Serving Another KingYear A Revised Common Lectionary
Exodus 1:8-12 (Moffatt Bible) A new king rose over Egypt, who had not knowledge of Joseph; 9he said to his people, "Look, the Israelites are too many and too mighty for us!
10We must handle them carefully, lest they multiply and then, if we happen to be at work, join our enemies and fight against us, so as to escape from the country.
11So they put them under captains of the labour gangs; to crush them with heavy loads; and built for the Pharaoh the store-towns of Pithom and Ramses. 12But the more they were crushed, the more they multiplied and expanded, till the Egyptians dreaded the Israelites.
Verse 8 says there was a new king. This is what you call compressed history. The verse is definitely a Reader's Digest version of history. Centuries of history are compressed in this one sentence.
This new king did not know Jacob. The king might not have known Jacob for a good reason. He may have been more than just a new king. He may have been from a different dynasty or ruling group of kings. The word know in Hebrew can imply a personal relationship. This might mean the new king had forgotten how much Jacob had done for Egypt. He may have been known the history of Jacob, but that was now history. And it was old history. He was not personally aware of how much the God of Jacob had protected and blessed Egypt.
This is more than not being intimately familiar with the history of Egypt. The Hebrew also carries the meaning of approving or acknowledging. The king might not have liked or approved of the system of government Jacob established. There is a tendency for people new to a position to want to change things. The desire is to leave their personal stamp on the company or the government department. In the process, there is a tendency to change things that worked very well. It can amount to change for the sake of change. That might be part of what we see taking place.
Verse 8 of Exodus reads "A new king rose over Egypt." In Hebrew there is an additional meaning. This verse could be translated, A new king "arose against Egypt." When people rise up against God's people, they end up rising up against their own people and against themselves. Persecuting God's people is not a good way to find success.
This is a lesson many Christian pastors and denominational leaders need to understand. When Christians rise up against God's gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-identified people, they are rising up against themselves. There is no long-term advantage in persecuting the Lord's queer children. There can be a short-term gain, when pastors and churches look like they are standing for principle. The long-term results, however, are very bad when the principle churches stand for does not include grace.
Verses 9 and 10 show us how afraid the king was of the children of Israel. There might be a reason for that fear. Adam Clarke mentions speculation that the new Pharaoh might have been concerned about oppression Egypt suffered under shepherd-kings. Since the children of Israel were also shepherds, he might have feared them, thinking they might rise up and oppress Egypt.
In Verse 11, we understand the children of Israel were put in labor gangs. They were enslaved. The conditions were not humane. In addition to being forced to do hard work, the children of Israel may have been forced to pay taxes. That is what you call adding insult to injury.
Isaiah 29:22-23 (Moffatt Bible) This therefore is the word of the Eternal, the God of Jacob's house, who rescued Abraham: "Never again shall Jacob be dismayed, never again disgraced; for once they see all that I do among them, they will revere me, they will revere the Majesty of Jacob, they will hold Israel's God in awe."
Isaiah Chapter 29 is about the restoration of Israel.
What meaning can we get from these verses for our lives?
Egypt represents materialism. For the children of Israel, Egypt was a place of shelter and happiness. Things, homes and possessions that made us happy can become a burden. Family and friends can turn against us. Those things that brought happiness can become an affliction, a cross to carry.
These verses remind us of what is most important in life. People forget the good things we do. They forget very soon. As the Pharoah forgot Jacob's deeds, accomplishments that saved Egypt's hide, people forget the good things we do. Being a people pleaser is of no lasting value. That is why we need to place serving God ahead of serving people. God does not forget! The benefits of serving God are permanent.
There are queer Christians who have tried to change or give up their sexuality or their gender identity to try to please people. When we try to change who we are go make people happy, we have forgotten about the King of Kings and we are serving another king. Those queer Christians who are people pleasers maybe very disappointed with the results. Human praise, human rewards are very temporary, at best. Be the person God wants you to be, instead of the person your family, your pastor or your church wants you to be. The results are that you will feel much better, will be much happier, and will be able to serve the Lord in ways that are much more meaningful.
When people attempt to defeat God's people, through persecution, their efforts fail. God blesses and works through tough times. The cross of Calvary reminds us of that.
This text helps us understand life's cycles. There are times when life is hard. Life's periods of hardship are followed by an exodus experience. The cycle is there in our lives. And eventually, we will all have the promised land experience, because Jesus gives us the promised land.