A Guest Blog by Gill Kimber
“Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation.” (Joel 1.3)
Let me tell you a second story.
The second of the three stories in the One Great Story.
Where a people are made slaves and God leads them to freedom.
[Read THE ONE GREAT STORY (I) here]
I’m sure you know that families and the people in them aren’t perfect.
Despite everything, Abraham wasn’t the perfect father and nor was his son Isaac. Isaac’s wife Rebecca gave birth to just two children, twin boys called Esau, the firstborn, and Jacob who came out of the womb holding on to his brothers heel.
Unfortunately, neither parent was wise enough to know that they should value both their children equally.
The boys had different natures: the elder, a man of action and impulse who loved the outdoor life, but his brother not macho at all. Jacob preferred to stay indoors with his mother and was particularly good at things like cooking. Very sadly Isaac made no secret of preferring Esau, and Rebecca followed suit by preferring the much quieter son Isaac.
A recipe for disaster!
This is what happened: Jacob tricked his brother Esau into promising him the larger and more important inheritance of an eldest son in exchange for just a tasty meal. Then, working together with his mother, he impersonated his brother and tricked his father, old blind Isaac, into making it official.
Jacob had to run for his life to take refuge with his uncle Laban after Isaac died. There he learned the hard way what it is like to be shamelessly exploited and cheated by a close relative. Much later he had to wrestle with God, his guilty conscience, and his fear of Esau, before he was ready to return home, complete with his twelve sons.
If you remember, these sons were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, and Benjamin. These would be the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.
But Jacob never did learn how important it was to value all your children equally. No, he not only had favourites among his wives (yes, he had four. Leah, her younger prettier sister Rachel who was the favourite, and, I’m afraid, their two maidservants Zilpah and Bilhah) but also, among his sons, he predictably favoured Joseph and Benjamin, the two sons of his favourite wife. These are just some of the things in the Stories that are sad and not right, and nearly always lead to other things equally sad and bad.
What I didn’t tell you in the first story was that Abraham had taken a surrogate wife Hagar, and had a son Ishmael by her. This was a sin against Hagar, and a doubting sin against God that he had needed to forgive. He is always faithful, so at least he blessed Hagar and Ishmael too, with a nation descended from Ishmael’s own twelve sons.
But you can see how Jacob probably thought that having wives and surrogate wives wasn’t really a sin. After all everybody did it, even Abraham, and God didn’t seem to mind.
This is one of the problems God often has – if he punishes us for our sins, we think he is an angry God. But if he doesn’t, we reason that he approves of what we’ve done!
Back to Jacob.
When he returned finally, he found that Esau wasn’t still angry with him and they both settled down with their families at a reasonable distance from each other. But his favourite son Joseph got into trouble by not realizing how jealous his older brothers were of the way he was loved and pampered. They plotted together to get rid of him by selling him into slavery. They then covered up their crime by telling their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. In the end Jacob’s lasting grief made them ashamed.
To cut a long and interesting story short, God brought Joseph into a very important job in the government of the Pharaoh of Egypt, so that when a famine drove the whole family there as refugees, he was able to rescue them and settle them into the land. After he’d forgiven them, of course. Joseph and all his family lived and died in Egypt.
Their descendants stayed on. They didn’t fit in and become Egyptians partly because they had a different God. And also because Egyptians thought keeping sheep and goats made them dirty. However, they did well and grew in numbers so much that their rulers thought they were a security risk. The new Pharaoh decided to control them and use them by making them all into slaves.
Then the Rescuing God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob put his next part of the rescue plan into operation.
The Pharaoh had started to commit genocide by drowning all the boy babies born to the Israelites. One of these, a descendant of Jacob’s son Levi was put into the river in a little waterproofed basket like a tiny version of Noah’s great boat. Then God arranged for a royal princess to find him and decide to bring him up as an Egyptian.
She called him Moses, a name meaning ‘drawn out’ (of the water).
Later we will find lots of reminders of this event including when God rescues his people, led by Moses, by parting the waters of the Red Sea. Jesus is also ‘drawn out’ of the water of baptism. And the way we signal our rescue by God from our sins is by being baptized ourselves.
But first Moses had to grow up to adulthood in the palace and start to see how badly his fellow Israelites were being treated.
First, he had to try, and fail, to rescue them himself, run away, meet the God of his ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and learn that he isn’t just another ‘god-let’, but the LORD Who Is. Finally, The LORD sent him back to Pharaoh to set his people free by the power of his Mighty Hand. It’s a long and very exciting story, as Pharaoh again and again refuses to let his slave workforce leave. Through ten terrible plagues, the LORD showed how much more powerful he is than the gods of Egypt. His last plague involved the death of all the firstborn of people and animals. Only the Israelites and those who sheltered with them in a house marked with the blood of a sacrificed lamb were spared.
This is called the Passover, and many years later, Jesus, God’s only Son was crucified at the yearly Passover festival.
After that Moses, Aaron his brother, their sister Miriam, and all the the people and animals, spent forty years wandering around the desert gradually learning who the LORD is, and what it means to worship him and know him and be called by his Name.
Probably the most important thing they learn is that the LORD is Holy: meaning a kind of unchanging goodness that is dangerous to people like you and me.
This is especially important whenever we want to talk to him, ask for forgiveness or ask him to help us.
The TEN COMMANDMENTS that God gave to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai are the foundation of the holy way of life that God’s people are to live, and the miraculous provision of water and food in the desert reminds us that we should trust God to meet all our needs. These Commandments have been the conscience of his people ever since, whenever they have started to treat other humans as possessions to be used and abused.
Later, manna, the staple food that God provided, came to be thought of as ‘bread from heaven’. Jesus, however, said he was the real Bread from Heaven. He taught us to pray for ‘daily bread’, and to remember his body broken on the Cross in the bread of Communion.
The Ten Commandments tell us:
‘I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Do not have any other gods besides me.
Do not make an image of a god to worship.
Do not misuse the Name of the LORD.
Remember the Sabbath day of rest by keeping it holy and separate to worship me with all your family, servants and animals.
Honour your father and mother.
Do not murder
Do not break the marriage bond
Do not steal
Do not give false testimony
Do not covet anything belonging to another person’.
Later, Jesus would help us to understand that the first four commandments could be further summarised by the commands God gave Moses to “love the LORD with all your heart and soul and mind and strength” and the second six to “love your neighbour as you love yourself”.
Jesus brings us an even greater Rescue from slavery than the Exodus from Egypt, so that we can truly live a life of love and freedom with our God.
There are some words in Psalm 105 that praise God for the events surrounding this Exodus:
‘Give praise to the LORD,
proclaim his name
Make known among the nations what he has done
Sing to him, sing praise to him
Tell of all his wonderful acts
Glory in his holy name
Seek his face always
He is the LORD our God
He brought out his people with rejoicing
His chosen ones with shouts of joy
That they might keep his precepts and observe his laws
Praise the LORD.’
The first five books of the Bible, are together referred to as The Torah or The Law by Jews of Jesus’ time and now. The English word ‘law’ doesn’t really express the combination of different kinds of law, the stories of people good and bad, and the Portrait of the Person of God which emerges.
The Story so far: Sometimes, when we hear of wars and greed in the world, we think that if God removed all the bad people in the world, then good people could live together fairly and peacefully. Well the stories of Adam and Eve, of Noah and his descendants, and then of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob show us that since the first bad choice to do things our own way, even the good people carry a kind of seed of badness in them.
At other times, when we realise how often we destroy ourselves and each other through fear, hatred and ignorance, we imagine that if God rescued us from our painful situation and taught us how to live together, we could do so fairly and peacefully. Well if you read the stories of Moses and the people you will, I hope, be convinced that rescue and education, though wonderful, are not the final answer either.
And so from this Second Story we find even more about how our God is a Rescuer, how patient he is with our failings, and how faithful he is when he has made a promise.
In the Third Story we will hear about the last of our usual ideas about how to put the world to rights………
Read THE ONE GREAT STORY (III) here