Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Doing What They Knew Best

The ancient Israelites have taken lots of criticism for their complaining against Moses in the wilderness. Preachers, writers, and teachers in our day take their cue from Moses himself in this regard. At every rest stop the people found something to murmur about.

But maybe we should cut them some slack. Complaining was their most refined and practiced skill. We should expect them to find ways of showing off what they did best. I don’t mean this sarcastically. Up until the day after Passover the Israelites were slaves, as their parents and grandparents had been before them.

Among the dangerous abilities for slaves to have, taking initiative and solving problems rank pretty high. Very likely Moses was the only one in the crowd with any experience in fixing what was wrong. Slaves take orders, do as they are told, and that’s it.

Only verbally are they given the opportunity to respond to the way things are. And, they have to be careful how and when they do that. Slaves might sing their protest, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen . . .” Or, they may talk among themselves, “Can you believe what they did to him?” Or, they may daydream about better conditions, “O if only we could have . . .”

It shouldn’t surprise us to see them view their new leader Moses as the latest supervisor giving them orders. And, they talked about him like they did about their Egyptian oppressors.

They didn’t know how to suggest solutions or to offer leadership. They offered what they were best at. “O if only we were back in Egypt. Did you bring us out here to starve us to death?” It was a tough job, but no one could have been better trained for a job.