As we continue our journey through Lent, Christians throughout Columbia will be sharing their own beautifully written ‘letters from the heart.’ Each is accompanied by corresponding relevant scripture verse(s), and linked to sources for further study. If you would like to join us on Columbia’s Lenten journey, please send us your ‘letter from the heart’ by email. Especially meaningful submissions will be printed. Let us continue our Lenten journey of repentance, meditation, and anticipation day-by-day, to its glorious culmination on Easter morning.
When Charlton Heston played Moses in 1956, I was only six – yet the image of the Red Sea parting remains vivid today. I was absolutely wonderstruck.
For me, Moses has mostly lingered in that epic movie, and in my memories of movies of childhood Sunday school stories. From the basket in the bulrushes to the burning bush, from the dividing Red Sea to snowing manna to the thunderous Ten Commandments, the imagery was perfect for my child’s imagination. Other than those memories, I can’t say I’ve spent much time thinking about Moses.
So here I was, and my assignment was a passage in Exodus, with Moses as the central figure. What to do?
First, of course, I reread the passage to remember the gist, a very simplified version of which follows: God (Yahweh) is asking Moses to lead the Hebrews (Moses’ tribe of origin) out of Egyptian slavery and into Canaan, the “land of milk and honey.” Moses is reluctant and fearful. Even after God transforms Moses’ rod into a snake and back, and makes his hand leprous and then healed, Moses protests. “Oh my Lord, I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Just the sort of response I would have given.
Next I did some Googling to understand more of the historical Moses. I learned that, like many Old Testament figures, Moses is a contradictory and mysterious character. The consensus seems to be that he was not the iconic man apart – a Hebrew reared as an Egyptian royal – never entirely a member of either world. Educated in the royal court, he was taught his Hebraic origins. As a young adult he chose to visit a settlement of enslaved Hebrews, where he witnesses their heinous treatment firsthand. Moses encountered an Egyptian slave master mercilessly beating a slave, and in an effort to stop the beating, killed the Egyptian. Subsequently Moses fled Egypt.
Thus began Moses’ many years apart from both Egypt and Israel, finally culminating in his long and torturous journey delivering the Hebrews to the borders of the Promised Land. He had fulfilled his promise, yet God didn’t allow Moses himself to enter. Even in death he remained a man apart.
Certainly Moses is a more complex figure than the one of my child’s mind. We can’t know for certain whether he was a single person or an amalgamation of many, but we can know Moses as an iconic leader who lied out God’s purpose, despite his deeply human doubts and fears. We can know Moses as a man who searched, asked and listened to God’s call, and who ultimately chose to follow that call. He was a man destined to live apart from earthly trappings, but fully at one with God. That’s a story worth remembering.
Columbia, South Carolina
If you enjoyed this Lenten meditation, you can find more at Sharon's Columbia Biblical Studies Examiner homepage.