Moses faced 2 major challenges.
First challenge is a pharaoh that would never give up the big part of his economic power. And that’s exactly what Jews were. We often tend to demonize pharaoh and Egyptians for keeping us in slavery but we tend to forget that then it was acceptable form of labor and giving freedom to Israelites meant to loose all the benefits of the cheap labor. Why do you think not everybody buys fair trade products these days? Why sweatshops still exist? Why president candidates are so concerned about oil prices?
The reason is simple – people want to buy products as cheap as possible. And any politician that will make them pay more will pay a heavy price by himself. So do you think pharaoh didn’t think about that? What’s easier to suppress – minority of slaves or potential uprising of entire nation because of the hign food prices? (don’t forget what started the Arab spring last year)
The second problem is how to convince children of Israel to leave everything and go through the desert to some promised land that nobody remembers. Eventually Egypt is a powerful and stable empire when outside of it is total chaos – tribal conflicts, not effective agriculture that totally depends on external elements like weather or even worse – nomadic life. And Moses’ reputation wasn’t great – raised in pharaoh family, homicide, married to non Jewish woman. He is saying that God will help, but who knows if it’s true? In our society people prefer a known reality even if it’s bad rather than change for something unknown, even if it suppose to be better. I have no reason to think that 4000 years ago people felt much different.
Both problems were solved by supposedly godly intervention with 10 plagues, or some form of natural disaster or violent revolution. But the problems weren’t completely solved – pharaoh still didn’t like this idea and neither did Jews.
Children of Israel kept doubting Moses’ ability to take them to the promised land. When they come to the Red sea and pharaoh is chasing them, by God’s will btw, they ask moses in very cynical way – “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?” (Exodus 14:11)
I was always fascinated by this sentence. Why they had to be so mean to Moses? Why they just couldn’t ask him what to do in normal way? And the most important – why God needed to harden pharaoh’s heart with a desire to chase Jews?
For me the answer is in this sentence. Moses understood the nature of fear that his people had and he couldn’t change it. That’s why he brought them to the situation that they couldn’t go back – they stood affront of the sea, pharaoh’s army was near so they didn’t have any choice but go through the sea that by another miracle was splited by Moses. And after the sea was closed and didn’t have any choice but to march through the desert to the promised land. It was a very smart plan, because eventually Moses could take them around the sea without getting to the situation of no choice, but he didn’t. Probably because many of his people would turn around, if not all of them after realizing how miserable wondering in the desert is.
And I don’t blame them. Somehow they knew that they are going to die in the desert, sooner of later and they will never see the promised land. I bet it’s better to live as slave in Egypt than die as a free man in the desert. So without a very strong leader like Moses and God’s help exodus would never happen because people didn’t understand the point of exodus – it’s not about them living in freedom, it’s about the future generations being free. One generation of slaves needed to pay the price in order that next generation will be free.
And this is exactly what most of us don’t understand today – most of our actions today will not hurt us it will hurt our children, but also if we are willing to pay the price and make a change we are not those who are going to benefit from it, but our children will live in better, cleaner and more just world then ours.
Without understanding how necessary the radical change of lifestyle is we will remain in slavery of money and power forever. Also it’s important to understand that probably God will not help us this time, ten plagues will not hit corporate power and corrupted government, and I don’t think another Moses will come any time soon.
The only thing that we can do is to learn from the lesson of the past and understand that not everything is about us. We should start taking care of other people – family, friends, community, nation, humanity rather than trying to get as much money as possible and feel like you better than everyone else.
From the moment that one will stop being center of the universe and become part of it, everything else will make much more sense and life will be much more enjoyable.