Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Rise early in the morning and present yourself before Pharaoh, as he goes out to the water, and say to him, “Thus says the Lord: Let my people go, so that they may worship me. For if you will not let my people go, I will send swarms of flies on you, your officials, and your people, and into your houses; and the houses of the Egyptians shall be filled with swarms of flies; so also the land where they live. But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people live, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I the Lord am in this land. Thus I will make a distinction between my people and your people. This sign shall appear tomorrow.”’ The Lord did so, and great swarms of flies came into the house of Pharaoh and into his officials’ houses; in all of Egypt the land was ruined because of the flies.
Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron, and said, ‘Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.’ But Moses said, ‘It would not be right to do so; for the sacrifices that we offer to the Lord our God are offensive to the Egyptians. If we offer in the sight of the Egyptians sacrifices that are offensive to them, will they not stone us? We must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the Lord our God as he commands us.’ So Pharaoh said, ‘I will let you go to sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness, provided you do not go very far away. Pray for me.’ Then Moses said, ‘As soon as I leave you, I will pray to the Lord that the swarms of flies may depart tomorrow from Pharaoh, from his officials, and from his people; only do not let Pharaoh again deal falsely by not letting the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.’
So Moses went out from Pharaoh and prayed to the Lord. And the Lord did as Moses asked: he removed the swarms of flies from Pharaoh, from his officials, and from his people; not one remained. 32 But Pharaoh hardened his heart this time also, and would not let the people go.
“Let my people go!” rings in our minds as we hear the baritone of Paul Robeson sign out these words in a hymn from enslaved African Americans. Embedded in this Exodus story, the phrase resonates with the tirade for justice where justice has been denied. It has rung out for centuries, moving hearts and changing minds.
I’m sad to find the words again where first written, amidst a series of threats and misuse of creation for Moses to dent Pharaoh’s control. I’m sadder still that God is depicted as divine being misusing what had been made in love as a fly-filled weapon, damaging the crops of people God must also love. We are asked to believe that God changed God’s mind because Moses pleaded. In this story, Moses is the righteous one, God is the tyrant, and Pharaoh is merely another greedy human.
These epic tales have us severely testing our own notions of who God is. We pick and choose from these tales to talk about the human heroes. We’ve happily made musicals and movies about the bits we like. We use some of the words to give Biblical force to the cry for justice. Yet I see again and again that we don’t deal with the very confusing narrative of just who God is. I believe strongly that we humans make God who we want God to be. For the small Israel, fighting to have some control over itself, it looks like the preferred God would favour only this nation and to be as tyrannical as needed as long as tyranny was for their enemies.
This is not the God we see in Jesus. Jesus would have sung those same words, yet for the Triune God’s reasons. Justice is consequence of love, not the result of threat.
Eternal God, whoever you are, fill us with Love so we can stop making you up.
Fill us with Spirit, so that we can know you a little.
Give us courage to let you be who you are, though you remain such a mystery to us.
Let us forgive ourselves for our need to re-create you,
With your forgiving power, may we engage in justice as you see fit, whether we like it or not.
The Rev’d ELizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s Oxford
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