Paradoxes

Following the veiled threat from the agitated group of Hebrew workers, Moses called out to God to speak with Him.

“What is it?” said God.

“My Lord, this mission to Egypt you sent me on isn’t working out at all well. I’ve so far done all you asked me to, and the result is that the Pharaoh has decided to punish the Hebrews even more. And some Hebrews, blaming me for this, have threatened my life. What am I to do?”

“Your faith in me is fickle, Moses. You give me doubts I picked the right man to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt. It’s too late, though, for Me to make a replacement. You’ll have to do.”

“I can only do my best, My Lord. But you have to guide me better.”

“Let me assure you, Moses, that the Pharaoh will eventually bend to My will, by means of you of course. You are My instrument. Don’t forget that. There will be set-backs. But we’ll come through, you and Me both. And the Hebrews will as well. We mustn’t forget the Hebrews, must we, ha ha ha.”

“You have a sense of fun, My Lord. I like that.”

“I think, rather, I have a sense of irony more than anything else. Irony, or paradox if you will, runs all through the universe I created. Everything is defined only through its opposite. You can’t know what big is unless you know what small is. You can’t know what love is unless you know what hate is. You can’t know what good is unless you know what bad is. You can’t know what life is unless you know what death is. Do you get the picture?”

“Yes. Of course. Yes.”

“There are only paradoxes, Moses. Unless you understand this you’ll go mad. Lighten up, and you’ll be happy.”

“You make absolute sense, My Lord. To think I’d never seen this before.”

“You hadn’t seen it because as a mortal man, you’re imperfect. It is only I, God, who am perfect.”

“Can I ever aspire to be perfect, My Lord?”

“Of course you can aspire to be perfect, Moses, and you should, for the more you aspire to be perfect, and do everything you can to be perfect, the closer to perfect you’ll become. However, you’ll never actually become perfect because were you to become so, you’d be Me. Unfortunately for you there’s only one Me, and always will be. Can you live with this?”

“Do I have a choice, My Lord?”

Source: Exodus 5; 22

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Quotas

The Pharaoh, Thutmose, became greatly upset after Moses and Aaron had left the Pharaonic chamber.

“That Moses. He’s still the same. Still thinks he’s so much better than everyone else, including me” fumed Thutmose. “He thinks he can just waltz in and tell me what to do with my Hebrew workers. To give them three days off so they can make a sacrifice to their so-called God, making these lazy bums even lazier. The nerve of the man. I’ll show him who’s Boss.”

Thutmose called for his chief overseer. “Tell all the Hebrew workers they must from now on collect all their own straw they use in making bricks. You are no longer to supply this straw.”

“Your Majesty, this’ll take much time away from their making bricks. They’ll only be able to make half of their daily quota” said the overseer.

“Not at all” said Thutmose. “They must still produce their daily quota. Their work-days are just going to get longer, that’s all.”

***

Hebrew workers in Egypt were involved almost wholly in brick-making. Meaning that but for the Hebrew workers, Egypt would have had no bricks.

Bricks then were made of clay and straw, and only by hand – much different from today. Bricks today, while still including clay in their ingredients, also now include shale, which, if you don’t know, is soft stratified sedimentary rock, formed from consolidated mud or clay, which can be split easily into fragile slabs. The addition of shale into brick-making today has made the use of straw passé.

Also, today, bricks are no longer hand-made, including no longer being dried by the sun. Today they are put in kilns heated to two thousand degrees Fahrenheit. This enables the minerals in the clay and shale to fuse together, to become a material that looks marvellous, and lasts a very long time. You don’t therefore need to look after the bricks thereafter – unless you really want to.

You’ll now readily see how differently bricks today are made, compared to how Egypt’s Hebrew workers made them. Not only was straw an ingredient of bricks then, the bricks – as mentioned earlier – could only be dried by the sun – the Egyptian sun, which, although hot, was only lukewarm compared to the heat inside today’s kilns.

You’ll also readily see that it took much, much longer to make a brick then, than today. Is it any wonder that Thutmose was concerned about the innate slowness of brick-making,   and therefore set stringent daily quotas for his Hebrew brick-makers. The more the numbers of bricks they made each day, the more Egypt became great. National greatness, regardless of country, has, after all, always depended as much on economic productivity as on feats of arms.

***

Soon after Thutmose’s new orders about straw-collecting began to be applied, an agitated group of Hebrew workers accosted Moses. They shouted, “Have you any idea of what you’ve done? We’re being beaten till we bleed if we can’t make our quotas. We’re in Hell. This is where you’ll be going too, unless you do something, and quick.”

Sources:
– Exodus 5, 6- 21
How a Brick is Made

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Meeting Again

When Moses and Aaron arrived at the Palace a guard ushered them into a chamber where the Pharaoh awaited them. The Pharaoh – who in history is known to us as Thutmose III, but who Moses had known as Baby Thut – sat behind a very high table. The Pharaoh pointed to two low chairs in front of the table for Moses and Aaron to sit on.

Despite that Moses had last seen Thutmose as a truculent teenager, he straightaway saw the Baby Thut he had known, lurking behind the visage of the now sixtyish Pharaoh. Thutmose, likewise, saw the forty-year old Moses he had known, lurking behind the visage of the now eightyish Moses.

“We meet again” said Thutmose.

“Yes…….er………I suppose we do, Your Majesty” said Moses. “This here is my brother Aaron.”

“I had guessed” said Thutmose. “What can I do for you?”

“Well, Your Majesty, it’s like this. The God of Israel, who is my God too, and also Aaron’s – ha ha ha – wants you to let His people go for three days so they might make a sacrifice to Him in the wilderness.”

“You can tell this so-called God of yours to mind his own business,” said the Pharaoh, who Moses could see still had the same truculence when he’d known the Pharaoh as Baby Thut.

“What our God is asking isn’t much, Your Majesty” said Moses. “Just three days off for all the Hebrews in Egypt to engage in a sacrificial ritual to Him.”

“You’ll know as well as I” said the Pharaoh, “that there are now more Hebrews in Egypt than there are Egyptians. Should I let all my Hebrew workers off for three days for anything, let alone for sacrificing to their God, Egypt’s economy would collapse, and Egypt would therefore no longer be great. Work work work. Produce produce produce. This is the Egyptian Way. It’s why Egypt is great.”

“Your Majesty, your Hebrew workers after three days off, would return refreshed to their work, and would produce even more than they do now, making Egypt even greater” said Moses.

“You always did have a way with words” said the Pharaoh. “The forty years since I last saw you appear not to have diminished this talent. However, you fail to persuade. I’ll therefore have to turn your God’s request down. Now, I have other things to do. Guard, show these men out.”

Source: Exodus 5, 1-5

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Reversing the Reversal

While walking with Aaron towards the Palace for their audience with the Pharaoh, Moses ran through in his mind all that he knew about this Pharaoh.

Moses knew a lot about him despite that information-gathering then was so much more primitive than today – what with our cell-phones, smartphones, televisions and whatnot. So much are we in thrall to them, we have difficulty even imagining how news got around before then. Somehow though, it did, as it has always, even in the days of Moses more than three thousand five hundred years ago.

Hence Moses got to know that this Pharaoh – who today we call Thutmose III – used to be the very boy, called affectionately “Baby Thut“, who Hatshepsut was the regent of, when Moses still lived at the Palace as a de facto prince in the Egyptian royal household.

Baby Thut had not liked Hatshepsut one bit – seeing her as bossy and manipulative. And he hadn’t liked Moses one bit either, because he’d feared Hatshepsut would make changes in the law to enable Moses to be her co-Pharaoh, thus supplanting the teen-aged Baby Thut’s claim. And, Moses was a Hebrew. The very thought of a Hebrew as Egypt’s co-Pharaoh, a position Baby Thut considered his by birthright, caused his blood to boil and nearly spill over.

Also, Hatshepsut had reversed Egypt’s traditional policies of military aggression abroad, in favour of more edifice-building in Egypt itself. Hatshepsut reasoned that if Egypt was to be great again, it would start at home, in Egypt. She wanted Egypt to be admired, not feared.

Hence under Hatshepsut’s rule, lots of large and ornate monuments, temples, chapels, and obelisks, went up.

When Hatshepsut died and Baby Thut took over as Pharaoh, he reversed Hatshepsut’s reversal. He set in motion what he thought Egypt had always done best – engage in military adventures in many neighbouring lands. This was how to make Egypt great again, thought Baby Thut.

He sent his armies south into Nubia and beyond, and into the coastal areas of the Levant, where Egypt became numero uno. It didn’t take long before, at even a mention of Egypt in any conversation, the peoples of these conquered lands shook in their sandals with fear.

Even this wasn’t enough for Baby Thut, whose resentment at Hatshepsut still made his blood boil. The only way to stop it boiling for good, was to erase her completely from memory and from history. So Baby Thut had Hatshepsut’s name and image removed from all the monuments, temples, chapels, and obelisks she had put up.

All this was in Moses’ mind as he and Aaron neared the Palace gates……….

Sources:
– Exodus 4, 19-20
Thutmose III
Hatshepsut

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Catching Up

When Moses at the end of his journey crossed the frontier into Egypt, he found his brother, Aaron, waiting for him. As a reader of this blog, you’ll recall God telling Moses He would contact Aaron and tell him he must always be at Moses’ side as emotional support in the difficult times to come.

Moses and Aaron had not seen each other since when they were small boys. Therefore it might have been difficult for them to recognise each other after so long a time – almost eighty years. However, Moses and Aaron, being brothers, and close in age (Aaron was the older by three years), had always looked much alike. So as soon as they set eyes on each other, each immediately knew he was looking at his brother.

They embraced, and spent the next little while catching up on each other’s news over the last eighty years. Aaron, living as he did in the Hebrew community in Goshen, was able to give Moses an indelible and graphic picture of the hardships of the Hebrews under the unrelentingly cruel yoke of their Egyptian masters.

“I’m overjoyed, brother,” said Aaron, “that you’re going to free us and lead us back to where we came from. I can tell you now, though, that you won’t find this easy, because, from what we know of him, the Pharaoh is going to take some persuading to allow us all to leave.”

“You’re forgetting that God will be watching over us” said Moses, “and you’re forgetting I have this.” He waved the walking stick that could transform into a snake at his command.

“The first thing we have to do” said Aaron “is get us an audience with the Pharaoh. I do have contacts at the Palace, who I’ll ask to persuade the Pharaoh to see us. Meanwhile, come and stay at my house, where you can have a good wash and clean clothes, and meet some of the rest of the family.”

After a few days, Aaron received word from the Palace that the Pharaoh would be pleased to receive him and his brother……..

Source: Exodus 4, 19-20

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Re-Filling

While walking to Egypt to carry out what God wanted him to do there, Moses had constant feelings of deja vu – no doubt because he was walking on the very same road he’d walked on in coming from Egypt to the Land of Midian forty years before, when he himself had been forty.

Now, at eighty, he had doubled his age although in some ways he felt no different from when he’d been forty. But in other ways he felt his eighty years. Men who didn’t know him, saw only an old man, and they treated him as such. Moses was only too aware of this.

His eighty-year-old self still thought about Hatshepsut – constantly. In his mind’s eye she was always young and at her most desirable. She was the Hatshepsut who had visited him in the night out of no-where some years previously, when she seemed not to have aged at all.

That Hatshepsut was now gone forever. If she’d still been in this earthly realm she’d have been ninety or more – wrinkled, toothless, hunchbacked. Would Moses still have desired this Hatshepsut? Probably not, Moses thought. But………he still might just have. In his arms he might still see the once-young Hatshepsut hiding beneath the very old one.

***

These were the thoughts that most consumed Moses while on the road back to Egypt. He had considered taking Zipporah and the two boys Gershom and Eliezer – young men now, actually – with him. He decided not to because their presence day and night would crush his spirit. He could only abide them in his normal daily life because he spent his days alone, shepherding  Jethro’s sheep, who he found far more congenial as company than Zipporah, Gershom or Eliezer.

When travelling on foot and living off the land by catching snakes and lizards for food and squeezing out cacti for drinking water – as Moses was doing – the last thing he wanted was a bickering and complaining family with him. In any case, he wanted to make this journey alone because he simply liked being alone.

Moses  saw the world much differently from anyone else, regardless of who that anyone else was. His was a brain that saw the Whole, rather than the Whole’s particulars. Whereas others seemed to him always to see just the particulars rather than the Whole. Moses therefore had much difficulty seeing their points of view. He was good, though, at pretending to see their  points of view, but only for the sake of harmony with them. Hence he could never be truly himself unless alone.

People bored him. They drained him of his emotional energy until he felt like a carcass. He could hardly wait to escape people, so he could re-fill.

The only exception for Moses had been Hatshepsut. He would never completely recover from her loss.

***

Something else was weighing on Moses’ spirit. He’d discovered he didn’t like God. He’d fought against this feeling, for what could be more sinful than not liking God. Try as he might, he just couldn’t manage to feel otherwise. Moses experienced God as authoritarian, cruel, capricious, thin-skinned, self-obsessed – the very opposite of the loving God his birth-mother Jochebed had told him about when he was a little boy before being taken to Egypt to grow up there.

***

The now-old Moses continued on the road back to Egypt……..

Source: Exodus 4, 19-20

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Silver-Tonguely

“Is there anything else you wish to speak of before I send you on *your way to Egypt*” said God to Moses.

“I still don’t think I’m the man for this undertaking” said Moses. “For one thing, I’m slow and hesitant of speech. The miracles You’ve empowered me to perform aside, I’m going to need to have a silver and glib tongue if I’m to make my case successfully on Your behalf to the Hebrews and Pharaoh.”

“I detect no slowness or hesitancy in your speech when you speak to Me” said God. “What you’ve just said about your alleged slowness and hesitance of speech is as glib and as silver-tongued as anything I’ve heard from humans. And why shouldn’t this be? I’ll remind you that you had *the very best of educations* when you grew up in the Egyptian royal household. This included public speaking. I’ll remind you also that you rose to become a General in the Egyptian Army, and led men in battle with the Nubians and others of Egypt’s enemies. If there’s any man best able silver-tonguely to persuade the Hebrews and Pharaoh into My point of view, it’s you.”

“Yes……..but………”

“Please have the courtesy not to interrupt. It’s just possible you are minutely less silver-tongued than when you were young. The last forty years you’ve spent communing mainly with sheep could have something to do with it. But the effect is marginal.”

“It doesn’t feel that way to me.”

“I’m the best judge” said God. “The truth is, you just don’t want to undertake the task I’ve set you. You’ve become too comfortable, too complacent. This, plus that you’re now eighty, has made you more risk-averse than once you were. On the other hand, your years with the sheep, and your age, have bestowed on you a wisdom and maturity you didn’t have before. This will help inestimably when you are crossing swords – metaphorically of course – with the Hebrews and Pharaoh.”

“Well…….er…..yes…….er……..I suppose so…….”

“I’m glad you’re beginning to see this My way” said God. “Now, I’m going to do something I think you’ll like. I’m going to get your older brother Aaron to help you. I know you still fondly remember him, even though you were just a little boy *when you last saw him*. I’m going to tell Aaron to be at your side at all times when you’re in Egypt, so that he’ll bear some of the burden of the vicissitudes and hardships you may encounter. There’s nothing like having a big brother around, right, Moses? You and Aaron will make the perfect team.”

“Well……er……..yes…….er……I suppose so” said Moses.

Source: Exodus 4, 10-17

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