Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Moses & The Theme Of Exile

When we encounter Israel, upon the pages of Scripture, in the land of Egypt, as they are effectively exiled from their ancestral abode and in subjugation to powers that are foreign to them and to whom their God is a stranger, we find ourselves meeting with the overarching Scriptural themes of exile and exodus with regularity and rapidity.  Before Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Moses experiences an exile, as he runs from the wrath of Pharaoh, following his killing of an Egyptian that he found meting out harsh treatment to one of the Israelite slaves.  It must be said that Moses presents an interesting case, to say the least.  Though he is a member of the household of Israel, he is exiled from the household of his people at a young age, being delivered from the decree of death that had been issued, by the Pharaoh, towards the male children of Israel.  While he escaped death through the bold and courageous actions of his mother and sister, he was adopted by the daughter of the Pharaoh, joining Pharaoh’s household and being raised as a prince of Egypt.  In this exile, though it would ultimately serve God’s purposes, Moses was most assuredly subject to a foreign power, that being Pharaoh, away from the knowledge of his God, though the second chapter of Exodus makes it clear that Moses knew his own identity as a member of Israel.  Though he had been exiled away from his people while being brought up in Pharaoh’s house, he experiences an exodus from that exile when he begins to identify himself with Israel. 

It seems that Moses, however, did not know the God of Israel, so before he could become the man whom God would raise up to become the deliverer of Israel, he himself needed to be rescued from foreign subjugation (Pharaoh’s house).  Naturally, this is the same rescue (from Pharaoh’s house) that God would effect on behalf of His people, under the leadership of Moses.  Moses’ exile would come about when Moses presumptively took up arms, in a manner of speaking, to avenge the oppression against his people that was being wrought at the hands of an Egyptian (his people’s oppressors).  We can imagine that Moses, having been brought to a point at which he began to identify with his people, and perhaps, having learned of the prophecies of subjection and deliverance associated with their time in Egypt, decided to take it upon himself to bring about this deliverance, possibly sparking something of a revolution with his rising up to kill the Egyptian.  This, however, was obviously not God’s plan for the deliverance of His people and the revelation of His faithfulness and power. 

With this, it is interesting to ponder the possibility that, as Israel, leading up to the time in which our Lord Jesus was born, looked to a deliverer or a prophet that would be raised up in the mold of Moses, if it was not something like this particular Moses that they had in mind.  With messianic expectations in Jesus’ day profoundly linked to a king in the line of David that would take up sword and shield against the enemies of God’s people to deliver them from their long, dark night of exile from their God’s great promises to them, it would not be at all surprising to see a hope and desire for a man like the Moses that came violently against the Egyptian as the bringer of deliverance from subjugation. 

Having been the perpetrator of a murderous act, Moses leaves Egypt and settles in the land of Midian, exiling himself from what was, at that time, the place of God’s people.  Much like the experience of Judah in Babylon, as they had been steeped in idolatry because they had forgotten their God, it would take an exile for Moses to learn about the power and faithfulness of Israel’s covenant God.  God would reveal Himself to Moses, in the midst of his exile, in a way not altogether dissimilar from the way He revealed Himself to Daniel in exile.  Because an exodus is a redemption, and a crossing over into God’s purposes and plans, we can see Moses’ eventual return to Egypt as a personal exodus experience, putting him in line with Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  We cannot think of exodus as simply an event of “leaving” and going out, but rather, we must also think of exodus as an in-bound event.  Again, that is why exodus is fundamentally connected with redemption and salvation.  It is exile that represents leaving, and a movement, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, away from God’s intentions. 

So when Moses returns to Egypt, though it is a return to the place of Israel’s first national exile, it is an altogether different experience for him.  He is not in exile.  He has already been exodus-ed, and is prepared to lead an exodus.  He has been subject to Pharaoh’s power, but in a different way from the rest of his people.  When he returns, he is clearly not subject to Pharaoh’s power in any way, as he is already operating under the rule of Israel’s God, which is the exact same place of submission to which he is to lead Israel.  This is pointed up by the fact that the first and most important order of business to be accomplished following Israel’s exodus from Egypt is not the triumphant return to the land of ancestral promise, but a visit to Sinai, and the voicing of a community-wide submission to the laws and demands of their God, so that they might be His people for His covenant and for His purposes.  It is this part of the journey, more than the physical journey from Egypt to Canaan, that is far more arduous and difficult.  On multiple occasions, we see that at the slightest hint of calamity, Israel, though they have seen the powerful saving hand of their God on repeated occasions, is more than ready to reject Him and to re-submit themselves to Pharaoh, so as to be his people for his purposes.  For Israel, exodus was a process.  It is no different for all that are covenanted to God and called by His Name.             

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