Thanks to some amazing work by a friend, I’ve been re-reading and rethinking the Exodus of Israel and Moses’ role in liberating the enslaved. The tale is a well-worn groove in my memories— a story oft-told in Sunday School and church proper. Something started to gnaw at me as I retraced my steps in this familiar ground though. Moses was the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He was literally Pharaoh’s adopted grandson, raised in the palace alongside all the other heirs of the kingdom. He was raised in all the wealth and education and culture of the folks who dominated Egypt. To put it in today’s understanding: Moses was privileged. He was inculcated and complicit in the oppressive system of his time.
None of that is remotely new to anyone who knows the story, but the part that’s been gnawing at me is that Moses, a man who knew the keywords and tricky phrases of this society, a man who understood the dominating logic and the motivations of the Egyptians, didn’t appeal to any of it! Moses didn’t approach the throne as a grandson (adopted or otherwise). He didn’t try to reason with the Egyptian King using the education that he’d surely gained from the palace tutors.
Instead Moses and Aaron approach pharaoh as emissaries of a different kingdom. They approach as citizens of a different land— as people who are no longer enthralled by or beholden to this dominant and dominating kingdom. Something has irrevocably changed. Moses invokes the new king that he serves when he speaks to pharaoh: “Thus sayeth the Lord,” Moses proclaims.
Often when we awake to injustice in this world, we desperately want, like Moses, to do something about it. We tend to operate with the same mindset —violence even— that we’ve been indoctrinated into. We find it difficult to leave the comfort and safety of our positions in the old kingdom. In Egypt, we have the *right* pedigree. We went to the best schools. We know the right people and we are successful there. We’ve even been adopted into Pharaoh’s family. It’s far more secure to remain— despite the injustice- than to set out for the new, unknown kingdom.
Yet, revisiting this familiar story shows that the old kingdom can’t be dismantled, or fundamentally changed, by the same logic (and violence) that sustains and created it. As Audre Lorde says: the Master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Moses doesn’t draw from the well of Egyptian strength and knowledge, or even magic for that matter. He doesn’t rely on his pedigree and position in Egyptian society to liberate Israel. Instead Moses calls upon the name of the Lord. His faith and hope in changing the injustice of the old system rests on the I Am. It’s anchor is fixed in the new kingdom that the One who gives life, brings. Moses has to let go of his privilege, the identity he forged for himself in the old kingdom, in order to embrace the new vision offered by this new kingdom.
I’ve had this very same conversation with myself in my journals recently. In February I wrote:
My idea of the good life is me being awesome and comfortable. I want to stay comfortable. I don’t want to be on the street and struggling. I want to *help* the poor: I don’t want to *be* poor. My version of the good life is always comfortable.
Did you catch that? I want to help those facing injustice, but not at the expense of my comfort and privilege in the current system. The truth is, I fear entering a kingdom where the first are last and the last, first. I’ve been trained to excel and to win in *this* kingdom. I know the rules here and what it takes to reach the highest rung of the ladder on this side. But what do you do when there are no longer ladders and you’re a life-long climber? What happens when there’s no longer a hierarchy of humanity, but a horizontal relationship of equality instead? The new kingdom requires a reorientation of not just our priorities, but our mindset. It requires a stripping away of our privilege in order to be in solidarity with those at the margins.
I’m not sure yet exactly what that looks like, but from Moses’ life, I get the distinct impression that our attachment to the old kingdom–our love of safety and comfort– will keep us caught in the chains of a system that brutally marginalizes and oppresses. Our continued commitment to personal security and privilege above all else will prevent us from fully joining the new kingdom and the regenerating and creative power it brings.