In Exodus chapter 5 we read about Moses’ first confrontation with the Pharaoh. For the sake of perspective this encounter is akin to a rural mailman from South Dakota making an appointment with the Supreme Leader of Iran to inform him that “there’s gonna be some changes around this place, God told me so.”
The irony of this setting in Exodus 5, however, is not just that this is a shepherd demanding something from a king, but that this particular shepherd has, thus far in the story, hardly been presented as a revolutionary warrior, or freedom fighter. This particular shepherd has already been shown to be deeply opposed to being involved in the liberation of his people. This particular shepherd even made at least four unique attempts to abdicate his responsibility while he was having a conversation with the “bush of perpetual burning”; that bush being none other than the microphone of God Himself. So to see this guy walk into that palace and demand that one of the most powerful rulers on earth release his slave labor working class for reasons of “religious exemption,” is a pretty comical scene. This seems like the stuff of Monty Python more than the Holy Bible.
So what happened? What turns a layman into a liberator? How could Moses stand before Pharaoh with such brass?
In trying to understand this I was reminded of something that happened to me a few years ago. I had to have my small intestines checked as a part of a battery of tests doctors had advised, and the test consisted of drinking an obscene amount of chalky substance, waiting for a few minutes and then getting strapped into a giant camera tube for an uncomfortable photo shoot – all while wearing nothing more than a gown made out of basically translucent material. The nature of my personality is to joke around in both casual and serious situations, so as I forced myself to drink the first 20 ounces of the dye I was jocular and fun-loving in the waiting room. However, by the time I’d consumed about 50 ounces of that filth, with another 10 still to drink, the jokes had dried up and green-faced nausea had settled into my stomach and demeanor.
It was during this miserable phase of the testing that I tried to reason with the nurse. I asked her, in a pleading tone, “Shouldn’t I stop drinking this stuff? If I throw it all up we won’t be able to complete the procedure, will we?” Her answer wasn’t mean, but it was filled with the cruelty that only experience can provide, “No, it will be fine. Even if you throw it up enough will stay in you to do the test.”
Grrr. My initial reaction was to ask her sarcastically, “if that is the case then why the heck am I drinking so much of this crap?” But I was neither in condition to be sarcastic nor argumentative.
But, what she said came back to my mind as I read this text and a commentary on it by Richard Friedman. Friedman says this about Moses’ boldness in Pharaoh’s court that day:
Presumably, setting foot on the floor of the palace is different after one has set foot on holy ground, and conversing with a king is different after one has conversed with the creator.
– Richard Elliott Friedman
Though Moses didn’t seem much different at the end of his encounter with God at the burning bush, much like drinking barium, a brush with divinity leaves a lasting residue. We do not come close to God without being changed. We can not sit in His presence and not find that we are different. And this change might not seem obvious, we might not feel any different, but we will notice that the places we go are different than they felt before. We will feel less afraid or more out-of-place, perhaps. We will seem to be compelled by issues and people to which we’d never given a second thought.
It was those same dusty feet of Moses that first stood afraid before the bush and then bold before the king. The difference was not the feet, it was the footing. Pharaoh no longer seemed quite as intimidating to Moses, if for no other reason than because the Egyptian ruler wasn’t on fire during the conversation. The Egyptian palace, once seeming an impossibly terrifying fortress in which to stand, suddenly possessed more traction than expected for Moses’ feet, and this was directly due to His recent encounter with God.
We will find that most of our lives are spent walking in the same places, the same aisles, the same roads, the same businesses and the same stores, but after we’ve stood on holy ground we will find that those “same places” aren’t the same as they’ve always been. This is not because they’ve changed but because we’ve been changed. Whether you know it or not, the time that you spend with God each day is changing you. Whether it feels like it or not, the moments when you read the Scriptures, pray, ponder spiritual things, or retreat from the bustle to steal a second of solitude – those actions are leaving a residue on your soul, they are making you into something new.