It's Not Over Yet
May 10, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. Exodus was read at the first reading for today. The narrative here in this text is that of the Hebrews, when they had been slaves in Egypt, that is, the Israelites, when they are set free by God and they escape from Egypt. It is the character Moses who is the leading figure in it. While he is a Hebrew, he is raised a child of the Egyptian princess. Since the reason why that had been the situation is written in the first part of chapter two, please read it. Moses would later become the commander over all Israel as a great leader. He surely received some kind of education and training in Egypt. So, he surely acquired the practical skills he would need in order to assume leadership over [the nation]. Curiously enough, the scriptures are totally silent on this matter. It appears that [the scriptures] have no interest whatsoever in what Moses received from Egypt or what learning he had acquired from it. Instead of that, the scripture relates a single incident. It is the incident of the murder and the dumping of the body by Moses. As a result of that, Moses is forced to flee to the land of Midian. That's the passage I read to you today.
The Commencement Of The Conflict
2. Please look at verse eleven. The text states that "About when Moses came of age, he went out to his fellow country men and women, and saw that they were subjected to hard labor. And he saw that one Egyptian was striking one of the Hebrews, his countryman." It is not saying Moses was taking a stroll outside and happened to see the Israelites being subjected to hard labor. It is not saying that he accidentally eye-witnessed for himself a Hebrew being struck. -- Because these kinds of things must have been every day occurrences in Egypt. Most likely, he must have seen this a number of times so far. While it may be true that Moses had been raised as the highest of royalty, it is impossible that he not know of this social reality until his becoming an adult.
3. From start to finish this is the story of the time Moses went out with a certain deliberate intention regarding "his fellow country men and women." Raised as the son of the Egyptian princess, Moses dared to go to the Hebrews, not as an Egyptian, but as a Hebrew, as their countryman. There is no doubt that had he spent his days in the palace as an Egyptian, he could have lived indifferently to their suffering without turning his attention to their suffering his whole life. But Moses did not do that. One day, daringly as a Hebrew, as a fellow countryman, Moses went out and purposefully turned his attention to their suffering.
4. Therefore, we mustn't think this incident too is an impulsive murder by Moses. It is not saying that he witnesses by chance his fellow countryman being struck and then he unconsciously flares into a rage and ends up murdering the Egyptian. At least the scripture doesn't recount the event that way. He calmly looks around the area and makes sure there is nobody there. If I may further remark on it, after he kills the man, he conceals the corpse within a short period of time. To do that, it must be sandy ground for it to be so easy to dig a hole. Therefore, the text says, "He buried the corpse in the sand." Thus, he had coldly checked out whether there was a place easy to bury a body.
5. In the following ways then, it is all a free will act of Moses. His going out, his seeing, and his killing the Egyptian who did the striking [of the Hebrew] - all of these acts. Since that is the case, then what was Moses' plan and purpose in doing these things?
6. In today's second reading, I read to you the sermon from Stephen which is recorded in The Book Of The Acts Of The Apostles. We clearly see how this narrative of Moses was read in the church. The scriptures read as follows. "When he turned forty years old, Moses resolved to help the children of Israel, his brethren. So, when he saw one of them being ill treated, he helped him, and beat to death the Egyptian opponent, and he avenged the other party who was going through a terrible time," (Acts 7:23-24).
7. "[Moses] resolved to help the children of Israel, his brethren." In a word, he stood up for the rescue of the Israelites. It was a decision for the end of [their] long agony. Finally, he gave up his being the son of the Egyptian princess and decided to share in the suffering as a fellow countryman of the Israelites through thick and thin. He took that first step in the sight of God with a resignation to give up all he had on behalf of the fulfillment of the oppressed people's deliverance and justice.
The True Beginning From Here On
8. So, what kind of results did Moses' decision bring forth? The sermon of Stephen that I quoted earlier continues on as follows. "Moses felt that the brethren would understand that God was about to rescue them through his own hand. But, they did not understand. The next day, as Moses happened to come along upon Israelites quarreling with each other, he spoke to them trying to get them to make peace, 'You men, aren't you comrade brothers? Why injure each other?' Whereupon, the man who was hurting the other thrust Moses away and said, 'Who made you our leader and judge? Are you about to kill me just like you killed the Egyptian yesterday?' Upon hearing these words Moses fled, and while he lived dependent on the land of Midian, he begat two sons," (Acts 7:25-29).
9. Moses must have understood the conflict he had initiated and was seeking comrades to join him in the battle. But there was no one who understood him. Nor was it unreasonable because while they were the same Hebrew people, only Moses did not have hard labor imposed upon him when everyone else was suffering, and instead of that he had lived in the wealth of the royal court as a person in the Egyptian royal family. To the Hebrews, Moses was, after all, one of the Egyptians. Just like one of the Hebrews who had been quarreling with his peer had stated, they did not recognize that Moses was supposed to become the leader of the Hebrews.
10. What's more, the gravity of the matter became all too plain. While still not having won comrades [for] the battle, the murder [he did] became commonly known by the people the next day. His status changed into that of a traitor, to be pursued by the pharaoh. It was [now] anything but the rescue of the Hebrews. Unavoidably, to preserve his own life, he would live on the run.
11. [He] was a failure. He was discouraged. His huge sacrifice that he paid, the act in which he offered himself up for the people, was all in vain. It was an act that awakened in him the true desire for the deliverance of the Israelites. Of course, the murder itself that he committed could not be counted as a positive thing, but he was not influenced because of selfish motivations by any means. He definitely was not even seeking to be thanked by the people. It's not that his dedication was incomplete or a great effort by him was missing. Despite it all, unsupported and misunderstood, only the negatives remained. He would have to go on living bearing the burden of it all to no avail.
12. Moses fled to the land of Midian. Starting out by helping some young women he met there, he came to live under the roof of the priest Reuel (Jethro). Even so, the words of the young women who were helped sound sad. Ironically they said, "One of the Egyptians rescued us from the shepherds, and after drawing water for us, he gave our sheep [water] to drink," (verse nineteen). That's how they put it. There Moses was, a man who had fled as a wretched figure, not even looking like a Hebrew in the final analysis, not even recognizable as a fellow countryman.
13. He begin the sojourner life in Midian as an Egyptian. Then the scripture says, "A long time passed after that," (verse twenty-three). -- How long might that have been? Actually, the next time Moses comes on the scene is when he is eighty years old. Keeping behind the scenes, a long long time has come and gone. And the lost days can never come back again. Even Moses' youth has come and gone. Most of all of Moses' strength is pretty much gone. Indeed, the long time passing away was nothing, forty years ago when Moses had fled to Midian, it was already all over inside Moses. In his utter frustration, it was already all over. That's how things looked from the human perspective. That's how it looked even to Moses.
14. But, God says, "No, it is not over yet." The times it looks like it's over from a human perspective is the beginning to God. When it looked like it was over to Moses, God summoned him anew and afresh; to fulfill the majestic plans of God. It is written in chapter three that comes next. It was all nothing but preparation. Even [his] great frustration and discouragement, and the many days that he thought that it had fallen apart all for nothing, were all nothing but preparation. During preparations God often times crushes that which humans rely upon, that which humans take pride in. At times he crushes both [our] youth, ability, passion, and even [our] desire of dedication in which [we] offer it all up [to God]. [He does that] not so that the individual accomplishes something for God through his or her own strength and passion, but so that God's love, mercy, and passion will use that person and accomplish something.
15. Today's gospel reading is chapter twenty-one from The Gospel According To John. It is the scene where Peter is given a mission by the resurrected Christ. The Lord says to Peter, "Shepherd my sheep." He is charged with pastoral duties over the church. The former figure of Peter is no longer there. It is the Peter, who once announced before Christ was crucified, that "I will give up my life for you," (John 13:37). It is the Peter who acknowledged himself as the top disciple and who bragged that he loved Jesus more than any of the others did. To this very Peter Jesus said, "I clearly say to you. Before the cock crows, you will say three times you don't know me, " (John 13:38). And it happened just like he said it would. [He became] greatly frustrated. His self confidence came crashing down. He could no longer count on his own love and passion. Jesus re-summoned this same Peter and gave him a charge, a duty. Being crushed was a necessary preparation. It was not so that Peter would accomplish something for Christ through his own strength and passion, but so that Christ's love, mercy, and passion would accomplish something by using Peter.
16. So this is how the Lord will prepare, put things together, and use us as well. Even though it looks like the end from a human perspective, we must not lose hope. The Lord says, "It's not over yet! Indeed, it is the beginning from here on." Just like it was for Moses. Just like it was for Peter.