There are classic elements to most hero stories.
There is the plight of the oppressed. Maybe it’s an individual like a kidnapped child or a group of people like the hostages in Die Hard. Maybe it’s a socio-economic group like the poor in Robin Hood or an entire nation like the people of Israel in bondage to the Egyptians.
There is an enemy. Maybe it’s an individual like a kidnapper or a group like German terrorists. Maybe it’s an illegitimate ruler like Prince John or an oppressive king like the Pharaoh, killing the Hebrew boys and putting “heavy burdens” on the working Israelites.
And there is a hero. And there is a moment when the hero is called to action, as it were. Liam Neeson gets the call or Bruce Willis hears the gunfire. Robin Hood sees his father killed and his land taken away. But what’s the “call to action” in the story of the Exodus?
There are three.
Moses’ First Move
The people of Israel, God’s “firstborn son”, are in bondage in Egypt. Moses, the highly educated Hebrew, brought up in Pharaoh’s house, is grown up and ready to lead his people.
One day, when Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and looked on their burdens, and he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his people. He looked this way and that, and seeing no one, he struck down the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
- Exodus 2:10-12
If anyone were going to be the natural leader of the Hebrews it was Moses. He would be the mediator between his people and the Egyptian leadership. He was Pharaoh’s adopted grandson after all. He sees the plight of the oppressed and decides he’s going to do something about it. I’m sure he’s very emotional as well. It seems almost like he’s just made aware of how bad it actually is for them. Either way he is moved by his passion and in anger strikes down an Egyptian. Actually, it’s a bit more premeditated. He looks to make sure nobody will see him first and then he eliminates the evidence. Except the people find out.
The next day he tried to break up a fight between Hebrews and their response is not exactly what Moses was expecting.
“Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
- Exodus 2:14
So the word gets around and Pharaoh is more than a little upset. He ordered Moses’ death and Moses heads for the hills. So much for his inspirational leadership.
The famous story of the burning bush is the way that God first called Moses to action. But we often forget the finer points of the story.
God tells Moses that he is sending him to get his people out of Egypt. That should be enough, but Moses asks for a sign. He is being address by God through a bush that though on fire is not breaking down. And he asks for a sign. But God gives him a sign and another and another and another. Moses asks God for his name. God gives him his name and promises to put plagues on the Egyptians and to deliver his people again.
Moses says he can’t speak. God says he will be “with his mouth” and will teach him what to speak. Finally Moses says, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”
“Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses.”
Hardly a strong heroic moment. Especially if you believe that Moses wrote this, and I do.
So are we without a heroic call to action in this story? Absolutely not.
While Moses was off tending sheep on some hillside in Midian the people of Israel “groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help.” They didn’t cry to Moses, he was pretty much forgotten. They just cried out.
Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.
- Exodus 2:23-25
I love the literary device that the author is using. It’s as if God is off doing his own thing, oblivious to what’s going on with his people. If we didn’t have the rest of the Bible this would be rather disconcerting. If we didn’t know that God sees everything and is everywhere-present then this would be troubling to all peoples.
What does it take to get God’s attention, as it were. A sacrifice or a prayer said using just the right lingo? All we know is that there was a “cry for rescue from slavery”. It doesn’t even say “to God” or anything.
God remembers his covenant. It’s as if he has forgotten the entire story of the book of Genesis. If we didn’t have the rest of the Bible again this would be troubling. But it is never God who forgets, it’s always his people that forget him.
God saw the people of Israel. Picking up on a theme from Genesis, Abraham and Hagar both call God, ‘Yahweh Yireh’ or as it is Latinized, ‘Jehovah Jireh’, the LORD sees. He sees and he sees to it.
And God knew. Knew what? He has already heard, remembered, and seen. So what is this ‘knowing’? I think it’s an all-encompassing verb. The author is saying that God knew the situation, he knew about his covenant, and he knew what he was going to do about it. This is the heroic movement to action.
Make no mistake about it. Moses is not the hero of Exodus, God is. Even Moses the author sees it that way.