Bible: Life begins at 80?

July 2 — Exodus 3:1-12

Jun 19, 2017 by

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A friend said he always wished he could have a burning bush experience. Instead, most of us spend years wondering what God might be calling us to do. We might sense God’s call to this or that profession or location or ministry in the church or community, but it lacks the clarity of the voice of God coming from a bush on fire.

Duane Beachey


Our Bible lessons for July are all about God calling prophets — often reluctant ones. God tells Jeremiah to not let his young age hold him back. That certainly wasn’t the case with Moses. We might long for a clear call from a burning bush, but Moses went 80 years before his call came (Ex. 7:7).

For his first 40 years, Moses lived in Pharaoh’s household. At some point he learned he had been adopted or rescued from a Jewish slave family. He saw all around him the injustice toward his own people, his birth family. When he was 40 he felt an urge to do something about the unjust treatment of his slave people (Acts 7:23). He killed an Egyptian taskmaster who was beating a slave. Fearing he would be found out, he fled Egypt and hid in Midian, where he married, had sons and herded sheep for his wife’s father for 40 years.

At 80, Moses must have felt his life was winding down into obscurity. But God had bigger things in mind. Interestingly, the renowned American folk artist Anna Mary Robertson Moses, better known as Grandma Moses, was nearly 80 when she began painting and became famous for her primitive folk-art style. If we are open to the possibilities, God may have plans for us beyond retiring to a quiet life.

The story of Moses and the exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt is the story of a God who hears the cries of his people — a God who knows their suffering and delivers them from slavery. Yet there is an ominous note of foreshadowing in this Exodus 3 text: God will lead Israel to a “good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” — a land that just happens to be populated by quite a list of people: Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jeb­usites.

How to deal with all these nationalities already living in the “good and broad land” would become the conflict Israel would face throughout the rest of the Old Testament — just as Israel today faces the question of how to deal with the Palestinians, whose land was taken from them in the 20th century. It is a story that repeats: European immigrants faced a similar conflict with Native Americans, the first residents of yet another “good and broad land.”

Israel’s conquest of the promised land led to an ironic turning of the tables. The residents of the land cited in Ex. 3:8 are the same as those mentioned in 1 Kings 9:15-21 as enslaved by Solomon to build the temple in Jerusalem, as well as his palaces and military bases. As Rob Bell notes in Jesus Wants to Save Christians: “And now Solomon is building a temple for the God who sets slaves free . . . using slaves?”

Even more ironic, perhaps, Solomon married the Egyptian Pharaoh’s daughter, and for her dowry Pharaoh gave her the city of Gezer after having defeated and killed all the Canaanites in Gezer and burned it down. Solomon rebuilt Gezer as a city for all the horses and chariots he bought from Egypt. Thus the descendants of Israelites enslaved in Egypt became the slave drivers aligned with Egypt.

Years before the exodus, God promised Abraham his descendants were to bless all nations. Like Israel, we have been called and set aside to be a blessing to all people, not from any merit on our part but out of God’s grace alone.

Duane Beachey, author of Reading the Bible As If Jesus Mattered (Cascadia, 2014), is a Mennonite pastor serving two small Presbyterian churches in eastern Kentucky, where he and his wife, Gloria, served with Mennonite Central Committee for eight and a half years.

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