At what age I first became aware of suffering in the world I don’t remember. Perhaps it was the playground persecution of Eric Cutler, a boy who looked and acted different than the rest of us and thus became a scapegoat. I occasionally tried to defend him, but not very heroically. Later, my suburban teenage conscience became activated when I discovered the severe inequality between whites and blacks in American society of the 1960’s. That discovery led to minor political action, knocking on doors for a fair-housing law – a slow way to change history.
In the years that followed I “graduated” to carrying signs in the streets to protest the war in Vietnam, finally doing a bit of jail time for a demonstration. Something about sitting in jail gives a man time to think about his plans. I decided that giving my body to imprisonment wasn’t going to change society and liberate the enslaved. I was still concerned for the victims of injustice, racial prejudice and greed. But I turned from political action to the “social” action of blues rock music, marijuana, city commune
life and our “Robin Hood” approach of stealing from the rich to keep for ourselves. Finally, having failed to change both society and ourselves, we escaped to the high mountain wilderness of New Mexico to herd goats on a hippie commune.
Moses: from royalty to revolution
Moses grew up sheltered too. A king’s grandson knows little of deprivation. Exactly when his social awakening came we’re not told. We simply read “when Moses was grown … he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens” (Exodus 2:11). I can relate to his reaction. He attempted to bring freedom to his oppressed people through practical, physical action. His efforts, however, ended in similar disillusionment and escape. Moses spent forty years in the wilderness with sheep and goats on his desert “commune,” far away from the oppression of Egyptian civilization. Only when God appeared to him and spoke from a burning bush, giving Moses a divine mandate, did he finally return to civilization to set his people free.
Now I ain’t no Moses, but Yeshua appeared to me (not after 40 years, but after 4). I was nearly as surprised as Moses was. When Messiah came into my life I knew He was not only the answer to my personal prayers for “salvation,” but to the deepest needs of mankind. The two for me are inseparable. I realized it most clearly while sitting on the edge of a mountain pasture reading these words: “For the harvest is great and the laborers few. Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest that He will thrust forth laborers into His harvest field” (Matthew 9:37, 38). As a farmer, I knew the value of the harvest. The world is a harvest field, Yeshua said. A ripe harvest will not wait. Workers are needed NOW before the crops fall to the ground and rot.
That moment was life changing. It became the basis for returning to civilization. It was my burning bush. I knew that my place was not to remain aloof, running away from the suffering of people, but to be involved. God gripped Moses with this same calling. Listen to their interaction. Moses overcame his past, his fears and his insecurities to become a deliverer. So can you. Their interaction is given to bring each of us into our place as a liberator of today’s oppressed people.
God heard the cries of Israel in Egypt
“I have surely seen the oppression of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows” (Exodus 3:7).
Have you never heard the souls of men and women groaning, wailing around you? Look at peoples’ faces in the streets, in the shopping malls, at the bus stops. What are they thinking? Who are they? What are their homes like? What is it like inside their hearts? Are these not slaves?
The Word of God says that without the liberation and re-making of God we are slaves to sin. According to the Tanakh the human race is enslaved, just as we were in Egypt. Here is the mercy of God. He hears our cries. He saw our suffering in Egypt and heard our cries of despair. His response?
With a strong hand and an outstretched arm
God came down to deliver them
“So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them … to a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8).
This is the gospel. God came down. He came down to Mt. Sinai. He came down in the pillar of cloud. Not satisfied to remain distant and untouched by our suffering, He later descended and became a slave (see Philippians 2:7-8). He became as one of us, in order to bear our pain and slavery and guilt. This is Yeshua, Jesus. The true God comes into the midst of the suffering of His own creation and bears its PAIN. This is Messiah ben Joseph, the suffering Savior as pictured in the tradition of our ancient rabbis: diseased (b. Sanhedrin 98a) and slain (b. Sukkah 52a).
Even though God came down, the work of liberation was not complete. He still had to find a human messenger of His mercy who would GO among the slaves and bring them to freedom.
God sent Moses to bring Israel out of slavery
“Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10).
How did Moses respond to this announcement? “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah, and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Everyone of us is as Moses. I’ve been wounded enough. I’m inadequate. They’ll never listen. Why get involved? I’ve got enough heartache. What was God’s answer? “I will certainly be with you.”
Now Moses had to make a decision. Would he come out of the desert to return to Egypt where his people were in agonizing bondage? Were God’s call and assurances enough for Moses? Are they enough for us? Each of us must make the same decision. How will we respond to the suffering around us?
I went to the mountains to escape from the world”s complexity. But God would not let me stay there. Is He going to let you remain aloof? Or will you experience the incomparable joy of liberating slaves? We can only return to Egypt to rescue slaves by adopting God’s heart for the oppressed. Do we live for ourselves or are we living for God (2 Corinthians 5:14)? I found the meaning of life in giving, in helping set captives free. Moses led his people to freedom! In a miraculous way, one man caused LIFE for a nation. What will happen when you agree as one man, one woman, despite your fears and weaknesses, to be used by God?