Go forward? | Adventist Review

From the beginning of the biblical book of Exodus, an Egyptian leader locks a yoke of slavery on the neck and shoulders of the Israelites. The nation chosen to be the people of God is bent by forced labor.

God has his ways

In response to tyranny designed to break and undo them, Israel grows and multiplies, bringing consternation to a tyrant’s heart and causing it to intensify its oppression.

Moses, future liberator of these slaves, shows up, if babies show up, at a time when national law requires that any male child born of Israelite women be killed. The boss of Egypt is a murderer, but the midwives fear God. They will not kill boy children.

Moses’ mother devised her own particular ways to line up with the order of ethnic cleansing, infanticide for all men: “Throw all male children into the river.”

Besides the virgin who gives birth and carries the Lord Jesus, Savior of all mankind, no woman in history will ever surpass the genius of Jochebed as a mother.1 When Moses arrives, she has already given birth to her nation’s future line of high priests and to her sister, a singular prophet, musician, worship team leader. With Moses, her maternal genius engages a son in the river where he must drown. Then, instead of being drowned, he is found. Found and raised to royalty. The future emancipator of Israel is trained and nurtured in the palace that issued the order for his death. Thus, and in other ways proper to Him (Job 26:14), God shows that He is God.

Moses grows up in the palace as “the son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (Heb. 11:24), while his heart beats in rhythms synchronized with slaves, creatures unworthy to hold his hand or sit with him to eat. His sense of who he is is so clear, his connection to his people is so strong that he once murdered an Egyptian (Ex. 2:11, 12). But it is not simply, as is often said, because he sees the culprit mistreating another Israelite. Such an account declares only part of the truth. The whole truth is that the abuse of the Hebrews by their slave masters is everywhere, visible or invisible: it is the law of the land, and nothing new for Moses. Most of the truth behind this murder is that its perpetrator finally finds himself – or perhaps more likely, finds himself – in a place that allows him, if only for this once, to pour out the deep passion of his soul on behalf of the people he knows are his own.

His identification with his fellow slaves does not go well. This is because the evil of human nature is neither limited nor controlled by our social circumstances. There may or may not be good slave masters: your rage at me for uttering such a notion proves its own point; our cancel culture can rob me of even the brief seconds it takes to finish my hateful statement. Nevertheless, I say: every human being deserves their suspicion of innocence. There may or may not be goodness in the ranks of slavemasters. If there are, it may well be that they were once tyrannized; slaves who know how bad it is to be like this, but then won their freedom, and will in no way subject another human, no, not even an animal, to the cruelty they once experienced. There can be good among slave masters. Surely there is good and bad among slaves, the oppressed who, if they can, mistreat their oppressed fellows more; miscarriage of justice can be quite common in life: crushing and being crushed is the common lot of most; someone is always above or below someone else, pushing and shoving and pulling and pulling (Eccl. 5:8).

The conscientious Moses rebukes a fellow Hebrew who misbehaves; but this Hebrew is a bad slave. If his tables capsized so that he would govern instead of doing forced labor, so that he would have power over his fellow human beings, whether Egyptian, American, Guyanese or Hebrew, he would be a bad slave master. Speaking of the abundant wickedness of his heart (Matthew 12:34), he brazenly and outrageously accuses Moses of being a tyrant (Exodus 2:13, 14). The thought is frightening to the well-meaning liberator: his own people may be his undoing. Moses fled to Midian, about 600 miles away — enough to bring this writer back to Andrews University, where he once worked, from the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference headquarters building, where he is now.

The problem of advance

Moses’ murder was for a good cause: he thought “that his own people would realize that God was using him to save them” (Acts 7:25, NIV). His meeting the next day with the bully showed him that he had been wrong. From this bully and otherwise, God conveyed His message to Moses that, as much as He needed him, as surely as He would work with him to grant him the desire of his heart – the liberation of his people – He will not would not do it by making men murderers: Moses knew, the elders of Israel knew that Moses was the man of God.2 But the man of God should learn to do God’s work God’s way. The God who is Lord of the schedules, whose Son appears just at the appointed time for the salvation of mankind (Gal. 4:4), also works in what He knows to be the right way to save: He has His own thoughts and ways (Isaiah 55:8). Humans too have ways, ways that seem right to us but end in disaster (Prov. 16:25). God’s way does not: His way is perfect, and always best for us (2 Sam. 22:31; Ps. 18:30).

Abram’s Get Ahead Story

Trying to get ahead of God was nothing new with Moses. The exalted Father Abram had done this before – out of a burning desire to see the fulfillment of a divine prediction that the world would be as invaded by his descendants as the sky is by the stars: the Lord had taken him under the night sky and commanded, “Look up to heaven and count the stars, if at all you can count them” (Gen. 15:5, NIV); and he had added: “So shall your seed be.” So Abram knows the purpose. Knows where his God is going. And he will work with Him toward further proof of His divine reliability. He will work as a true believer: “Abram believed the Lord” (verse 6, NIV); and the Lord knew it and rewarded him, “imputed it unto him for righteousness” (verse 6, NIV).

For at least a decade and a half thereafter, Abram hoped, prayed and pleaded that his effort would be accepted and honored by his God.3 He made an arrangement with his beloved wife, Sarai, to produce the seed that was to begin God’s course of multiplication: Sarai had a good servant, a woman in whom she trusted. The text identifies her as Egyptian, implying that her ethnicity matters. We should not be surprised not to see how or why during its first identification. Later, in the time of Moses, we may understand better. For now, it’s Hagar the Egyptian, and she can help Sarai do her part to fulfill God’s promise to Sarai’s husband, Abram. Sarai’s intention is explicit from the start, contrary to the textual reason for stating Hagar’s ethnicity: “Go, lie with my slave; perhaps I can raise a family through her” (Gen. 16:2).

Neither Abram nor Sarai nor their instrument Hagar seem to have any idea of ​​the Lord’s displeasure with their brilliant and cooperative initiative or how much it will cost: “Polygamy had become so widespread that it had ceased to be regarded as a sin, but it was nonetheless a violation of God’s law and was fatal to the sanctity and peace of the family relationship.4 It had become widespread, implying, to use Jesus’ words on the related issue of divorce, “that it was not so from the beginning” (Matthew 19:8, NIV). “The world is too much with us”, William Wordsworth might say,5 as the Pharisees lose the true and plead for the false. But the God of valid, wonderful, flawless beginnings did everything right the first time – light, lights, foliage, worship, work, everything. At the culmination of his work with matter, he constructed woman as the perfect solution to the first dilemma known to man, human companionship. He forged this resolve with intent: “Therefore, . . .” the text (Gen. 2:24, NIV) says; so that human and supernatural observers may know, from what follows, how and on what basis marriage is established and must be established.

Wedding ceremonies vary wonderfully across countries and cultures. Everything is as it should be. Ceremonies and participants can celebrate affection, creativity and tradition in a thousand ways. But the institution of marriage itself is, for Jesus, formed and fixed from Genesis. In Genesis and in Matthew and Mark, in the Torah of the Old Testament and in the Gospels of the New Testament, the conditions of marriage are solid, permanent and unchanging. To think otherwise, even to invoke the divine as a sanction of variation, expresses the unconverted state of the human heart (Matthew 19:5).

Despite the admirable purpose of the transactional variation on marriage that linked Abram and Hagar, the God they were trying to please could not approve of it as a means of accomplishing His purposes. Good human intention cannot prevail over divine order. And our pioneering violations of the divine original are no more forgivable simply because we do not see their dire consequences at first sight, or even after much acknowledgment. Consider now, millennia later, the fruit of the tree from which Abram and Sarai planted the seed: “Abraham’s marriage to Hagar caused harm, not only to his own house, but to future generations.”6

Get ahead of God?

Moses’ zeal that sparked his race before God ended up costing him 40 years behind! And how much the Abram-Sarai-Hagar triangulation cost our Lord, I cannot say. Nor do I know how much my own perverse efforts to be pressed for Him have cost the truth. I know now with certainty, however, that it does us much more good to heed the advice of the psalmist: “Wait on the Lord: take courage, and he will strengthen your heart: wait, Lord” (Ps. 27:14 , KJV). “Wait on the Lord, and keep his way” (Ps. 37:34); “Wait on the Lord, and he will save you” (Prov. 20:22, KJV).

1 Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press, Pub. Assn., 1903), p. 61.

2 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1890, 1908), p. 245: “The elders of Israel were taught by angels that the time of their deliverance was at hand, and that Moses was the man whom God would employ to accomplish this work.

3 “And Abraham said to God, ‘If only Ishmael could live under your blessing!’ (Gen. 17:18, NIV).

4 EG White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 145.

5 William Wordsworth, “The world is too much with us”, https://www. Poesiefoundation.org/poems/45564/the-world-is-too-


6 EG White, Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 145.

Lael Cesar is associate editor at Adventist Review Media.