Friday, November 11, 2011

Moses’ Varied Background (Exodus 18:1)

Where was Moses’ father-in-law a priest? Midian (Exodus 18:1)

Moses lived 120 years (Deuteronomy 34:7). His life can be divided neatly into three forty year increments: living in Egypt (Exodus 2:5-10; Acts 7:23), living in Midian (Exodus 2:15-22; Acts 7:30), and wandering in the wilderness whilst leading the Hebrews (Exodus 7:7; Acts 7:36).

Moses began life in Pharaoh’s court, having been adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:5-10). After years, presumably raised as an Egyptian in Egypt’s royal family, he began to feel empathy for his native Hebrews and impetuously murdered an Egyptian taskmaster (Exodus 2:11-14).

Wanted for murder, Moses fled Egypt and spent his exile in relative obscurity in Midian (Exodus 2:15). Midian was one of Abraham’s sons from his second marriage (Genesis 25:2, 4). It was in Midian that Moses’ life was most “normal”. He married the priest’s daughter, Zipporah, and had two children (Exodus 2:21-22, 18:2-4).

Though Moses likely felt his life would end in Midian, at the age of eighty God called him into service and back to Egypt to evacuate his people.

Did Moses’ time in Midian prepare him for his life’s calling of leading the Exodus? How important is having a clear cut nationality? How do you define yourself in terms of ethnicity and nationality? How do you feel Moses would have described his ethnicity and nationality? Would it have varied at different junctures?

At no point in his life did Moses ever live with his own countrymen in a land they owned or even possessed a permanent dwelling. He was perpetually a stranger in a strange land. Moses answering the question of where he was from would likely have resembled modern answers of children born to missionaries and military personnel who have traveled the globe never really having lived amongst their ancestors’ people.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Moses’ own Hebrew culture had not yet developed its ethnicity. In his provocatively titled book Moses the Egyptian, Jan Assmann (b. 1938) writes, “What we would today call their ‘ethnicity’ or ‘cultural identity,’ which would set the Israelites apart from their Egyptian host culture, did not yet exist because the construction of this identity was precisely the function of the Law (Assmanm, 70).” And the Law had yet to be written.

This does not mean that Hebrews did not recognize themselves as being unique. Moses’ biggest criticism from his family came ostensibly because of his wife. While scholars are divided as to whether this wife was Zipporah or a second wife, Moses’ siblings were alarmed in part because he had married a “Cushite” (Numbers 12:1-2). (For my more detailed analysis of this story, read this previous post.) God intervened in the matter and sided with Moses (Numbers 12:4-9).

Whether or not Moses’ wife’s nationality was the real issue, it cannot be denied that Moses married someone whom his siblings designated as “other”. It is perhaps not surprising, that Moses, who never quite seemed to have a home, seemingly had no problems marrying someone so different from himself.

What is your stance on interracial relationships? Why do you believe as you do? How do you think your own heritage has influenced your views on the matter?

“I hope that people will finally come to realize that there is only one 'race' - the human race - and that we are all members of it.” - Margaret Atwood (b. 1939)

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