A Stench and a Sword
God of all the years, God beyond all the years, You are the author and source, the goal and end of my life.
Read Exodus 5:1-21
Scripture taken from the THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). This is a promise we need to hang on to even when things appear to get worse (21).
I allow myself to hear all the voices in all their variety in the conversations in this reading. I hear the tones of voice: arrogance; threat; exasperation; deferential circumlocution (16): the foremen do not dare to accuse Pharaoh directly. The dialogue swings between “This is what the Lord says…” in verse 1 and “This is what Pharaoh says…” in verse 10. I notice the one group who say nothing–the people. They have no energy or art for speech. There are seven references to “hard labor” in verses 6-21: toil stretches from horizon to horizon, a shoreless sea of struggle to meet quotas.
I experience vertigo looking down from this pyramid of oppression, stretching from Pharaoh on his throne down to the youngest Israelite child searching for sticks of straw. I think of those enslaved in systems of exploitation in my world–sweatshop factories; desperate farmers; indentured laborers; child slaves; sex workers transported internationally like cattle; the sick; the starving; the abandoned. What leverage do I have to change their plight? Am I pessimistic or cynical about any effect that my little contribution might make? In 4:31 it says that the people believed and worshiped; but as things got worse for them, they couldn’t sustain their trust: it dissolved into anger and accusation. As I picture the tongue-lashing that Moses and Aaron (“you” in v. 21 is plural) received: “You have made us stink!”(NLT) I reflect on the question, “Have I perhaps been hurt by unfair or inaccurate accusations that my efforts to do good have made a situation worse?” (21). I pray for those–for myself–whose trustfulness has been beaten down by suffering and hardship, sometimes sudden, sometimes chronic. The question, “Who is the Lord” (2) rings out in the darkness. It does not just mean, “What is his name?” It means, “What is he like?” The question will not go long unheeded.
Today’s reading brings us face to face with the exploited, the downtrodden. Prayerfully consider one group you know about that reaches out to the disadvantaged, and make a donation to their ministry.
Father, forgive me for attempting to shut out the poor from awareness. They make me uncomfortable and I keep them off my radar. I need a fresh infusion of love in my heart.
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