Exodus — Part 2
September 20, 2020
This week’s passage picks up a number of years after last week’s story, which saw five women courageously take a stand against Pharaoh to see that the baby Moses survives. You might remember that baby Moses was taken in by one of Pharaoh’s daughters. We learn nothing of his childhood – nothing of what it was like growing up as a Hebrew boy in the Egyptian court.
Fast forward a number of years, and Moses is now “grown up.” He is out among his Hebrew kinsfolk, witnessing their slave labor. Moses knows that these are his people, though he has grown up with all the privileges of an Egyptian. I wonder what has been growing inside of Moses as he witnesses his own people beaten and treated severely. Is it anger? Is there some guilt? The narrator doesn’t tell us, but what Moses does next might give us a clue.
Moses witnesses an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsmen, and he decides he’s seen enough. He kills the Egyptian and buries his body in the sand. Moses does to the Egyptian what the Egyptian was doing to the Hebrew. The narrator offers no claim of morality regarding the rightness or wrongness of Moses’ actions, but once Pharaoh finds out about it, Moses knows his only choice is to flee from Egypt if he wants to keep his life. So he runs away.
Now wait a minute. This doesn’t seem right to me. You mean to tell me that this same Moses whom five women put their lives in danger to save, this same Moses who we know is supposed to help liberate his people from Egyptian bondage, this same Moses is now on the run, fleeing in the exact opposite direction of where we know he needs to be? From his birth narrative which indicates there is something special about him—we know he is destined for great things—it has taken him all of five verses to screw it up. Just five verses. This is not how the story was supposed to go, because Moses is now hundreds of miles away from his people, in a desert wilderness. He is gone a long time, probably decades. This isn’t a brief episode in his life; this is an unplanned, decades-long detour.
Moses’ narrative is derailed before it even begins. If Moses had a plan for his life, this surely wasn’t it. If I were the one to decide how Israel would be freed from their bondage, it most definitely would not involve a decades-long hiatus by the main character who was supposed to do the job.
When I was a kid, I found comfort in the belief that God had a perfect plan for my life. I think I imagined it as a linear path, with important events and relationships that occurred at junctures along the way, all pointing towards some important purpose that God had in mind for me; it was my job to stay on this linear path so that I didn’t deviate from God’s masterplan. I found comfort in this because I could be sure that everything that happened to me had a purpose. “God works all things for the good of those who love him,” writes Paul. It was nice to know that everything would fit neatly into my narrative that was unfolding in front of me, even if I had my doubts at the time. It was a magical view of the world, in which life was more full of wonder than fear, more bent towards love than hate. Maybe some of you can remember simpler days of believing in such magic, or believing in the perfect plan that God has for your life.
Somewhere along the way though, I lost my belief in this. I’m not sure how or where along the way I lost it. Perhaps I lost it when I went to college and such romantic notions of a perfect plan for my life seemed silly and juvenile. Perhaps I lost it when I began to see that nobody’s life looked like a master plan that God would have prepared. Perhaps I lost it in my two years at the psychiatric hospital, after witnessing trauma, injustice and delusions that made the world seem a lot crueler than I had previously believed it to be.
As Christians who seek to live faithful lives in service to Jesus Christ, we all come upon moments, periods and even seasons of life that seem to be a detour from God’s plan. We encounter detours that are consequences of some of our actions or poor choices along the way; we encounter other detours that seem random and haphazard, things we have no control over. Sometimes we get to a point in life and we look backwards, wondering “Is this really how things were supposed to go?” We might doubt the truthfulness of Paul’s statement that “all things work for the good.” At certain seasons of life such as the one we’re living in, or when we are forced to take unplanned detours that do not fit the life we would prefer to be living, we may doubt whether God is really behind the scenes directing our stories towards a positive and redemptive ending.
The alternative view that the rest of the world offers us is not much more comforting. We’re told that life is just a series of choices. Make a choice, they tell us. You can be anything you want to be, have any life you want to have. So we made choices. And if those choices didn’t work, then we made different choices. If you don’t like your major, then pick a different major, they told us. If you don’t like your job, then pick a different job. If you don’t like your community, then move and live in a different community. If you don’t like your church, then find a different church. The freedom of these choices is exhilarating at first, but after a while we realize that nothing has really changed, we’ve just been rearranging the furniture. Life still seems incoherent as we wonder “what if I had chosen differently?”
What if Moses had chosen not to kill the Egyptian that day? What if Moses hadn’t run away, but had instead hid himself in the Hebrew quarters, planning a rebellion from on the inside? What if the Israelites didn’t have to wait so long for Moses to return to liberate them? If you want to know one of the quickest ways to become unsatisfied with your life, it’s to ask the question, “What if?”
I wonder if Moses asked any of these questions as he fled for his life, beginning a decades-long unplanned detour. If God has a plan, then the plan isn’t so linear. If Moses’ life is just a series of choices, then he chose poorly.
But here Moses finds himself, essentially in exile, his life not unfolding the way he would have liked or foreseen. And what does he do? He finds a well of water. This seems like the most practical and reasonable thing to do if you find yourself wandering the desert alone: find some water. Moses finds the stuff that gives life.
If you’ve grown up in the church or spent much time reading the Bible, then you know that the theme of water is everywhere in scripture. Water is at times a source of chaos or judgment. At other times it is a source of healing, cleansing, new birth. Water sustains life; it can also take away life. So water often functions as a powerful metaphor for God’s actions in scripture.
Moses has found literal life, in the form of water in the desert, but this may also signal to us that Moses has found something more. Important things always happen by wells of water in scripture. It is here at the well, the source of water in the desert, that Moses finds a new life. Moses encounters Zipporah, his future wife whom he will build a family and a life with during his years in hiding.
Moses has found life where he probably didn’t expect to. This detour, this decades-long break in the narrative wasn’t supposed to happen. And yet, even here, lost in the wilderness, Moses finds life, and as we know from a later story, it is here in the wilderness that Moses encounters God in a burning bush. Moses’ detour, it seems, is not a waste. It is not beside the point. It is all used in the grand narrative that God is weaving for the redemption of the Israelites.
The story we read today is not just Moses’ story; it’s our story. Because we too can find ourselves desert-wandering between major plot points in our story. You may feel as if you are living in such a break in the action right now, biding your time until your life can get back on track, or back to normal. You may look back at the many years you have lived, and wonder which of those years or which of those choices you’ve wasted. You may feel that if your life were to be put into story that it would be an incoherent mess, with detours, rabbit trails and subplots all over the place, heading towards no particular direction or resolution.
When we find ourselves desert-wandering, with no particular direction, then we would do well to follow in Moses’ footsteps, and search out the well of water. Search out the Source, Giver and Sustainer of Life. We don’t have to look long, because the God who breathed life into your lungs is the One who now sustains it. If God is the Stream of Life that flows through us and all of creation, then all we must do is surrender to it, and allow God, the eternal Stream of Life to sweep us up in His current that dances across rocks, shimmies through tiny brooks and flows over massive gorges.
As my faith continues to grow and develop, I wonder if there’s still some truth to my childhood belief that God has a plan for my life. But I wonder if instead of God’s plan being a linear line or some sort of master plan that has all the dots on the map, leaving me to just connect them, I wonder if God’s plan for my life is more like a dance – three steps forward, two steps back, one step forward and a slide to the right.
I’ve never much cared for dancing. I’m not good at it and I have no idea what I’m doing. But as my wonderful wife reminds me, I need to give up my logical, linear thinking to dance. I need to surrender to music and let my feet be carried in unplanned directions. Dancing requires imagination and creativity, a willingness to accept that you can plan all you want, but sometimes the music will take you in a different direction. Dancing isn’t about trying to get to any particular destination; it’s all about surrendering yourself to the joy of where you are already at.
What if this is what life with God is really about? What if this is what it truly means to be human: to surrender to the music, trusting that God will be wherever your dancing feet take you?
You see, if my life is a linear path—some sort of linear plan—then there are so many detours and side-steps I could point to as a waste. But with God, the Giver and Sustainer of life, there is no such thing as ‘a waste.’ In dancing, no step is wasted; it may look clunky or clumsy at times (or all the time if I’m the one dancing), but all the steps are necessary, and they all contribute to the dance. So what if God’s plan for our life is not so much a linear path, as a dance. Three steps forward, two steps back, one step forward, slide to the right. A dance is beautiful not because of the direction it is heading. It’s beautiful because of the many steps taken. A life is beautiful not because of the direction it is heading, but because of the many steps it has taken.
We belong to God, the Breath of All Life, the Eternal Stream that flows through all of creation. And as long as we’re in this crazy dance called life, we can trust that none of our steps is a waste, none of our moves are too clunky or clumsy to be beside the point. God is weaving all things together for good. This doesn’t mean that all things will be good, this doesn’t mean that every detour life brings us will be welcome or enjoyable, but it means that we have a God who promises that nothing in our life will ever be a waste. No part of our life will ever be beside the point or beyond redemption. It is all meaningful, it is all precious, it is all part of the dance. Amen.