Matthew 5:33-42 In these passages from Matthew, Jesus continues to speak of the “higher righteousness,” alluded to in 5:20, which is the crux of the new/old teaching he proclaims.
The fourth passage in this series begins with verse 33. It is an interesting passage that not only teaches, but is a demonstration of the teaching itself. The language of oaths and vows may not resonate with us now the way it did for Jesus’ original listeners; nevertheless, the focus of the passage may be even more poignant for us now.
We start with the question: Why does one take an oath? What makes an oath necessary? The answer, of course, is that one’s word is somehow lacking integrity, that there is some doubt as to whether you will do what you say you will do. So to give it more oomph – to emphasize one’s integrity and trustworthiness to another who is doubtful – we “swear” on a variety of things—our mother’s grave, “the Holy Bible”, to God, etc. But the greater issue here is the assumption that a person’s word is no longer good enough, and that integrity is in short supply. Today, it is an accepted fact that we live in a culture of lies, misrepresentations, deception and dishonesty—in everything from politics to marketing to our personal relationships. We have become a culture that lacks integrity and, because of that – when something is really important – we have to rely on various oaths, vows and other expressions to impress on others that yes, we really mean what we say . . .at least this time.
Jesus discerns this lack of integrity in his own time. In a culture of duplicity, Jesus proposes simplicity: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’” (verse 37). No oath or vow can substitute for our consistent, faithful practice of integrity. Jesus’ own directness of speech in this passage demonstrates just such integrity: there is no hedging, no obscuring, no duplicity. The message on integrity takes on the characteristics of integrity—Jesus is simple, straightforward and direct.
The next passage is one that many of us at the scripture study last Tuesday confessed to having wrestled with regularly. Many have come away from this passage (5:38-42) believing that Jesus seems to be encouraging his followers to be doormats, to suffer evil without any resistance. But scripture scholars with good social and historical analysis of the Palestine of Jesus’ time have done incredible work with this passage over the past twenty years. The passage starts out by quoting what was a common understanding of justice in Jesus’ time and, indeed, still holds sway with the vast majority of humanity today: An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth (v. 38). We understand such a mentality today as being primarily about punishment, about seeking “justice” for the perpetrator. For some of us, it even offends our more “developed” sensibilities about a justice that has vengeance at its core. But for the early Israelites, such a law (lex talionis) was actually instituted for its limiting effect. An eye for an eye was instituted to limit revenge, to keep violence from escalating, and to actually break the cycle of vengeance that such actions often invited. Such cycles and escalations rooted primarily in revenge could quickly get out of hand and cease to be about any sort of justice at all. An eye for an eye functioned to limit that tendency.
What Jesus proposes instead of an eye for an eye unsettles some of us though. Is Jesus promoting passivity to evil when he tells us to turn the other cheek? Is Jesus telling us to unquestioningly accept suffering with no thought for our safety or dignity? A quick lesson in the honor-shame culture of Jesus’ time is helpful in understanding what it is that Jesus actually counsels.
The culture of Jesus’ time, not unlike Middle Eastern cultures today, was built on the axis of honor-shame. One’s honor was considered of the utmost importance – and not incurring shame was essential. Note then the language of the last part of v. 39: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to them as well.” To strike someone on the right cheek implies that you would strike them with the back of you right hand. Such an act was familiar to Jesus’ audience. Those subservient to you—slaves to masters, wives to husbands, children to fathers, peasants to soldiers, and so on—could be put in their place with a well-placed backhand to the cheek. Additionally, to strike one in this way did not go against Jewish law. So what happens when we “turn the other cheek?” The act, far from being a sign of willingness to accept evil treatment, is actually an assertion of dignity by the oppressed party that put the oppressor in a difficult and shameful position. For the oppressor to strike his inferior on the left cheek, the oppressor is forced to strike with his open hand. To strike with one’s open hand, as opposed to backhand someone, is to acknowledge that the one you are striking is equal to you. Furthermore, to strike with an open hand is prohibited in Jewish law, so turning the other cheek and inviting your opponent to strike you with their open hand is to put the opponent in the unenviable position of acknowledging your equality to them, and then having to either back down in front of others and incur the shame associated with that OR break the law and incur the penalties and shame in that action. So what we have here is not Jesus inviting us to a beat-down by our opponents. Rather what we have is Jesus inviting us to a strategy for confronting and resisting an opponent who is in a position of power over us. It is actually a strategy for winning.
The same application follows in the next two examples. In v. 40, the issue of giving one’s cloak to one to whom you are indebted who has taken your tunic is directly related again to Jewish law. Jewish law states that the one item that a good Jew could not deny to another Jew, regardless of how in debt the other was to him, was his cloak. A cloak functioned in a variety of capacities for the poorest of the poor: clothing, shelter from the elements, and economic opportunity (beggars used to spread out their cloaks in front of them at the gates to the city, asking for alms to be placed in them). A cloak must therefore be returned before sunset to one’s rightful owner. To offer someone your cloak when they are taking your tunic again puts them in an awkward and untenable position regarding Jewish law and the potential for incurring shame in front of one’s peers and others.
In v. 41, Jesus is referencing the common practice of Roman soldiers to press into service civilian help in carrying their various military items. Any Roman soldier could require of any peasant the performance of this task—but the law stated that it could be for only one mile. So to offer to go two miles again turns the table on the opponent, forcing them into a position of breaking the law should they accept.
Great activists like Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi understood Jesus’ words here as a strategy for winning in a situation when the vast amount of power was on the side of one’s opponent. To fight with weapons would be a strategy sure to fail since the opponent has all the power – and better weapons. But in the face of such overwhelming odds, Jesus invites us to think creatively and nonviolently. What he offers us is a strategy for winning—both in terms of asserting our dignity but also in appealing to the best sensibilities of our opponent and especially to the many who may not have chosen sides but are watching closely the interaction between us and our opponents. Calling attention to the deep injustice of our situation through creative resistance, as Jesus suggests, is to win the battle for the hearts and minds of all those watching from the sidelines. What we have here is Jesus inviting us to moral jujitsu—using our opponent’s energy against him to make our point and win the encounter.
Matthew 5:17-48, part one
“Inside-outside” is a game we all play. It seems to be taught to us from the beginning of life. Some folks are inside the circle (good); others are outside the circle (bad). This past week we started looking at a passage in the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus seeks to obliterate those circles we draw, boundaries between ourselves and our friends and the dreaded “others” who are somehow not like us.
This section of Matthew, 5:17-48 is made up of 6 antitheses introduced with the common, “You have heard…But I say to you…” The antitheses are responses to (more or less) Torah-based pronouncements on killing, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation, and attitudes and behaviors toward one’s enemies. [Note: When Jesus states, “You have heard…” the following predicate is not necessarily a quote from Jewish law, but it probably was what passed for conventional wisdom and practice at the time.]
The section begins with a short passage (17-20) which situates the antitheses that are to follow. Lest anyone get the idea that Jesus is proposing a radically new teaching, he makes the case that what he is about to address is consistent with the best of the Mosaic and prophetic tradition in Judaism. The “Do not think…” that opens verse 17 points to what is probably a common reaction his teaching has already raised among his disciples and others: that his teachings are a challenge to or even a repudiation of the Torah. But while his teachings may question the what is passing as legitimate interpretation of Torah and certainly the authority of the teachers and interpreters of Torah in his day (Pharisees, scribes, others), his teachings should not be understood as inconsistent with or counter to the highest expressions of justice and morality already revealed in the tradition.
Another concern Jesus seems to have is that the misunderstanding of his teachings will lead not to a more rigorous practice and higher level of integrity among those who hear him, but rather some might be thinking his teaching allows for greater relaxation in matters of justice and morality. His acknowledgement of the righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees (v. 20) points to a more challenging discipline and a greater integrity to be the rule for his disciples. Making these things clear, Jesus turns to several examples of this “higher righteousness” in the following passages.
In verse 21, Jesus begins with the injunction against killing (Ex 20:13 and elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures). The truth of the matter is that the injunction against killing really only encompasses a very small number of us. Few of us will actually kill another human being (at least directly, but that is for another time…) during our lives. The injunction thus draws a small circle, encircling and setting apart a small group for whom the rest of us suppose the injunction is intended. But Jesus decides to draw the circle larger. He pushes the boundary out, including inside the circle all those who experience anger toward another, who ridicule others with taunts like “Raqa” (imbecile or “blockhead”) or “fool”. He connects that impulse—the impulse toward an anger directed at other humans, an anger that “dehumanizes” another human being through ridicule or disdain—with the most extreme of actions which flow from that impulse, namely, killing.
Killing happens because we have learned to dehumanize the other—to no longer see the other as human. This happens all the time in war. To get a soldier to kill, the soldier must devalue the enemy’s humanity, to see them as less than human. But killing is only the most extreme expression of the impulse. Jesus pushes that circle out until we are all inside of it, cognizant that each day all of us move along this same spectrum of dehumanization (of which killing is at the far end) in our actions and behaviors. And so the injunction against killing becomes not an indictment of a few who are somehow set apart from the rest of us, but rather an indictment of all of us and a warning to take seriously our own attitude and actions in our daily interactions.
The interesting second part of this passage is the prescription of reconciliation as an antidote to the anger that leads to dehumanization and severs our relationships to other human beings. In verses 23-24, Jesus recognizes that we all will fall into the very type of anger he cautions us about, so he offers a practice to heal the rift that dehumanizing anger causes: the practice of reconciliation. But the rub here is that he connects right worship with right relationship, and asserts then the converse: there is no true worship where there is division caused by anger within the worshipping community. As the prophets before him said again and again, the neglect of mercy, justice and reconciliation individually and communally nullifies our worship of God. You cannot love God and hate your neighbor. Those who dehumanize their opponents, worship falsely.
The same widening of the circle of indictment takes place in the next two passages (verses 27-30, 31-32) as well, this time regarding the injunctions against adultery and the process of divorce (tied together by their common reference to adultery). Again, the adulterers among us may be relatively small in number compared to the number of us that have looked on others as simply objects for us to use to satisfy our desires. The lust referred to here has the same end as the anger referred to above: dehumanization. Objectification of another human being is dehumanization; their value is reduced to how they can be used. If adultery is the result at the far end of the spectrum, the motivation for adultery—to see others for their value to us and not their value in and of themselves—broadens the circle until we all find ourselves within its boundaries. The injunction takes on new life and is directed at all of us, not simply those few who commit only the most extreme act of what lies in all of our hearts.
Additionally, adultery, especially in Jesus’ time but in our own as well, cannot be simply understood in the sense of “unchastity” but also incorporates an element of justice, or right relationship, as well. Adultery in Jesus’ time placed women in particular in a state of jeopardy—one simply thinks of the situation of the woman caught in adultery in John’s gospel, surrounded by a crowd intent on stoning her. A patriarchal society run by and for men elevated a man’s value and denigrated a woman’s value. And so women often bear, unfairly, the greater punishment or consequences of adultery. The indictment of the interior process of dehumanization over the act of adultery itself leaves all of us, like the crowd in John’s story, examining our own precarious sense of being “sinless” rather than focusing on the sin of another.
Perhaps most importantly, in examining the first three of these antitheses, we notice that Jesus’ widening of the circle changes the focus of our attention as well. If the injunction is simply aimed at killers and adulterers, then our eyes focus outward on and toward the others encompassed by those injunctions. But Jesus’ turns our eyes away from others and squarely back on ourselves. While we were intent on the sins of others, Jesus erased and moved the line so that we suddenly find ourselves in the circle too. Now we ask why it is that we are here in the circle too. We stop considering others sinfulness and we start considering our own. Such consideration is perhaps the first steps to learning how to live more fully this higher righteousness that Jesus called us to back in verse 20.
UPDATE: Being Salt, College Students Take Over the Roundtable, Youth Group Takes Over the Cafe, New Living Local Blog
Busy week at the House, please check out the schedule HERE, and join us if you can. Highlights include an invigorating scripture study, Lenten Morning Prayer, a Roundtable featuring some of our most active college students, and a Cafe run by high school youth group members.
Also, we started a spin-off “blog” for any of you who mght be interested in learning along with us to live more locally here in Gainesville: What We Need is Here: Learning to Be Local. As many of you know, a primary goal of the GCW has been to support local farms and businesses with what we do at the house. We’ve learned some things and have a lot more to learn in how to live more deeply here in Gainesville, using and appreciating the resources available to us and being more conscientious about how our decisions affect others. We would love to hear your insights and ideas as well, so jump in and add a comment.
And we are still waiting to get the new listserv set up. Hopefully you’ll get an email soon asking if you want to remain on it. Have a good week. Hope to see you!
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Lost to us, who encounter these passages 2000 years after they were first spoken, is the incredibly subversive nature of what Jesus is espousing in the Beatitudes. Jesus’ society, like ours today, took certain things for granted. People consider themselves “blessed” if they have wealth, status, and power. How often have we heard, or said ourselves, “God has really blessed me,” in some reference to our good fortune, good luck, good health, success, etc? And by extension, those who have experienced misfortune, tragedy, hardship, and suffering, many of us privately pass judgment on—thinking that perhaps it is their fault, or they deserve it, or they’re just not good enough, smart enough, strong enough to make it. We even go so far as to chalk it up to God’s punishment or karmic justice. In Jesus’ time, we know that those who were broken, physically deformed, mentally unstable, and sick or those who suffered loss and tragedy were literally considered to be cursed, as in the story of Job. It is a vicious circle and blatant attempt to justify by God the success of a few at the expense of the many. Those who succeed must be blessed by God; and those who don’t…well you can put two and two together.
Think, for a minute, just how twisted Jesus’ words are: The meek or the lowly ones didn’t inherit land; those who hunger and thirst after righteousness experience disappointment, not satisfaction; those who mourned dead fathers and sons, the loss of their ancestral lands and other manifestations of the oppression of the Roman occupation of Judea and Galilee did not find comfort, no matter where they looked, including to their own corrupt religious and political leaders; what did it matter to have a “clean heart” to the leper whose physical “uncleanness” marked him as a sinner and put him outside of the bonds of community; and to extol an ethic of mercy when justice, better understood as vengeance, was foremost in people’s hearts toward those who had wronged them?
The Beatitudes undermine the dominant cultural and even religious values of Jesus’ time and our own. They subvert our warped theologies that serve to justify economic, political and religious systems that elevate some of us while placing the blame for other’s lack of success on their sinfulness, their moral weakness, their laziness, or their obviously inherent unworthiness.
In verse 7 of the Beatitudes, Jesus promises that those who show mercy will be shown mercy. It is an ethic of reciprocity that Jesus will come to again and again in the Sermon on the Mount (most pointedly in the Lord’s prayer, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors;” and the Golden Rule). The practice of mercy is not nearly as common as we might think. Mercy involves entering into a situation, a relationship really with someone, going past the rules and the easy, stock answers which protect us from taking responsibility for the harsh pain such decisions cause. We are more concerned about what is fair, what is just even, rather than showing mercy. And yet, the second part of verse 6 implies that we all shall need mercy someday, and that those who practice mercy, will be shown mercy when their time comes.
As we have already alluded to above, Jesus asserting that those with a “clean heart” will see God subverts every law and disposition which judges people based on outer appearances. Jesus lived in a society of purity codes, where someone’s purity or cleanness was based on physical manifestations of sinfulness—sickness, rashes, deformities, disabilities. This brings up a good question for us, one which we wrestled with on several occasions during our two week study of the Beatitudes—namely, who is Jesus talking to? Who is the audience for the Beatitudes? Is it aimed at the poor and broken and downtrodden? Thedisciples? Those curious folks somewhat invested in the status quo but still intrigued by Jesus enough to come out to hear him speak? The Pharisees? And so on. And maybe the ears Jesus speaks to change from Beatitude to Beatitude… Anyway, in the case of verse 8, imagine being one of the lepers, lunatics, paralytics, diseased ones who have not the standing or money to be made clean again through the proper channels (priests of the Temple system reserved the right to name someone clean or unclean and the ability to make payment to the priest thru sacrificial offerings often played a part in the transaction). Imagine being told that it is the interior, what is inside of a person, that determines whether one may see God? How liberating for the leper! And how threatening to the priest whose livelihood is based on the people’s willingness to cede control to him!
Someone at the study also pointed out the connection between the Beatitude in verse 3 and verse 10. Both the poor in spirit and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness are promised the same thing: the kingdom of heaven. And the tense is different than the verses between these two—no “they will be satisfied,” et al; but rather “theirs IS the kingdom of heaven.” Right now, right here. And in trying to define that fuzzy term “poor in spirit,” we have a little insight into who those might be—perhaps they are also the ones who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for the sake of justice? A friend of mine, a longtime priest in Mexico, once told me that persecution is the sign of the true church; the church that is really being faithful to Christ and the proclamation of the kingdom of God is bound to be persecuted by the powers invested in the status quo, the way things are.
In the final Beatitude, verses 11-12, Jesus changes the object of the Beatitude from the third person to the second person, aiming what he now says directly at the disciples, those who followed him up the mountain and whom he began to teach. The Beatitude states, “Blessed are you WHEN they insult you and persecute you…” No “ifs,” but a resounding “when.” The implication is not to be missed: If you follow this Jesus, if you choose to align yourself with him, “they” will insult you, persecute, slander you, etc. “They” is defined by the next statement: “Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Jesus places those who will follow him in the line of the prophets—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, Micah. And the “they” who persecuted those prophets were the political and religious powers of their time. Throughout the Hebrew scriptures, the prophet is set up against either the king or the priest, as well as the systems they represent. This is to be the task of Jesus’ disciples, of the church. To stand with those who are named “blessed” in the Beatitudes, to prophetically speak the truth of Jesus to those in power, and to suffer the persecution that flows from such actions.
Chapter 5 in Exodus lays out the basic structure of the Egyptian economic enterprise and the nature of the relationships within that structure. One modern-day parallel we noted in our study a few weeks ago was the similarity between the Israelites and today’s migrant farmworkers, as well as that of the Pharaoh with his circle of advisors and the CEO and various levels of management of a major agribusiness corporation. Moses and Aaron play the part of labor organizers.
As chapter 5 opens, Moses and Aaron have won the support of the elders of Israel and, by extension, the Hebrew people for the carrying out of God’s plan to secure their liberation. Their initial encounter with Pharaoh, however, ends predictably badly. The only power that Pharaoh is aware of and recognizes is his own. His immediate perception of the situation fits all the known factors: He has power; the Hebrew slaves do not. Why would he acquiesce to their demands? Why would he believe this talk about “the God of Israel?” The idea that some other deity (remember that Pharaoh’s cultural and perhaps self-conception is that he is a “god-man”) would choose to align with a bunch of slaves must, in Pharaoh’s mind, speak to the weakness of such a god, if there was one. Pharaoh has subjugated these people for generations. Where was their “God” then? Why should Pharaoh believe this “God” has any power now if it has not exercised that power before?
Pharaoh’s response to the request to allow the Hebrews to go out into the desert to celebrate a festival to God is to press down even harder in his oppression of the Hebrews. His reasoning is that if these Hebrews have time enough to entertain thoughts of a “vacation in the desert,” then they must not be working hard enough. In essence, Pharaoh sets out to destroy whatever impulses toward recognizing their dignity and rights which Moses and Aaron have stirred up in his Hebrew slaves. If they think that these two agitators are giving them good advice, well then, Pharaoh will show them just what will come if they decide to continue listening to the words of Moses and Aaron.
So Pharaoh increases their workload, even to the point of making it impossible. He ratchets up the work so that every level feels the strain: the workers have to find their own straw now to make the bricks and they have to still make as many bricks per hour as they were making before; the foremen over the workers (fellow Israelites) need to make sure that production does not ease up on bit despite the added labor; taskmasters (Egyptians) over the foremen, have to make sure the foremen keep the pressure on and they have to report to Pharaoh and his advisors the status of the work. The Hebrew workers can’t keep up, the taskmasters drive them harder, but the foremen set over the workers can’t make the prescribed amount of bricks and so they are beaten. They complain to Pharaoh about the impossibility of the situation. Pharaoh throws back at them the request of Moses and Aaron to let the Hebrews go off into the desert and offer a sacrifice to their God, insinuating that the workers must be lazy since they have time to sit around and listen to Moses and Aaron and entertain thoughts about how they deserve a three-day break. Very adeptly, Pharaoh undermines their trust in Moses and Aaron and lays the blame for the brutal work situation of the Hebrews on the two of them.
So the Israelite foremen leave Pharaoh angry with Moses and Aaron, and they confront the two agitators who stirred things up in the first place with their talk of this God who had heard their cries and was going to lead them out of Egypt. Moses and Aaron have only made the lives of this oppressed people worse. Their campaign has experienced the first “push-back” from the powers-that-be, and Moses and Aaron have experienced the first round of backlash as Pharaoh attempts to crush their little movement before it can ever really get started.
Such a scenario is typical even in our world today. At first glance, all the power seems to reside on one side. People who have been disempowered and subjugated all their lives enter into confrontation with what appears to be an irresistible force and those little voices in the back of their minds that say that there is no chance of winning here, no chance of making anything better are seemingly confirmed when those in power exercise that power against them, making their lives harder just for the fact that they have dared to challenge or even question the ways things are. This is the way it starts. Power, especially illegitimate power, does not simply fold in the face of challenge. Rather, it puffs itself up even more and marshals its resources to crush that challenge. It will do anything to maintain its privilege, anything to maintain the status quo from which it benefits.
Chapter 5 ends with Moses, the one who received the mission and promise directly from God, even questioning the situation – not wanting things to get any worse, wondering how it is that this already brutally terrorized people must suffer more, and why his part in it has so far brought them only more pain.
When God invites Moses to undertake the mission to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt in chapters 3 and 4 in Exodus, four times Moses raises objections to the plan. First, he argues “Who am I that I should go …?” (3:11). Next, he objects that “they will not believe me” (4:1). And in the passage we looked at this week, 4:10-17, he first offers that he is not a good speaker (4:10), then, dropping any pretense or attempt at obfuscation, Moses states: “Lord, send someone else!” (4:13). And so we have arrived at the heart of the matter: Moses does not want to go. All of the arguing with God and offering up of excuses, which God has answered one by one, are really just justifications for the simple truth that Moses does not want to go.
But why is it that Moses does not want to go? During our study last night, folks suggested a variety of reasons, all with the same motivation: fear. Moses is afraid of returning to a country where there is a price on his head because of his past criminal acts (killing the Egyptian). He is afraid of being rejected by the Israelites, his family of origin, because of his upbringing as a favored grandson of the king who has brutally oppressed them. Maybe he is afraid of his own inadequacy to the task at hand—reinforced by his earlier confusion over the events that transpired between him and his fellow Israelites after his killing of the Egyptian overseer. Remember too that Moses has settled down to a comfortable life in Midian—married with children, part of the family business. Leaving this life of relative stability, comfort and security could have also inspired fear in Moses.
It would be easy at this point to make a bit of a caricature of Moses, to laugh at his fear or to disparage his reluctance at accepting God’s invitation. This is after all, God, all-powerful, almighty, all-knowing. But to do so would only reveal our own limited understanding of just what Moses is being asked to face and just how little he really knows about this God who is doing the asking.
The crux of it is this: God is asking Moses to confront an Empire, an Empire which seems unassailable, invincible, eternal. An Empire which simply rolls over anyone who dares to question its power, anyone who dares to question its right to pursue its national interest in whatever way it sees fit. God is asking Moses to face down a powerful king—a king considered more a god than a human being—equipped with armies, state of the art weaponry, unmatched military power. And, at this point in the story, God asks Moses to do this armed only with some words, a few magic tricks, and God’s promise that it will all work out.
And this God does not ask Moses to raise an army from among Egypt’s enemies. Moses’ only initial co-conspirator is to be his brother Aaron, a Levite, one of the beaten-down slaves from among the Israelites, whose only real asset is that he is more eloquent than Moses. These two brothers—one a criminal in exile, and the other an apparent runaway slave—are tasked with leading a revolution against the most powerful and enduring empire of the time.
In this light, Moses’ fear might now strike us as both justified and sensible. And even the promise of a God speaking from a burning bush—a God, remember, who has apparently been absent during the Israelites’ oppression these many long years—would not hold nearly the same motivating force as would the real, demonstrable and experienced power of Pharaoh and his empire.
To walk into Egypt and confront Pharaoh to his face can only seem like folly to Moses. What God is inviting him to must surely seem like suicide. What is the power of one man, or two—even with the support of a whole nation of slaves—against Pharaoh and the Egyptian empire in all its glory and might and ruthlessness? This is what Moses must have been contemplating.
And so maybe recognizing some of that same fear and reluctance in ourselves in our own day, we have to agree that Moses’ fear is real, that he would be risking everything to take up this mission, and that it is likely to all end in suffering, disaster, and death. The great powers of every era throughout history nearly always control good men and women through creating and fostering just such a perspective—that it is futile to think things could be any other way, that it is futile to challenge them.