|7th February, 1999|
IT IS STRANGE that one of the biggest grossing films in Australia today, is an animated film on the life of a man who lived 3000 years ago. But the story of Moses, "Prince of Egypt" is filling the cinemas, not just with children, but with adults. The life of Moses is a powerful story. He is rebel and saint, murderer and lawmaker, refugee and national hero.
But did Moses ever exist? TIME magazine has just devoted it's cover story to that question. Paul Barlow then wrote in "The story of Moses is pure baloney, as are most of the stories in the Bible. It is incredible that in this day such stories are still being fed to innocent children." What do archaeology and historical scholarship have to say about the founder of Israel and the man who codified the basis of our Australian laws? The issue of an Australian republic and whether we should legalise heroin both have their roots in decisions handed down by Moses. Because of him we know lying, cheating, adultery, murder are wrong. He has influenced our language and beliefs, our moral and civil laws and behaviour more than any other person.
The story of Moses begins with Joseph the great grand son of Abraham, the father of the Jews and Arabs. Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt in about 1710 BC. Incredibly he rose from being a prisoner to become Prime Minister. Joseph organised Egypt's food resources for times of famine. When the Nile did not flood, the country still had sufficient to eat.
Joseph invited his father Jacob, and his brothers to bring their flocks and settle in the Nile Delta area where food was plentiful, to escape their Middle Eastern famine. The pharaohs at this time, were the Hyksos dynasty, a Semitic people related to Joseph and his family. For 430 years the Israelites lived in the Delta area, still the richest part of Egypt. They supported large flocks and herds and grew numerically, until The Exodus from Egypt in 1290 BC. After 145 years or so, the Hyksos were expelled and the dynasty of Rameses reigned over Egypt, building the large cities of Rameses and Pithom in the delta area. It was into the family of Rameses that Moses was brought as a baby.
The Book of Exodus, refers to the Israelites release from slavery in Egypt. It is the most important book in the Old Testament. It continues the Genesis story with the descendants of Joseph multiplying and being persecuted as helpless slaves in Egypt. It tells of the violent clash between the God of Israel and the Pharaoh of Egypt, the plagues that come, the institution of the Passover, the deaths of the firstborn Egyptians, the exodus of all the people crossing the Red Sea, and the forty year journey through the desert. At Mt Sinai, the slaves are forged into a nation when God gave His Law. The people learn to worship God in their mobile Tabernacle. They finally enter their own land of Canaan. These events are central and fundamental for every Jew. They tell his history and define his religion. But they also impact on Christian his-tory and religion and therefore on our civil law and behaviour as a society.
What the Cross is to Christianity, the Exodus is to Judaism. Over all of this presides the giant figure of Moses, one of the world's most significant people: prince and prophet, lawgiver and leader, murderer and miracle-worker, victor and fugitive, exile, shepherd, rebel and healer. An incredible man by any standard.
The people of Israel had settled in Goshan and multiplied. The original seventy had grown to thousands. They "had many children and became so numerous and strong that Egypt (the delta area of Goshen) was filled with them." v7 The 18th Dynasty of the Pharaohs overthrew the Hyksos Pharaohs who had been protective to the Hebrews. v8 This was Pharaoh Seti 1 who was followed by his son, Rameses 11. Their method of control was to force the people into slave labour to build his great store cities. v9-10
In the fields, and in the massive building projects the Hebrews slaved: "a new king, who knew nothing about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. The Egyptians put slave-drivers over them to crush their spirits with hard labour." v11 Archaeologists have discovered an inscription from the reign of Rameses 11 indicating how he built these two cities using a group of people called the "hapiru" "Hebrews"- as slaves. Great temples, obelisks, and two colossal statues of the pharaoh have been discovered by archaeologists. They were cruelly crushed, oppressed, miserable. v13-14 But worse was to come. The Egyptian Government imposed a control regime to keep the Hebrew population down as in China. They forced infant boys to be put to death.
How typical of our era. A century ago, Indians were brought from India to Fiji to work on sugar farms for the Colonial Sugar Refinery. Within one hundred years they outnumbered the Fijians and an Indian Prime Minister was elected. The Fijian Army staged a coup, arrested the Indians, and reinstated the Fijian leaders. The story of the labourers who outnumber the landowners is as modern as Fiji today and as old as Egypt in the time of Moses.
The Hebrews were in the wrong country. For over 400 years they had been comfortable in the land of Goshen in the Nile Delta. They had been promised the land of Canaan where they would have plenty if they totally trusted God. Instead, they enjoyed the easy land of the Egyptians who had built huge pyramids and monuments and mummified their dead to seek immortality. There the Israelites forgot their dependence on God.
The Hebrews were serving a wrong master. Rameses 11 enslaved the Hebrews to build his two royal cities. They found their slavery a terrible hardship. In serving Rameses 11, they had forgotten the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. They served a cruel master instead. In a spiritual sense, when we go away from God, become involved in the pursuits of this world, we serve a wrong master. We too become enslaved. We need someone to come a lead us out of bondage into a new liberty and into a new Kingdom. Jesus leads us into God's Kingdom and into freedom serving a new Master. Only when they changed Masters could they cope.
How did the Israelites cope? The people wanted to survive. "The Egyptians put slave-drivers over them to crush their spirits with hard labour" v11. That was the objective: to crush them. Hitler crushed the Jews into cattle trucks to take them to slave labour camps. Stalin forced political dissidents, Jews, Christians, Gipsies into slave labour in Siberian salt-mines. Pol Pot, Idi Amin and a dozen other right-wing dictators have, this century, crushed the spirit of people by hard labour.
But people can be also crushed in the capitalist West and in our free country. Banks are good at crushing the spirit of those who do not keep up with the debt repayments. People sell their freedom to the company store on their credit cards, and consequently work all day, "but what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt!" Drug Pushers know how people will sell themselves into slavery, and are crushed. Every alcoholic knows what it is like to be in slavery to the next drink, and how much misery can come from a crushed spirit. Poverty effectively crushes the spirit of many a person struggling on a fixed income when everything else is going up except income. Sole parents struggle to make ends meet with a growing family, and poverty has a crushing effect upon their spirit. Older people often face withering scorn and rejection. How can we cope when we are being crushed? Can faith in God still help those who are bring crushed? Can trust in God still enable you to cope when your spirit is being crushed by injustice and hard labour? Can you survive like Moses and his people?
When pressure comes upon you, crushing your spirit, from deep within, God calls your resources in a determined effort. God will give the
strength if you determine to stand firm. Paul said: "So put on God's armour now! Then when the evil day comes, you will be able to resist the enemy's attacks; and after fighting to the end, you will still hold your ground!" (Eph.6:13).
In every generation, those who are being crushed in spirit know the tremendous reinforcement that comes from the knowledge that God is within you. God was the ultimate answer to the Hebrew people being crushed in Egypt, and the rest of the book tells of how God was always with them. Today, people being crushed in spirit survive, when they know the presence of God. The world cannot understand it, but you know His presence within.
Israel developed inner strength that resisted the pressures meant to crush them. They knew they were innocent of any wrong doing, and they became a desperate, determined, and God-fearing people. Then, not even the might of the Pharaoh, the depth of the sea or the dryness of the desert could stop them. They could cope with pressure without being crushed.
Jesus Christ knows the pressures that come upon you. That is why He calls you to take His load upon yourself. Jesus says: Matt 11:28-30 "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Will you come to Jesus for the strength to enable you to cope when crushed?
The testimony of those Chinese pastors I met in China last year was straight-forward. All the weight of the massive Chinese Communist Government and the pressure of hundreds of millions of people was turned against those Christians. They were hauled before the public in mock trials. Their houses were burnt. Their wives were imprisoned and their children taken to be placed in communes. They were beaten and tortured for months on end. They were forced to plant rice in frozen fields. They were starved, abused, derided and forced through brain-washing with mind-numbing repetition.
But in the silent recesses of their minds they sang hymns and repeated Bible verses and remembered God. The prayers of people far away lifted their spirits. They refused to be crushed. Faithful pastors endured to the end. Many died in the faith as martyrs. After twenty three years a new political wind blew in China, and they were released. They returned to their churches and found that even without pastors the people had been faithful in prayer and the churches had grown enormously. The Govern-ment tried to crush them with hard labour, like that of Pharaoh. But their faith in God, enabled them to endure! Any one of us, with determined faith, can find the power to endure when we are crushed. Our faith in God enables us to overcome a crushed spirit.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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