Set free?

(Exodus 11-12)  God told Moses to go back to Egypt to set the Hebrew people free from their enslavement and oppression. Moses and his brother Aaron paid a visit to Pharoah and asked that the Hebrew people be allowed to go out in the wilderness to worship their God.  Pharoah refused and so was warned that a series of plagues would fall on his nation until he relented.  God sent nine plagues, one after another, that hit Egyptian economy, people and animals hard.  The plagues included locusts, frogs, a devasting hail storm, boils on the skin and more.  After each plague Moses gave Pharoah a chance to relent and after each plague was refused.  On the eve of a last plague, where all first born in the land would die, Moses prepared the Hebrew people with instructions for the night’s meal: each family would slaughter and roast a lamb,  paint the lamb’s blood on their door posts, make bread in a hurry with no yeast, and gather as families to eat the last meal.  Their bags were to be packed and their shoes and walking sticks ready by the door.  During that fateful night they heard the cries of their Egyptian neighbors as death struck every home other than the protected, blood-marked  Hebrews.  Pharoah himself lost a son that night, so he summoned Moses and Aaron and told them to take their people and go worship their God.  Then the Pharoah said a very strange thing, something almost always overlooked….

I feel squirmy every time I revisit this part of the Exodus story.  Lamb’s blood painted on doorposts.  God sending a midnight plague of death upon the firstborn of everyone…except the Hebrew people.  In our day of packaged meat and with an understanding that sickness is not a punishment of God, this story is jarring and superstitious sounding.  Probably not a story we would read to our 3-year-olds.     

No, I don’t like the idea of a plague of death for the firstborn.  But neither can any of us tolerate enslavement, cruelty, genocide and oppression done to other human beings.  So I understand that freedom wasn’t only necessary for the Hebrews.  It was as necessary for the good of the oppressors to stop being the oppressor as it was necessary for the good of the Hebrew people to be set free.  Oppression, enslavement, cruelty and torture destroys all who participate.  It also can become so systemic that in a broken world it takes radical, and even violent means, to bring it to the end.  I think about the Civil War in my own country which was as awful as any death plague in Egypt.  For us, that’s what it took for the oppressed and the oppressors even to begin to be set free.

So back to Pharoah’s strange request.

“And when you go and pray to your God, pray for a blessing on me too!”  begged Pharoah.

That’s right.  For a brief moment the Pharoah knew where to seek help…from people who called him the enemy.  Given his cruelty, it was a brazen thing to request.  And yet.  And yet.  With Pharoah’s request for a blessing, was there hope that he too was being set free?   The rest of the story may indicate otherwise, but the Hebrews didn’t know that yet. And if they did, would that let them off the hook?  No matter which way you look at it, futile or hopeful, the first thing the freed Hebrews were asked to do as they left slavery to worship God in a new land was to pray for a blessing on their former oppressors.  Sadly there is no record whether the Hebrews carried out that first request of them as people of God.
And so Pharoah’s begging for a blessing still haunts me. As a Christians, it is not my doorpost, but my heart that has been marked with the blood of Christ.  And the communion meal, with its roots in the Passover meal and in which I share, is a remembering of when we became a liberated people—set free from the consequences of death and sin, yes, but also set free to live a new way of life that follows Jesus’ teachings.  If I hear Jesus right, that means set free to pray for a blessing even on our enemies.

Do I?  Do we? The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is coming.