When Genocide Comes (Exodus 1-4)

For centuries Egypt served as an incubator for Israel; there they multiplied from a few dozen to hundreds of thousands.  However, they did not integrate into Egyptian society, but retained their distinctive Hebrew identity.  As a result the Pharaoh worried what would happen if an enemy attacked.  He thought the Israelites would surely aid any attackers, turning the tide against the Egyptians.  As is so often the case, fear led to persecution under the guise of “preemptive self defense.”  At first they set taskmasters over the Hebrews to afflict them with heavy burdens.  Next they completely enslaved them, making their lives bitter with hard service.  Then Pharaoh initiated a clandestine project of ethnic cleansing by ordering the midwives to murder Israelite newborn boys.  When this policy failed, he made a new public mandate whereby every Egyptian became duty bound to cast Hebrew boys into the Nile river.

In the midst of such a genocide a baby boy was born, named Moses.  Through a miraculous turn of events, he grew up under the protection (not persecution) of Pharaoh’s household.  He enjoyed the lavish lifestyle of the top 1% of Egyptians, including getting “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians” (Acts 7.22).  However, when Pharaoh found out Moses had murdered a man, he fled to Midian, a far away wilderness, and became a nomadic shepherd.  While his first forty years were in the lap of luxury, his second forty years were spent toiling in obscurity.  He got married and worked for his father-in-law until that fateful day when he encountered the burning bush.

While he stood before this unusual spectacle, God spoke to him.  He identified himself with these words, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3.6).  Next God commissioned Moses to go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt.  Instead of taking the job, Moses was incredulous.  He came up with an excuse, asking, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name? what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 3.13).  Moses probably thought this question would get him off the hook, but instead God answered him directly, revealing his covenant name in the process.  He told Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers…has sent me to you'” (Exodus 3.15).  The words “the LORD” are hiding the true Hebrew name for God–Yahweh.  It is a sad fact that nearly all English translations do this.  They would be better to just honestly put God’s name into the text rather than hiding it.  (Understanding the rest of the ten plagues without knowing God’s name is Yahweh makes everything a little blurry.)

Moses tried over and over to get out of God’s call on his life.  However, God was persistent and overcame Moses’ objections one by one.  What’s so striking about Moses is that he is probably the least qualified person in the world to carry out this mission for God.  He’s an 80 year old, inbred, fugitive with a speech impediment.  He knows how unqualified he is and therein we find God’s reason for choosing him.  Moses was the humblest man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12.3).  He knew he couldn’t do it on his own, and this is why God was able to do such spectacular marvels through him.  He went from a Bedouin herder to the founding father of a nation, the one who brought down the most powerful empire of the time, the great giver of God’s holy law, and the one who had the most intimate relationship with God of all time, excepting Jesus.  Maybe your intelligence, your attractiveness, your athleticism, your creativity, or your relational skills aren’t holding you back.  The problem is not that you are under qualified, but over qualified.  If you can only cultivate humility and depend on the Almighty, he can do great things through you today.

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