Bickering with the burning bush

The Bible is chock full of rousing tales of patriarchs, sovereigns, and prophets “answering the call” with grace, obedience, and good humor.  At least, that’s what the writers would have you believe.  Frankly, I’m skeptical and I don’t think it’s just because Jonah’s been my professional spiritual role model for the last 25 years.

Let’s take Moses.  Definitely one of the Big Ten heavy hitters in “the call” department.  (Don’t ask me who the other nine are…I just made that up.)  Sunday schoolers and Scripture wonks know the story, as do The Ten Commandments fans who watch the movie every Easter with a religiosity worthy of any saint.  Moses stumbles across the burning bush, decides it warrants a closer look, and finds himself face-to-face with the Almighty and a commission for which Moses turns out to be uniquely qualified — tooling around for years in the desert with a bunch of sheep.

Moses has understandable reservations, which I suspect were downplayed in the official account*.  For your consideration, here is an excerpt from a recently recovered fragment**:

Thus, the Lord said, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.”

And Moses said, “HAHAHAHA!  Good one, Lord!” 

The Lord didn’t reply. 

Moses said, “What…seriously?”

And the birds chirped and the bush burned and the Lord still didn’t reply.

And Moses said, “Holy CRAP!  You’re not kidding.  What the heck do you want to send ME in there for?”

And the Lord said, “Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.”

And Moses said, “Yeah, that’ll go over GREAT with Pharaoh.  Not that I’m refusing or anything, but I was just thinking that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to drop a name or two while I’m in there.  So, exactly who should I say I’m working for?”

And God said unto Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.  Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”

Moses said, “Well, that clarifies it” 

“I will stretch out mine hand,” God continued,” and smite Egypt with all the wonders which I will do there.”

“Oh,” Moses said.  “Well, a good smiting’s always an effective marketing technique.”

“And not only that,” the Lord said, “but thou wilt despoil the Egyptians.” 

At this point, Moses decided to shift gears.  He said, “You know, ninety percent of all people surveyed say they dread public speaking more than death and I’M ONE OF THEM!”

“Lo,” said the Lord, “I shall turn thy staff into a snake and thy hand into a mushy white mess.  If they will not believe these two signs, pour water from the Nile onto the ground and it will turn to blood.”

“But, but, but…I can never think of anything to say in public!”

“Who hath made man’s mouth?” God yelled.  “Who maketh him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  The Lord thy God, that’s who!”

Moses wailed, “Nooooo!!!  Make somebody else do it!!!”

“FINE!” the Lord said, abandoning the Queen’s English for some punchy vernacular.  “Your freakin’ brother can do the talking and you can be the special effects guy.  Now get your whiny ass to Egypt.”

The point of all of this is that God always has a snappy comeback. 

Moses spends a fair amount of his time in Egypt trying to persuade God of some sort of serious lapse in judgment where hiring him was concerned.  In Exodus 6:12 and 6:30, he returns to his public-speaking argument.  “I stutter when I get nervous.  Nobody’s going to listen to me!”  To which God says, “GEEEEEEZ!  I’ve made you a rock star around here and your brother’s doing all the talking anyway!” 

In Exodus 5:22, Moses wails, “Why did you send me here???”  In return, he gets a brilliant pep talk:

“Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD.'” (Exodus 6:6-8)

The pep talk doesn’t really make a lasting impression on Moses.  In Exodus 17:4, he wails, “What am I supposed to do with these people?  They’re going to STONE me!”  To which God replies, “Oh, CRIMINY!  Go up to Horeb.  I’ll freakin’ meet you there.  Strike the rock and water will come out of it.  Will THAT satisfy you???  You’ll be so busy shaking hands and getting pats on the back, you’ll probably totally forget who you even work for.”***

So, if Moses’ experience is typical, a true calling is something you’ll keep coming back to over and over and over and try your best to weasel out of.  But, no matter how many ways you can think of to say no, God always comes back with something along the lines of, “Thank you for sharing your concerns.  Yes, yes, I’ll take them under advisement.  Now get to work.” 

That God.  S/he’s a very persuasive individual.

* See Exodus 3:7-4:14 for the conventional account

** The fragment was found in a hermetically sealed jar, originally intended to hold congealed olive oil, buried under what appears to be an Iron Age bookseller’s veranda which lintel is inscribed with the letters “FWCo.”

*** Ooh.  Good foreshadowing, Lord.

© Marian the Seminarian, 2011

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