slaves, but ouch because I recognize what Pharaoh said from our world today. We have people who have less straw, people we’ve taken straw away from and are holding it back from them, and yet we demand they make the same number of bricks as people who got straw delivered to their door. We are a society built on inequity still using inequity as an operating tool.
This is where I need your grace. Because I don’t have a solution. I’ve read article after article from everyone’s vantage point (except those that promote violence, because I can’t stomach the words that encourage violence as a solution from an ideology). I’ve listened to news anchors and commentators and watched as the stories we tell on Netflixz and Hulu have changed in tone guided by Hollywood’s values (positive or negative).
I read these things, watch these things, and no matter the viewpoint I walk away every time with the same response…”Yeah, but….” “Yeah, but she asks the other to see her point of view but makes no effort to see his.” “Yeah, but poverty extends beyond color lines, and I’ve served kids of every shade and seen kids of all colors overcome and kids of all colors fail.” “Yeah, but ignorance and frustration don’t make those behaviors acceptable.” Yeah, but…yeah, but…
I don’t have the liberty of a “yeah, but” here. I can choose to allow the words of the media, social or otherwise to form my opinions for me, or I can choose to allow the word of God to guide me. This is the word of God.
I feel sort of like Moses, who went to solve a problem and suggested something to Pharaoh and it blew up in his face, so he turned back to God and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” And God replies, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand he will drive them out of his country.” He took over and took care of it.
If you want an answer on how to fix America, it isn’t here. But let me speak to the church for a minute….
Don’t be Pharaoh. If all you can be in America is Moses, turning around and saying to God, I tried, but I don’t get what you’re doing?!?!, then be Moses, and be ready to step aside so God can do his thing. But stop being Pharaoh. We need to figure out where we stand, on race relations, on poverty, on refugees, on immigrants, on oppression, social rights and we need to do that not starting with media, but with the word of God. If you have an abundance of straw, hand it over to someone who doesn’t, don’t complain that there is a perfectly good field out there full of straw and those lazy poor people just need to stop thinking about partying and go get straw. We don’t need to warp scripture to fit changing worldviews, but we can’t ignore scripture to allow us to stay comfortable.
I read the passage three full times last night and reread it today. I wrote this blog in three drafts. I don’t know how this entry ends. I don’t know how to wrap this up with some neat little, this fixes everything little Kumbaya bow. I still see room to grow and room to see other’s viewpoints in every perspective I’ve read out in the world. But of all the things I’ve read in the past year about the social issues faces our country, this has been the only one that’s left me with no buts.
So I share it here, and maybe you can find something out of this passage that hits home. Or maybe you can share some other scripture that speaks to you with the rest of us. I want to be involved in a conversation that starts in the Word of God and addresses the concerns of our society. I’ve been involved in a conversation for far to long that starts in the concerns of our society and address the Word of God.
Any passages to share?