by Rev. John Howard Farmer
Basket case who died in a desert
Occasionally I encounter folks awash in self-pity because they were not born into privilege. The story of Moses should give us a leg up when we feel sorry for our humble beginnings.
A decade or so ago Indian Creekers Tom and Cherie Fowler, Travis and Linda Tomlinson, my Miss Hazel and I all fled Irvington in a Sunday rush. We were to be at a wedding near Solomon’s Island, Md., by 4 p.m. By any stretch that was not the easiest journey to accomplish, with lunch on the road.
Oh, and by the way it was a Jewish-Christian wedding: thus Jody, “a daughter of Moses,” was marrying gentile Joe Frost. The rabbi was a delight with which to work. We had wonderful chats about our mutual Jewish roots. The lovely couple was drawn together by mutual loss, and we wish them forever happiness in God’s hands.
Well, it’s left me in an Old Testament mode. So let’s dust off our Old Testament, shall we?
Moses (not Charlton Heston, of movie fame) was the child of Levites Amram and Jochebed, born when the Jewish population in Egypt was growing too rapidly to suit Pharaoh. Pharaoh ordered that all male Jewish babies be killed at birth.
Seeking to protect her baby boy, Moses’ mother hid him and then placed him in a papyrus basket. Trusting God to decide his fate, she pushed the little basket out onto the Nile River. At least he’d have a chance at survival.
That basket floated, then washed ashore. The baby’s big sister Miriam watched, knowing that they were not far from bathers. A daughter of Pharaoh was there, along with her household staff. Nothing gathers a bunch of women together like a crying baby. When they saw the basket they were astonished.
Rejoicing that Pharaoh’s daughter was happy to find the baby and would keep him, Miriam wandered down the shore offering to locate a wet nurse for the baby. The Princess adopted the basket’s harvest. The alleged wet nurse, found by Miriam, was in fact her mom, Moses’ own mother. (I’m singing “Moses’ sister aided him…”) God is good, right? The young river-find was brought up in the royal court, growing up as son of the princess.
His countenance was pure Hebrew, not at all reflecting of Egyptian royalty. Surely it was no secret to her why he was found floating down river.
Once Moses saw a Hebrew being beaten by an Egyptian. Angrily, he killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. Fearing persecution, Moses struck off into the desert. For a while he lived as a shepherd. He married a daughter of the priest Jethro and began his family.
Moses saw God in a vision of a burning bush. He commanded Moses to “bring my people out of Egypt.”
You have to love his reply: “Who me?”
Hearing God say, “I Am Who I Am” gave Moses the courage to proceed. Do not overlook the fact that God, who carved the stone tablets held in the hands of the murderer Moses, issued “thou shalt not kill.” And we so often think God can’t forgive us?
God gave Moses the ability to perform miracles. Strengthened, Moses returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh on God’s behalf.
Pharaoh resisted freeing the Hebrew slaves.
Armed by God, Moses set 10 plagues upon the Egyptians: “water which turned to blood; swarming frogs; gnats and biting insects; disease-carrying flies; diseased cattle and livestock; eruptions of boils on the skin of people; hailstorms that destroyed crops; locusts that ate any crop that had survived; unexplained darkness over the land; and the last and most terrible: the death of every firstborn member of a generation.”
Overwhelmed by God’s power in Moses, Pharaoh gave in, freeing the Hebrews. They left Egypt, following a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; of course, also by Moses and his brother Aaron and big sister Miriam. Pharaoh’s angry pursuit of them caused his own army to drown in the Red Sea.
The Hebrews wandered the desert, where they too, like Moses of old, reverted to their nomadic herdsmen roots.
God gave Moses the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. These laws were to shape the lives of God’s people. Predicated upon the Decalogue, statutes grew about Hebrew “worship and ritual, the treatment of slaves, property, restitution, violence, social and religious laws, the annual festivals and the sabbatical year.”
Once while Moses was away in the mountains the wandering Hebrews reverted to their former orgiastic rituals. They’d designed, built and worshipped a golden image of the god Baal. Moses was furious. He destroyed the image. Further he also told the people who had remained loyal to “I Am” to slaughter those who had reverted to worship of the golden calf. They did and the covenant between God and his people was sealed in blood.
Moses grew weary of the nagging of the Hebrews. In a moment of frustration he struck a rock in the land of Moab demanding God to provide fresh water. That was a no-no. The Bible says, “God kissed him to sleep and buried him in an unmarked grave.” His authority fell upon brother Aaron who later was replaced by Joshua: a military leader, eventually consecrated as Moses’ successor.
Moses didn’t start nor finish well. But in between he did what he could. You and me?