Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I [am] the LORD,
Yesterday I breezed through these promises, since they were somewhat tangential to the plot — at least from the Israelite’s perspective! I wanted to go back and dwell on them some more, in order to help me better understand God’s perspective.
The children of Israel’s oppression had reached to God, so He sends Moses. But Moses’ interview results in even more oppression. The children cry to Moses, and he cries to God. God, as is His wont, replies by saying “I am Yahweh” (Y@hovah). As if reciting His name makes any difference.
Actually, perhaps it does. Maybe this whole section is God reciting His name — describing His character. Perhaps the whole reason for their suffering — both before and after Moses come — was so that they could see it was Him. Let’s look more closely.
and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians,
and I will rid you out of their bondage,
and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments:
And I will take you to me for a people,
and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I [am] the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
Mmm. Jacob had a God (‘elohiym). Abraham had a God. But these people? For hundreds of years, they seem to have not heard from God. God had apparently manifested no interest in them (admittedly, perhaps they were the ones who moved). They had no personal connection with the God of their ancestors. That’s going to change.
And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob;
and I will give it you for an heritage: I [am] the LORD.
Wow. Its almost like matching XML tags: <YHWH>I will… </YHWH>. God brackets these promises with declarations of His name, presumably to reinforce that His purpose is to reveal Himself to them through this situation.
Which makes their inability to hear — at least at the time — that much more tragic, if understandable:
And Moses spake so unto the children of Israel: but they hearkened not unto Moses for anguish of spirit, and for cruel bondage.
Though, I suspect God wasn’t surprised they didn’t quite yet get it. His attention appears to be more focused on Moses:
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Go in, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, that he let the children of Israel go out of his land.
Having revealed who He was, and what He would do, God wants Moses to do his part. But there’s a little problem:
And Moses spake before the LORD, saying, Behold, the children of Israel have not hearkened unto me; how then shall Pharaoh hear me, who [am] of uncircumcised lips?
Y’know, I always used to think this was mere whininess on Moses’ part. Then it occurred to me today that perhaps Moses was referring, not to a speech impediment, but a linguistic difficulty
Accentism is a powerful thing. Certainly I, like many Americans, find myself subconsciously judging people’s intelligence by their fluency in English. After forty years in Midian, Moses may well have spoken only halting Egyptian, and that with a Midianite accent. He might equally well have remembered how Pharaoh’s court must’ve mocked emissaries for trying to speak their tongue, since I’m sure they must’ve been as ethnocentric as we are.
If he can’t even convince a friendly audience, perhaps speaking in common vernacular, what hope could he have at the most powerful court in the world, where he’d come across as a country bumpkin*
Interestingly, we don’t get an answer right away. Except, perhaps a reminder that Yawheh is in charge (tsavah):
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, and gave them a charge unto the children of Israel, and unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt.
Instead, we get a genealogy lesson:
These [be] the heads of their fathers’ houses: The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel; Hanoch, and Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi: these [be] the families of Reuben.
Where, at long last, we find out who Moses’ parents are:
And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram [were] an hundred and thirty and seven years.
As well as Aaron’s family life:
And Aaron took him Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon, to wife; and she bare him Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar.
And Eleazar Aaron’s son took him [one] of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bare him Phinehas: these [are] the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families.
Why? Sure, its nice to know who these guys are, and where they came from. But why now, rather than Chapter 1?
These [are] that Aaron and Moses, to whom the LORD said, Bring out the children of Israel from the land of Egypt according to their armies. These [are] they which spake to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to bring out the children of Israel from Egypt: these [are] that Moses and Aaron.
Maybe the point is that their genealogical identity is subordinate to the fact that Yahweh spoke (‘amar) to them, and that they spoke (dabar) to Pharaoh. Which, in the context of traditional culture, is pretty remarkable. Back then, there was nothing particularly special about being a Levite. They didn’t come from Ephraim or Judah, the “gifted” tribes. They were just these guys, y’know? That God used to turn the most powerful nation on earth upside down.
Having established that, we return to Moses’ dilemma. Again:
And Moses said before the LORD, Behold, I [am] of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?
And the answer is?
And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.
This certainly fits in with my theory that its a language difficulty, with Aaron translating. Interestingly, my father (John Prabhakar) uses a similar technique when he preaches back in his native India. Though he grew up there and speaks Tamil fluently, he’s lived for nearly forty years in the U.S. All his preaching experience is in English, and he doesn’t know the ‘cenTamil‘ apparently required for public sermonizing. So, he ends up using a translator — actually, his brother (Vasanth Edward), in what may well be a very Moses-Aaron arrangement!
Does this deific setup portend success? Not quite:
And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, [and] my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments.
And the Egyptians shall know that I [am] the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.
Hmm. Weird. Its like God wants Moses to try precisely in order to fail, so that everybody sees that it is God (rather than, say, Moses) who pulled it off. And the sons of Amram seem okay with that:
And Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they.
Maybe, in the end, that is what faith is. Doing what you hear God saying, even if it doesn’t make sense. Even if you know its won’t achieve anything (by itself). Just because that is what God requires (tsavah) in order to accomplish His purposes.
God, at times you seem a hard taskmaster. Following you is hardly the route to easy success. But, maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is to find out who You are. And to see You at work, redeeming those who cannot save themselves. And maybe the success You achieve is more lasting and far-reaching than what we could’ve achieved ourselves. Plus, we still have a part to play, even if we have trouble with our lines. Help me to do my part, and trust You to do yours. Amen.