Intro to Moses – Where and When and Who – by Dan Spragg
For our next series from the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament, we are going to spend a bit of time with a familiar character called Moses. Moses is the one we know as the baby in the basket who was raised as an Egyption prince. We know him as the one who fled to Midian (Northwest Arabia) at around the age of 25 after killing an Egyptian guard. We know him from the story of the Burning bush and how this kickstarted the Israelites freedom from Egyption Slavery. We know of the plagues, and the crossing of the Red Sea. We know of the Covenant at Mount Sinai, the ten commandments and from this how the Israelite community, their laws and practices were formed. We know Moses as one who was both brave and a coward. One who seemed patient at times and yet volatile at others. We know of his near impossible task of leading the Israelites through the wilderness and into the promised land. We also know that Moses is without doubt, within both traditional and contemporary Jewish and Christian understandings, seen as a highly influential figure in both faiths. The Jewish faith has often been referred to as the ‘Mosaic’ faith.
So, first up today, here’s a little bit to set the scene. The Hebrew people had ended up in Egypt – remember
Joseph. Egypt was the superpower of the day. Approx 400 years had occurred. It was around 1400-1300 BCE (just under 3500 years ago). During this time one of the Pharaohs decided that the Hebrews were too much of a threat and so went about enslaving them. The Pharaoh in charge during the time of the Exodus event was most likely Ramses ll. Ramses I l became Pharaoh as a teenager and embarked on a quest to conquer all of Syria but was caught in a trap and barely made it out alive. The fact that he did make it out alive was attributed to the fact that the Pharaohs were considered to be divine, to be gods in human form. His survival was of course proof that he was indeed a god. Following this near defeat he abandoned his military quest but his ego told him he needed to do something else to ensure his fame grew and so he embarked on a massive building project – hence the growing plight of the Hebrew slaves. Ramses Il seems to be a nasty piece of work. Happy to kill babies and demand grossly unfair work conditions all in the name of bolstering his ego’s project. The battle between Yahweh (God) and the Pharaoh via Moses occurred because the Pharaoh assumed that he was a god and did not like being challenged by some unknown, assumingly lesser, god. Ramses I l needed to become aware that he was not all powerful and almighty as he assumed he was.
Following the escape from Egypt which has undeniably shaped the Jewish understanding of themselves as a people, they were found to be wandering in the wilderness, taking 40 years to return to the site of the burning bush where Moses had had his first revelation of God’s presence, the place that God had promised to bring them to. We know the struggles they had in this time. Hunger, thirst, infighting, lack of hope, idolatry. . . this was a time of re-discovering who they were as no-longer slaves, as their own people. It is a defining time of being shaped by this journey – a journey into the unknown and unfamiliar – all on the hope that they had been rescued from slavery for a better life to come.
The context in which we are going to find Moses immersed in is both very foreign to us and yet at the same time quite familiar to us. It is a context in which the motives of God are at odds with many of the other motives and narratives that are in our midst. The Ego is potentially the most common driving force behind many unhealthy, coercive and destructively ambitious forces which seek not the good of all but only that of a few. We may have seen the end of ‘official’ slavery but we know of course that it still exists. The rule of humanity over the planet is another fight we like to have. And, the journey of stepping out into the unknown, of having to surrender certainty over one’s own life, yes, there is much in here that is familiar and known.
We are hoping by looking into the character of Moses that like with our other Old Testament stories and characters this year that we learn and understand things that we did not know. We hope that we are able to see Moses from a different angle and grow our understanding of his relationship with God, with his people and what the nuances of his story might have to say to our ongoing journey in the story of faith. As we do this we hope our own faith grows as a result.