One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, ‘Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?’ He answered, ‘Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’ Then Moses was afraid and thought, ‘Surely the thing is known.’ When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.
But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well. The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defence and watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, ‘How is it that you have come back so soon today?’ They said, ‘An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.’ He said to his daughters, ‘Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.’ Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, ‘I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.’
After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
This is “Adult Moses: Scene 1”. We’re told nothing of Moses’ childhood in Pharaoh’s palace; we know from this incident that he had never forgotten who his kinsfolk really are. We learn also that he is someone who is deeply sensitized to suffering and injustice, and that his sensitivity and outrage puts him on a collision course with Pharaoh and his slave-Empire.
He’s a hero – an instinctive “champion of the Little People”, isn’t he? However, when we look at the two incidents in the scene, we realize that the writer is posing one of the biggest questions we ask ourselves: how much can one good person do? He’s able to help the Midian priest’s family (which becomes his own family), but not to do anything to change the situation of his people. And there’s the rub: who can change the world that is governed by Empire?
The narrator’s answer appears in vv23-25: “God can!” These verses are the start of the Exodus narrative, which begins because God hears the “groans and cries” of the slaves. They provoke three things: God remembers; God looks/sees; God takes notice. We’re given no indication that God had noticed their oppression until the people cry out and God hears. This is what moves God to active intervention.
We discover two things about our God: God’s ear is attuned to the suffering cries of the most invisible and marginalized, because “God is committed to the establishment of concrete, sociopolitical justice in a world of massive power organized against injustice” (Brueggemann). Secondly, we discover an uncomfortable mystery: God’s is apparently spurred to act only when we cry out in desperation.
Reach out to God at this desperate point in our history – now. Cry out! Don’t hold back. You and your suffering matter to the Exodus God who is changing this world into the Kingdom – the place it was intended to be from all creation!
Hear me, Exodus God! Remember me! Look upon me! Take notice of me! Hear my Hossana: “Rescue me! Lord, save NOW!” Lord, in your mercy, Your compassion, Your power, Hear my cry. Amen.
Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship consultant, Worsley Road URC