Monday, October 1, 2012

From Slavery to Freedom: Miriam's Story! Exodus 12:1-13, 13:1-8


From time to time the Spirit moves me to create Midrash, ususally in the form of imagining the voice of one of the characters in a story. This week that led me to write this.

Scripture can be found here...

Listen! You can hear the shouts of joy, the laughing, the tambourines shaking in time with the dancing… you can hear the jubilant sounds of the celebration: we are free! We are free! After four hundred years of slavery in Mizrayim, Egypt, the narrow place, we have been born into a new freedom, and a new world, and a new life! And we have been dancing.

But if you listen hard, you can also hear the sounds of weeping. Our freedom came at a cost, and we will never forget that. For you to understand, for us to understand what has happened, we must go back to the beginning.

Our ancestor Joseph brought our people to Egypt—there were only seventy of us then, seventy!—He brought us to Egypt to save us from the famine. He saved our people, brought his family together again, and for a time, we lived in peace and prosperity. And the promise of El Shaddai, God Almighty, to our ancestors Sarah and Abraham were fulfilled: we were fruitful, and we multiplied, and we became numerous and exceedingly strong!

But a new Pharaoh came into power, a Pharaoh who did not know our ancestor Joseph. And in Egypt, the Pharaoh is regarded as a god—he regards himself as a god, with the power of life and death over his land. This so-called ‘god’ feared a strong tribe of immigrants, so he made us his slaves, and set us to work. We built his greatest cities! We built Rameses! We built Pithom! And the work the Pharaoh inflicted on us only made us stronger. And we grew more numerous, not less. And Pharaoh afflicted us with even more work, even more cruel taskmasters. He tried to extinguish us, as if we were vermin crawling over his land, he tried to stamp us out. But we were not vermin. We were people, hard-working people of God, only seeking peace and safety.

Then this so-called ‘god’ Pharaoh decided to do directly what he couldn’t do through slavery: he decided to kill us. He instructed our midwives to kill all the sons born to our women—every male baby, he said, kill it. When it is born, kill it.

But our midwives—their names were Shiphrah and Puah, may their names ever be blessed—they knew the difference between the Pharaoh so-called ‘god’ and the Lord God Almighty. And they did not kill the babies. And when Pharaoh asked why the Hebrew people continued to thrive, they told him “These Hebrew women are so strong—they give birth before we even arrive, and are out in the field again, and their boy babies hidden away safe. We cannot find them.”

Realizing the midwives would not do his murder for him, the Pharaoh told all his people: “Kill them. Throw the Hebrew boys into the Nile.”

And so the Pharaoh-god and his people together became angels of death for the Hebrew people. Untold numbers of our sons were killed. But even greater untold numbers were smuggled to safety. One of those surviving sons of Israel was my brother, Moshe, Moses. And untold numbers of the Egyptians helped us to survive. One of those Egyptians was the Pharaoh’s very own daughter.

My brother, Moses, grew to manhood in the Pharaoh’s own household, a hated vermin Israelite right under his nose. And the first attempt of Moses to stand for justice terrified him. He saved a Hebrew slave from being killed, and in the process killed the man who had been beating the slave. And so Moses ran—far away, into the desert.

But El Shaddai, God of the Mountains, the Lord God Almighty, is able to see us and find us wherever we are… God searches out our paths and our ways, our lying down and our rising up and our hiding and our revealing ourselves. And so God flamed and burned before my brother in the wilderness, and the Lord God spoke to my brother:

“…the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”  (Exodus 3:7-8a, 9-10)

And my brother, a fugitive living in fear, turned and set his face again for Egypt, and confronted the Pharaoh.

When El Shaddai, the Lord God Almighty, spoke to our ancestors Abraham and Sarah he promised us children, and land, and blessing. This is our God: a God of life! The Pharaoh-god of the Egyptians promised his people no such things. And as our God demonstrated his power—by afflicting the people and land of Egypt with plague after plague—the true character of Pharaoh–god became known. He was a leader who was willing to let the land and the people suffer so that he could stay in power. He was a leader who was unwilling to do what his people needed him to do. He was a leader who used his power for death.

My brother went to the Pharaoh. Over and over again he went to the little Pharaoh-god, and said, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go.’” And again and again, little Pharaoh-god said, “Who is the Lord, that I should heed him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and I will not let Israel go.”

And so the Lord God Almighty showed Pharaoh: with the plague of blood that turned the Nile red and the plague of frogs that turned the streets green with slime; with the plague of lice and the plague of flies; with the plagues of pestilence and boils and hail and locusts and deep, deep, terrifying darkness, the Lord God Almighty showed the Pharaoh who he was, and showed his power. And the Pharaoh, the little Pharaoh-god said no, and then yes, and then no again, until finally, finally, the plague to end all the plagues came upon the land and the people of Egypt.

We obeyed the command of the Lord: on the tenth of the month we took a beautiful year-old lamb, an animal without a single blemish. We kept it until the fourteenth of the month, when my brother, along with every other head of an Israelite household, slaughtered it at twilight, just as the lamps were being kindled in the houses. Each man took the blood from the slaughtered lamb and painted the doorposts and lintels with it, while the rich smell of the roasting meat began to curl throughout the settlement. And then, dressed as though we were ready for travel, we ate the lamb… we ate every bit of it that we could, we ate until we thought we could never bear to taste lamb again, and we ate it with delight and with dread, because we knew what was coming. Word had spread among our people, whispered with wide eyes from woman to woman, and from man to man, and from child to child: the angel of death was coming again, but this time, he was coming for first-born sons of the Egyptians.

The night was tense and silent after our sumptuous feast. We lay on our beds awake, watchful, wondering whether it would all prove to be a dream when we rose in the morning. Just after midnight, the commotion began. Shouting, and then screaming, and then moaning—a dreadful sound, so loud it hurt the ears, and so pain-wracked it pierced the heart. And we, safe in our blood-marked homes, we wept in silence. We wept for the beloved dead of our Egyptian neighbors; and we wept for our own beloved dead, the Hebrew sons of our ancestors, drowned so long ago. And we wept, too, with relief that our days as slaves had come to an end. We knew that this was our last night of slavery and our first morning of freedom.

And even though at last he let us go, the little god Pharaoh still couldn’t bring himself to accept defeat, not even at the hand of El Shaddai. And so he sent his armies in pursuit of us, and brought upon his head the deaths of still thousands more. But we… we were safe on another shore, with another land ahead of us, and God’s promises still in our hearts.

And now we have come to the celebration.  Listen! We have been dancing! You can hear the shouts of joy, the laughing, the tambourines shaking… you can hear the jubilant sounds of celebration: we are free! We are free! After four hundred years of slavery, we have been born into a new freedom, and a new world, and a new life!

And if you listen hard, you can hear the echoes of weeping. Our freedom came at a cost, and we will never forget that. And each year when we remember how our Mighty God, brought us out of Egypt, we will know that our joy is not as sweet as it would have been, in light of that terrible cost. But we know this too: our God promised life and freedom, and our God’s promises are sure. And no false god, no power-hungry leader willing to sacrifice his own people, can hope to match the majesty and real power of the one who is Lord, of day and of night, of heaven and earth, of life and of death. Thanks be to God! Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment