Exodus 2:11-25: Running and Crying
Exodus 2:11-25 is today's text. It's the story of Moses fleeing to the desert to escape Pharaoh. Moses had gone out to see his own people in their slavery, saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews, and was so enraged at the injustice that he beat the Egyptian to death and hid his body in the sand.
Moses went out the next day and saw two of his own people fighting with each other, one beating the other just as the Egyptian had been doing. Moses attempted to intervene but was rebuffed by his Egyptian-behaving Hebrew brother: "Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Are you going to kill me too?" Moses realized his murderous deed had become known. Soon he was at the top of Pharaoh’s kill list.
Moses fled to the desert, escaping Pharaoh but not the call to stand for justice. Confronted with seven sisters being oppressed by some rough shepherds, Moses delivers the seven sisters and their father's sheep from the rogue shepherds. The grateful family takes him in, gives him the youngest daughter in marriage, and they have a son. Looking back over his Egyptian life, Moses names his son Gershom, meaning, "I was a stranger there."
I am fascinated that Moses knew where he did not belong and who his people were not. He grew up in Pharaoh's palace and he was as a son to Pharaoh's daughter. He had it made. Yet he took sides with his own people against Pharaoh's house. He knew he did not belong in Pharaoh's house. He knew his people did not belong in slavery. He knew his people should not treat each other like slaves. Moses, in spite of the plush palace surroundings, had an identity as a Hebrew. He was a stranger in the land of Egypt.
Sending the kids off to school in the Fall, I kind of feel like we're sending them off to Pharaoh's palace. They will get Pharaoh's educational best and all of the advantages that come with it. They will also encounter an Egyptian value system of relativity and power (“money and might makes right at the expense of others.”) They may even find themselves being ostracized for not being Egyptian or co-opted for Pharaoh's social projects. My prayer is that they will have a Moses-type identity, knowing that they are strangers and embracing that strangeness rather than shelving it or treating each other the way Egyptians treat strangers. I hope they know that their "citizenship is in heaven", to borrow a phrase from Paul, and that as much as we want them to "fit-in" and "do well", they really do not belong. At the core of who they are, they are strangers in the land/school. They belong to a different people who live under a different "Pharaoh," namely Jesus Christ.
The same goes for us. No matter how much we desire to succeed, to fit-in, to do well and make it, there is the underlying truth that as Christians we are strangers here. Peter, in his first letter, addressed the church, "To God's elect, strangers in the world." We need to embrace our strangeness rather than suppress or camouflage it, lest we lose it and treat each other with the violence of Egyptians. We need Moses-type identities as much as our children do.
While Moses is making his home in the desert many years go by and the Pharaoh dies. With his death the Israelites begin crying out to God, groaning for help and deliverance from their slavery. The good news is that God hears their cry for help, remembers his covenant with Abraham, looks upon them, and knows their pain. When God hears, remembers, looks, and knows, salvation is around the corner. Injustice will not be ignored much longer. God is about to act.
Two questions come to mind here. First, why did the Israelites only start groaning and crying when the Pharaoh died? I think it takes hope and/or new depths of pain to cry. I suspect that under that Pharaoh the Israelites lost hope. When Pharaoh had determined to kill all the newborn baby boys, there was no doubt crying. It was a new depth of pain. Surely things could go back to the way they were. When Pharaoh lost his resolve and backed off to "just" slavery, the Israelites felt like they caught a break, enjoyed their better circumstances, and lost hope of freedom. No more complaining or crying: it would not do any good.
It is kind of like when gas goes from $2.29 a gallon to $3.65. We complain and groan. When it drops to $2.99, we stop groaning, feeling like we caught a break that we're not paying $4.00, and lose hope of prices ever being $2.29 again. We become convinced that $2.99 is a fair price, even though just a few months ago, or just a couple weeks ago in a different part of the country, the fair price was 50 or 75 cents a gallon cheaper.
It takes hope of things being different in order to groan and cry out to God for things to be different. If we are not crying out to God very much, it is probably not a sign of everything being okay so much as it is a sign that we don't have much hope of things being different. When Pharaoh died, the Israelites now had hope enough to cry. Perhaps life could be different with a new Pharaoh in office.
Second, had God really forgotten/neglected the Israelites until they started crying loud enough to get him to remember them? As the story has already hinted, God was working their salvation long before the Israelites knew enough or hoped enough to cry out for it. While they were toiling away at their slavery in silent, hopeless despair, God was preparing their savior/deliverer – Moses. Not only did Moses get an education in Pharaoh's house, but he also learned how to keep sheep alive in the desert. Caring for sheep in the desert was a "prerequisite" to caring for Israelites in the desert.
So God had not been idle about their need for salvation, even though they did not have hope enough to cry for salvation. And when they cried, God had a savior ready to be brought onto the scene. God indeed knew. Notice that in the “God remembered” language the narrator is giving us two perspectives. From the limited inside perspective of the Israelites it really does seem that God has forgotten them and that they have to cry out to be remembered. But from the outside perspective of the reader who knows about Moses, it becomes apparent that God has “remembered” before Israel begins to groan.
Likewise, long before we know enough or hoped enough to cry out for salvation, God has prepared a Savior for us: Christ Jesus. And whatever situation we find ourselves in now, a Savior has been prepared to lead us, even through the valley of the shadow of death unto the land of the living. May we be hopeful enough to cry for salvation and daring enough to believe that groaning to God will do some good. May we discover that God hears, remembers, sees, and knows. May we know through Jesus that God delivers.
I think of the children’s song, “Do Lord, Oh do Lord, Oh do remember me.” Also the request of the dying thief, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The cross is a sign for us that God has indeed remembered, for that is the place that God accomplished our deliverance in Jesus.
Have a great week. And if it’s not, remember to groan. Complaining does do good, so long as you complain to the right One.