Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – A Strange Circle of Events (Exodus 2:1-10)

Exodus 2:1-10 tells the famous events of the mother of Moses saving him from Pharaoh’s edict to kill all male newborns by putting him in a basket and into the river bank of the Nile. It is a strange circle of events in which Moses’ mother puts her son in the basket and into the river in hopes that he would survive, which then comes across Pharaoh’s daughter, who then gives him to one of her servants to nurse him, who ended up being Moses’ own mother! (Perhaps she knew the river currents so well that she knew the basket would land where it did.) Pharaoh’s daughter unknowingly gives the boy back to his own mother. This is important because some movies, like The Prince of Egypt by Dreamworks, depict Moses as ignorant of his Hebrew heritage and not knowing who his mother, brother, and sister are, but he is fully aware. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise since the world always gets God’s Word so horribly wrong.) Until Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him, Moses was raised by his mother (until he no longer needed to be weaned).

Only God could guide such a strange circle of events. There is the temptation, then, to interpret this text allegorically—that “just as Moses’ life was miraculously led in unexpected ways to good things, so God can miraculously lead your life to good things. You never know what God will do with the decisions you make!” While this is somewhat true when we consider the common Christian experience, that is not what this text is about. It is not an allegory for your life decisions; it is simply a description of historical events, particularly how Moses—the man who would lead Israel out of slavery in Egypt—survived Pharaoh’s edict and came to be an adopted prince in his house.

Upon retrospect, I can think back to times when I’ve made certain decisions and God led it to something good. Yet there are also times when God has used my decisions to discipline me! As Proverbs 16:9 says, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” I’m sure you can think of such times in your own life as well. Yet I mustn’t use this text to speak of God in such a way because the Scripture does not do so. Therefore, it would be an irresponsible use of this historical narrative to make it about me when it’s not about me but Moses, and when you look more closely, about God.

Rather than exercising narcigesis and seeing me in the text, I should utilise proper exegesis and see God, and I see Him guarding and protecting Moses for His good purposes I will read about in the next chapter of Exodus—God’s calling Moses to do as Joseph had prophesied centuries earlier, which is to lead God’s people out of the land of Egypt and into the land He swore to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 50:24). (“Narcigesis” is my made-up word for narcissistic exegesis, which is allegory. Narcigesis is making any given text about the false trinity of me, myself, and I rather than God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, insofar as the text is not talking about common human or Christian experience [e.g., love your neighbour, “Come to Me, you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest,” etc.].)

Theology Terms Used

  • Allegory: interpreting a narrative symbolically. E.g., just as Jesus calmed the storm, so He can calm your anxiety (Mark 4:35-41). Can Jesus help calm your anxiety? Yes. Is this what the text is about? No! Allegorical interpretations basically turn a narrative into vain, moral platitudes and thus undermine the true meaning of the text.
  • Exegesis: the process of biblical interpretation that utilises direct translation, genre, and various hermeneutical principles to determine the meaning of the text. (In terms of genre, for example, you read poetry such as the Psalms differently than a historical narrative like Exodus.)
  • Hermeneutics: a set of principles used to interpret the Scriptures. The hermeneutical principles we use as Lutherans are (not used in any particular order):
  1. Stick with the plain and obvious meaning of the text, unless context suggests otherwise (e.g., Mark 5:21-43; Isaiah 5:1-7).
  2. Scripture interprets Scripture (e.g., cf. Matthew 25:31-46 with Revelation 20:4-6, 11-15). The difficulty of certain passages is to be interpreted in light of other passages whose meaning is more evident.
  3. Pay attention to context (e.g., 2 Peter 3:16b).
  4. Interpret Scripture in light of the rule of faith (e.g., cf. Hosea 6:6 with Psalm 51:17).
  5. Interpret Scripture Christologically (e.g., Acts 8:26-40; Isaiah 52:13-53:12).
  6. Distinguish between Law and Gospel (e.g., Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9).
  • Rule of Faith: remembering who God is according to the Scriptures in His plan of salvation.

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