Exodus: Hope in Darkness

Exodus: Hope in the Darkness                                       \Ex 10-12
1-2 July 2017, Christ Mountain Top, The Lord’s Table
Call to Worship, Psalm 88 (6:00 pm only)
Children, Exodus 10.1-29
Message, Exodus 11.4-10, 12.30-38

Death of cattle
Hail & fire
      Pharaoh’s heart, hardened by God … humble yourself
Locusts, cover the surface of the land, fill your houses
      Pharaoh’s heart hardened
Darkness, that can be felt, 3 days
      Pharaoh’s heart hardened
      But light for Hebrews

God is on the loose
      Hijacking Moses’ life
      Selecting a murderer, a failure, a reluctant man
God is on the loose
      Destroying the powers of Egypt
      Setting slaves, God’s people, free

The Mummy (original 1999) the gods of Egypt doing these powerful acts … interesting that they borrow the imagery of Exodus and flip the script. Instead of a powerful free God fighting to free slaves, it’s a powerful oppressive God fighting to enslave humanity.
      For the Hebrews, under oppression, their situation seems hopeless. They have no memory of freedom. They can’t imagine what it looks like. Moses offers promises, but they have no way fully appreciate it. If you have ever experienced abuse, or learned the story of someone who has lived it, you may appreciate, just a little, how hopeless they were. Or, how the glimmer of hope became the cause for deeper disappointment.
      God does something mighty. Pharaoh hardly flinches. God does something else. Pharaoh brushes it off. God brings one calamity after another, and Pharaoh still holds the upper hand.
      Moses says, “Let my people go.”
      Pharaoh says, “Make bricks without straw.”

We know how the story ends, but imagine yourself in the middle of the story. Where do you find hope? And we are each at a different place in our personal stories. Where do you find hope?

There are three surprising themes in the text, three “Easter eggs” for you gamers, that offer hope, hope in calamity, hope in crisis, hope in oppression, hope in slavery, hope in the darkness.

1. Pharaoh’s heart is hardened … by the LORD
      3x by Pharaoh, 8.15, 8.32, 9.34
      6x passive, 7.13, 7.14, 7.22, 8.19, 9.7, 9.35
      9x by YHVH, 4.21, 7.3, 9.12, 10.1, 10.20, 10.27, 11.10, 14.4, 14.8
Pharaoh played a part, he went along with the hardening of his heart by God
      For the characters in the story, this is mostly unseen. It is reported to the reader by the narrator only. We know this, but the Hebrews were ignorant of it. Moses is told by the LORD, at the beginning, that the LORD is going to do this, but Moses hears nothing else on the subject from God until chapter 10, as we come to the climax.
      In the darkness, God is acting. We do not see it. We may never know of it. It is hidden, backstage, behind the curtain, and we have no access to the secret. But God IS acting. God IS on the loose.

There is more here than can be understood, but whatever else it means it begins in the conviction that God works on both sides of the street. The despairing ones do not see how a newness can come, how evil can be overcome, or how futures can arise from the totalitarian present. … Something is “on the move” in the darkness that even the lord of the darkness does not discern. It is strange that neither Egypt nor Israel understands the movement in the darkness! Israel is no more privy to God’s freedom than Egypt is.
Brueggemann, Walter. Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition (p. 15). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

Brueggemann invites us to embrace the darkness in our lives, not because it is dark, but because we know that, somehow, God is at work. God is on the loose.

2. No dog barks
Exodus 11:7  But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites-- not at people, not at animals-- so that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.

In the post-apocalyptic world that is Egypt after the ten plagues, even the dogs submit. Their natural impulse to bark at a stranger, to bark at passing animals, is squelched by the complete and total domination of Egypt by the LORD God of angel armies.
      The slaves walk out of Egypt, having plundered the Egyptians, like the victor of a post-apocalyptic battle.

This remarkable statement reveals two deep truths in the story.
1.     That redemption requires judgment. There is evil in the world, and it must be destroyed in order for slaves to go free. Now, I do not say this to commend violence against evil. Paul instructs us to “overcome evil with good” (Romans 12.21). Jesus calls us to “judge not” (Matthew 7.1). Judgment, terrible and complete, is reserved for God alone.
2.     Again in the words of Brueggemann:
God … does not flinch from taking sides.
Brueggemann, Walter. Prophetic Imagination: Revised Edition (p. 15). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

This is, of course, one particular story. And all our stories are different. We may be oppressed and wonder when God will hear our cries. We may be “king of the mountain” and hopeful that God will not take interest in the way our position is maintained by others of lower estate. This story, however, is unequivocal: When redemption comes, it requires judgment on power. And, God does not flinch from taking sides.
      God is on the loose.

We must take sides. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
Elie Wiesel, 1960 (opening quote for an episode of Frontier, season 1, by Netflix)

3. A mixed crowd
Exodus 12:38  A mixed crowd also went up with them,

Despite the many biblical texts defining Israel as a “closed” group, a people that must not intermarry with other nations who worship other gods, for example, here at the beginning of Israel’s story it is an open group. A mixed crowd goes with them, not Hebrew. Perhaps they are other enslaved peoples. Perhaps they are Egyptian. Whether Hebrew or Hyksos, Cushite or Egyptian, they all become Israel. In a similar way, here at Christ Church, all are welcome to follow Jesus with us, without distinction, and all are welcome at the Lord’s Table, without question. We are an open group and we have an open table.

As I was meditating on this story, I was driving home from a week of study at my mother-in-law’s and listening to an album of the Flobots, an album Caleb turned me on to several years ago. They are politically and socially left of center, so don’t bother listening unless you are ready for that.
      I was marveling at how the story leaves open the possibility that some Egyptians may be among the “mixed crowd”. One of their songs is titled “Anne Braden”, and it tells part of the story of this white southern woman who chose to stand with the descendants of slaves. “She knew there was something wrong. Because the song said yellow, red, black and white, everyone precious in the path of Christ. But what about the daughter of the woman cleaning their house?” Because of her faith in the God who takes sides, she protested the Mississippi execution of Willie McGee, an African-American convicted by an all-white jury, for raping a white woman, with whom he claimed to be having an affair. She and her husband bought a house in a white neighborhood and gave it to a black family to integrate their own town. And she continued to love her racist family and friends. Anne Braden says, “You do have a choice. You do not have to join the world of the lynchers.”
      I was in tears. Maybe it was the caffeine to keep me awake, or having been away from home for a week, or that I forgot to take my medicine. Or, maybe, it was an overwhelming reminder from the Spirit of God that I am invited to join the “mixed crowd” and called to take sides with the God who works both behind the scenes and in plain sight to set the oppressed free – whether they are the descendants of American slavery (which John Wesley called the most vile form of slavery in the world), immigrants trying to escape ISIS, or Muslim neighbors of every racial and ethnic background. I always tell my new Muslim friends, “If you need a Christian to stand with you, call me.”
      God is on the loose.

Hope in the darkness.
1.     The LORD hardens Pharaoh’s heart: God is at work in the darkness, unknown and hidden to us.
2.     No dog barks. Redemption requires judgment on evil, and God takes sides. God is not impartial.
3.     A mixed crowd. An open group with an open table. And the holy opportunity for those of us with privilege to stand up for others.

      New Interpreter’s Bible, Exodus, Brueggemann

      Prophetic Imagination, Brueggemann


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