Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land.’ God also spoke to Moses and said to him: ‘I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name “The Lord” I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they resided as aliens. I have also heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are holding as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the Israelites, “I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. You shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.”’ Moses told this to the Israelites; but they would not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go and tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the Israelites go out of his land.’ But Moses spoke to the Lord, ‘The Israelites have not listened to me; how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, poor speaker that I am?’ Thus the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, and gave them orders regarding the Israelites and Pharaoh king of Egypt, charging them to free the Israelites from the land of Egypt.
Although this is ostensibly a promise of liberation, it is hard not to read this passage without thinking of the many places where land is disputed. Whether Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, Crimea – or the colonial legacies in many other countries – we know the harm in such disputes, and it is difficult to imagine a loving God giving land that is already occupied to another group of people. So while central to the story of God’s chosen people, it’s not straightforward for us today.
I had forgotten that Moses was reluctant to speak to Pharoah, and how defeated he felt about the Israelites’ reaction. I suspect I’m not the only one for whom these feelings ring true. The times when the boss asks you to do something that you think is impossible. The times when you’ve tried to do something and it’s fallen completely flat. The times when you can see a problem coming but no-one is interested in hearing bad news and doing something about it! And just as that happens in secular workplaces, we have those experiences in churches too. Setting up an event that no-one comes to. Asking for volunteers and no-one steps forward.
God is clear, however, that Moses and Aaron are up to the task ahead, and we’ll read more about this in the days ahead. Most of us don’t feel we get quite such clear orders from God, and would probably question anyone who did feel quite so clearly directed! But when we do feel called to act, perhaps we should take heart that just as the disheartened Moses would eventually lead Israel out of Egypt, we too may be able to achieve amazing things even though we may feel weak and ineffective.
We give thanks for people attempting impossible tasks and achieving amazing goals. We pray particularly for peace-makers in places where land is disputed. May they have the energy to persevere even when the struggle seems overwhelming, the care to listen, and the courage to speak. Help us to play our part in building a world where all your children can live in peace.