Underdogs of the Old Testament: Moses


At the time of Moses’ birth, Pharaoh commanded all Hebrew boys to be thrown into the river.  The Hebrews’ were the Egyptians’ slaves and he did not want them to become too numerous or powerful.  Moses was born to Levite parents; rather than seeing him die, they put him in a basket and “threw him in the river”, hoping he would be found and by an Egyptian woman with good intentions.  Fortunately, our hero Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter and his own mother chosen to nurse him.  So there is duality here.  Many baby boys were slaughtered, but Moses was rescued.  Moses came from humble, Hebrew roots, but he was raised by the Egyptians.  It is typical in many folktales for future heroes to be born in the midst of danger and uncertainty (The Man Who Wrestled with God, Sanford, 85).  Moses could have died, but he did not.  He could not have been found and left abandoned, but that did not happen.  It gives hope for those hearing the story.  People hearing this story that might be in dangerous situations or feeling lost and abandoned may be comforted.  “The time of crisis and judgment, then, also becomes a moment for the birth of far more transcendent hopes and the glimpsing of more exalted possibilities in radical contrast to the blackness of the present, “ (Liberation Theology:  Human Hope Confronts Christian History and American Power, Ruether, 25).  Moses got out of his desperate situation, and so can we.

Underdogs are not perfect.  This is another underdog trait – not always getting it right. Moses had a discerning heart, but he was not always good about going to God with his decisions.  When he witnessed an Egyptian hitting one of his own kind, he killed him, hid him in the sand and fled to the land of Midian.  Moses goes through a dark journey before realizing who he is meant to be.  He not only kills someone, he hides the evidence and runs away.  Moses had to go through this time.  He needed to feel that tension and develop psychologically before he was ready to fulfill his divine calling (Sanford, 83).  But God is able to see through his failings into what Moses will become.

After Moses killed the Egyptian and flew to Midian, he started a very comfortable life.  He became a shepherd, got married and settled down.  Sanford says, “If he lived today we would no doubt find him somewhere in suburbia, going to the office during the week, mowing the lawn on Saturdays, and taking the family on outings in the family camper on Sundays, “ (92).  Life was good.  But something must have been stirring in Moses.  This deeper purpose he felt was not going away.  When he came across the burning bush, his curiosity got the best of him.  “Curiosity, the desire to know, is a powerful instinct, often used by God to draw us into life and our individuation.  But it is a troublesome instinct, “ (93).  This unlikely hero is driven by what he feels must be God’s will for him, even when he does not completely know what it is.  Moses could have stayed in suburbia, but he chose to enter into the holy chaos because he knew that was where he was meant to be.

Underdogs are not always sure they are the right people for the job.  Moses did not think he could be the voice for his people.  He says, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11).  God does not argue with him; he doesn’t even try to boost his spirits.  God only responds, “I will be with you,” (Exodus 3:12).  Moses cannot do it alone; he needs God’s help.  Once Moses realizes he isn’t going to be able to get out of this calling, he still battles with God.  He tries to get out of having to speak publicly, saying, “…I am slow of speech and tongue, “ (Exodus 4:10).  God does not let him give up so easily.  God says he will help him, and then relents and lets Aaron be his spokesman.  However, it is not long before Moses is speaking to the Israelites directly.  God does not let us give up on ourselves, especially when there is a mission at stake.  “The work of liberation is God’s work first and last, “ (Chaos and Grace:  Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit, Galli, 95).  In other words, there are bigger issues on the line than the underdog’s lack of confidence.

Moses never claims the credit for being heroic; he continually sees himself only as an instrument of God (Reading the Old Testament:  An Introduction, Boadt, 164).  Moses would continually consult with God on Mount Sinai or in the tent to help make decisions for the Israelite people, to the point that his face was radiant.  God even says to Moses, “This request, too, which you have just made, I will carry out, because you have found favor with me and you are my intimate friend, “ (Exodus 33:17).  There is a selfless quality in that trust that cannot be denied.  Yet it is this selflessness that actually uplifts the underdog.  “And who are we?  We are the contingent ones, dependent utterly on this God…who must cling consciously to his God, who gives and takes beyond all understanding, “ (The Gifts of the Jews, Cahill, 86-86).  It is God’s grace.

How are you contingent upon God, like Moses?


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