Saturday, July 28, 2012

Power of Presence

Seemingly far from the danger and intrigue of just a chapter earlier, the baby boy who survived in a world without baby boys has grown into a man.  He is doing nothing more extraordinary than shepherding the flocks of his father-in-law, when the angel of the Lord appears to him in a bush that burns but is not burned up.  When Moses turns to take a closer look at this strange sight, God calls to him from the bush.

God calls because he has seen the affliction of his people in Egypt and he wants Moses to do something about it.  So God says to Moses "Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."  Sounds great, right?  Except for the part where Pharaoh is the most powerful man in the world and the children of Israel are the inexpensive slave-labor engine of his booming economy.  I'm sure he'll give them up without a fight.

So Moses asks in Exodus 3:11,  "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?"  Over the course of the next chapter and a half, Moses will offer five different objections to God's calling - the final one more of an outright plea "Oh, my Lord, please send someone else."  Often these objections are understood as exposing a lack of faith on the part of Moses but considering the remarkable task to which God is calling Moses, his objections actually seem pretty reasonable.  Who wouldn't want some assurances when facing Pharaoh and his armies?

In fact, God's responses to Moses' objections are some of the most telling parts of this narrative.  To be sure, by the end of this argument Yahweh seems to be a bit annoyed with Moses (4:14) but no where along the way does God suggest that Moses' objections are out of line or irreverent.  Quite to the contrary, the Yahweh we find described in this story is one who engages in patient dialogue with Moses and takes time to answer his concerns.

Of course, those "answers" are not always the ones for which Moses might have been hoping.  When Moses asks "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh...?" God's reply could have taken a number of forms.  God could have told Moses why he really was qualified for the job.  God could have let Moses in on the plan for liberation, a step by step instruction on how to defeat Pharaoh.  But God's reply is "But I will be with you, and this shall be a sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain."  Although God is willing to take time for Moses' objections, God also gently reminds Moses that it is not his qualifications on which this mission depends.  Instead, it is the God who goes with him.  When the God of liberation calls, the most powerful promise that can be made is the promise of that God's presence.  

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