So Moses heads back to Egypt, and on the way, God decides to kill him? In his sleep, no less. So Zipporah, his wife, who apparently has some understanding of the Hebrew religion, circumcises their son, and anoints Moses’ “feet”* with the blood, which saves him. Now, aside from being an utterly bizarre little story, this episode foreshadows the final plague- by anointing Moses with the blood of an innocent, he is saved from the angel of death. Even more interesting is that this is performed by a woman- I am not Jewish, but my understanding is that Moses’ son, at least in the more modern era, would not be considered Jewish, since his mother was not, and so circumcising him would be unusual. Furthermore, this is a clear incident of a woman, a foreign woman, daughter of a pagan priest, exercising spiritual power, and you know what? It works.
They make it to Egypt, and convince the elders of their mission, and then go to meet with Pharaoh, who, not unreasonably, is not impressed with the invocation of the name of some foreign god. He himself is the God-King, why should he fear some slave’s deity? Pharaoh punishes the Israelites for Moses and Aaron’s impudence, which, again, I know we like to vilify Pharaoh, but it’s not like he does anything out of the ordinary for an all-powerful ruler here. The elders are understandably furious with them for making a bad situation worse, and Moses accosts God with his self-doubts.
Thusly, the plauges begin. God, the same one who tried to kill Moses, hardens Pharaoh’s heart, setting up the steady march of debilitating plagues across the populace of Egypt. Where Jesus will someday turn water to wine, Moses turns it to blood, and the wails of the suffering rise. Even the magicians of the palace believe, and yet God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Why? It’s the million shekel question. For me, personally, I don’t believe this story says much about actions of God at all. I think it’s a post-event myth that explains the history of a people, because I can’t choose to worship a god that deliberately sets people up to be tricked, and who would use the suffering of hundreds of thousands (Egypt was a big country) to prove a point. Did God speak to Moses? Perhaps. I don’t see any reason to disbelieve that. I’m not even unwilling to believe in miracles. Will god go on to part the Red Sea? Sure, why not? But this deliberate manipulation of humans to secure the future of the Chosen People, and the sacrifice of the Egyptians? No. God made all people- the Egyptians are as much Gods creation as the Israelites are, and I just am fundamentally unwilling to buy into this sort of tribalistic favoritism and ego-gratification.
So what happened? Who knows. Maybe there were a series of plagues that happened, and all concerned believed that the Hebrew God was responsible for it. Maybe nothing happened, and at some point someone told a great story about Great-Grandpa Moses. I have no idea. I think it does have value, because it speaks of the truth that any of us may be called, regardless of our worthiness. It also reminds us that being called is never easy, and doesn’t always pay off. Because I know the story, I know that Moses never does make it to his promised land, flowing with milk and honey. Does this mean God failed him? Nah. Does it mean he failed God? No, I don’t think so. Moses is, like so many of the ancient heroes, gloriously human. Blessings are double edged swords, and any notice by a deity, even it’s favorable, can come back to bite you.