Saturday, October 2, 2010

Prince of Egypt

Still from Disney's lovely Prince of Egypt

Y'all remember last class we were talking about Mr. Laughter, what was his name? Isaac! Yes, and his two sons, Mr. Hairy...? Esau! Yes, and the Heel-grabber...Jacob! Yes, good. And Jacob tricked his Daddy and his brother so he got...the inheritance!  Yes. Years passed, Isaac died, and Jacob became a grown man. One night he was attacked by a stranger, and he wrestled all night with him. At dawn the stranger tried to get away, but Jacob wouldn't let him go until he identified himself. The stranger said he was an angel sent by God; and because Jacob had wrestled with God's messenger, his name was changed to I-s-r-a-e-l, which is Hebrew for "struggles with God."  The "el" on the end means God. Anytime you see a Bible name like Michael, Gabriel, or Daniel the el means "of God, with God," that sort of thing, and the first part of the name means something else. Do you remember who has already had a name-change in the Bible? Sarah? Yes, and her husband...Abraham. Yes. And when a name changes in the Bible that person gains authority and getting a promotion from God. And it can't change back.

Israel had 12 sons. We're not going to learn all their names, but their descendants became 12 tribes of a particular nation...? Umm, Egypt? No, but a good guess. These 12 tribes were the descendants of.... oh Israel!  Yes, the whole nation was named ...Israel.  Yes. How about that for a name-change? Well, Israel's youngest son was Joseph, and being the youngest, he was the cutest. Most of his older brothers were grown men with beards and not cute. And old Israel loved Joseph so much he gave him a very nice present...a garment...a coat with colors?  Yes, and the brothers were jealous, they couldn't stand how their father doted on the kid while they had to work all day. So what did they decide to do? Make him a slave! Almost. First they decided to kill him but figured that was too mean, so they threw him into a pit. Later on a slave-merchant came along, bought Joseph, and took him to...Egypt!  Yes, good.  Then his brothers took his colorful coat, put some goat's blood on it and told Israel that Joseph had been killed by an animal. What did Joseph do to deserve being hated? Nothing. Right. What did Abel do to deserve being hated? Nothing. Right again. In both cases they were innocent lambs that are sacrificed.

Joseph was a useful slave in Egypt, and as an adult was such a good manager that he became the Pharaoh's right-hand man, what we might call the prime-minister.

Then one year there was a great famine in Canaan, where Israel and his extended family lived. What's a famine? When people starve 'cause there's not enough to eat. Yes, what usually causes a famine? It doesn't rain? Yes, there's a shortage of water. So Israel's family moved to Egypt. Why Egypt? Let me put it this way: why would there be water in Egypt even if there's no rain? Oh, the Nile river is there!  Yes. Well, all the family came to Egypt, and met with Joseph, who ran things for the Pharaoh. They didn't recognize him, but Joseph knew who they were, his rotten brothers and their families. But he let them live in Egypt. Eventually they all made up, and Israel was so happy to his son Joseph back. I bet he was as happy as Abraham when he didn't have to sacrifice...Isaac!  Yes. By the way, who has seen the movie "Prince of Egypt?" Me. Me too. I did. But not all of you. The movie covers what we're going to be talking about for the next couple of classes, in case you want to watch it for homework- be sure not to enjoy it!

So for centuries the Israelites lived in Egypt, but as slaves. Everyone worked for the Pharaoh. Hey, if you saw Prince of Egypt, what was the bad guy's name? Ramses. Yes...what was his job? He was the Pharaoh. Mmmm, that was what people called him. What was his job? Being the king, ruling Egypt.
Yes. Now if we were speaking to the king could we say, "hey Ramses, howya doin'? Sure is hot today in Egypt isn't it, Ramses?" Ha, that wouldn't be right. Why not? Well, he's the king. Yeah, so? So you have to show respect. OK, so one way we show respect for someone's authority is to show respect for his name. By the way, Pharaoh doesn't actually mean King. Egyptians had another word for king: Nisut. "Pharaoh" means "Big House." Why would Ramses be called Big House? Because he lived in a big house, a palace. Yes. And the point is that the Egyptians and the Hebrew slaves had so much respect for Ramses that they wouldn't call him Ramses, or even call him King, but only refer to him by where he lived. That's also why we don't call our parents, or priests, or other people with authority by their first names.

Well, the Israelites were so fruitful that...they had a lot of children!  Yes, so many that Pharaoh got nervous. He was afraid the Hebrews might take over Egypt. While the Israelites are in Egypt the Bible calls them Hebrews. So Pharaoh commanded that all the Hebrew boy babies be thrown into what river? The Nile, yes...which is the only river in Egypt, so that was easy. What had those babies done? Nothing. Right. Who can tell me another time that a King killed a whole lot of baby boys? Oh, King Herod!  Yes, good, we'll talk about Herod later this year. All these babies were...innocent...innocent victims!  Yes, like sacrificed...lambs!  Yes.

When Pharaoh gave this command, one Hebrew woman hid her newborn baby. But babies grow and get too big to hide, so what did she do? Put him in a little boat in the Nile, and a lady found him. Yes, but the Bible doesn't say boat, it says...ark! Yes, a container for valuable things, in this case...a baby!  Yes, it was a basket with tar on the outside to make it waterproof. Who found the baby? The Queen? Close, the Pharaoh's daughter, a princess. She adopted Moses, and he grew up as part of Pharaoh's family.

One day when Moses was a young man, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Moses got upset, and killed the Egyptian. When Pharaoh found out, Moses had to flee Egypt. He got a job in the desert tending sheep, married his boss's daughter, Zipporah (I like that name), and minded his own business. But all the Hebrew slaves were still stuck in Egypt: "the people of Israel groaned under their bondage, and cried out for help, and their cry under bondage came up to God.  And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God saw the people of Israel, and God knew their condition." (Ex 2). And a covenant is a contract, but more like...a marriage! Yes, good.

So Moses was tending sheep one day, "And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, "I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt." I'd be the same, I gotta see that!  "God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" Then he said, "Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." Moses had to take his dirty shoes off to show respect. And God said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." God is reminding Moses that God has a long history with Moses' forefathers. Then God says, "the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." (Ex 4)

Moses said, "Why me?" But God said he'd help, and tongue-tied Moses could let his brother Aaron do the most of the talking in Egypt. So Moses goes to Egypt. He and Aaron visit his childhood friend Ramses, who is the Pharaoh now. They say, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.' "  But Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should heed his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and moreover I will not let Israel go." Having thousands of slaves is a good deal for Pharaoh, he's not giving that up. Now it'd be easy for Pharaoh to just kill Moses, but he wants to show his power. So he orders his bosses to make things harder for the Hebrews at work. Then the Hebrews will blame Moses and Aaron for their problems. 

So Moses is unhappy, and tells God, "O LORD, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me?  For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered thy people at all."  That doesn't mean delivered like a pizza...what's it mean? Taken away from Pharaoh? Yes, delivered away. (Ex 5)

 So God worked through Moses to bring 10 plagues on Egypt, who knows some of them? The river became blood? Yes, and? Frogs? Yes...any more? No? Well, there was a plague of gnats, one of flies, diseases, boils, which are big pus infections that hurt like crazy- all kinds of gross stuff, but Pharaoh wouldn't let the Israelites go after 9 plagues. So God sent a tenth plague:  "Yet one plague more I will bring upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go; when he lets you go, he will drive you away completely...About midnight I will go forth in the midst of Egypt; and all the first-born in the land of Egypt shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh who sits upon his throne, even to the first-born of the maidservant who is behind the mill; and all the first-born of the animals. And there shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever shall be again."

But does God plan to kill all the Hebrew firstborn? No. Right, Moses tells the Hebrews: "Select lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the passover lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year the flesh that night, roasted; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it."  Notice each family has to kill an unblemished lamb...what's unblemished? zits? Nice skin? Sort of. It means flawless: no broken bones, healthy, not mangy. The sort of lamb Abel would sacrifice, not Cain. Cain would get a cheap, scrawny lamb. So they get a good lamb, kill it, and eat it. By eating it, they make the sacrificed animal part of themselves.

Then Moses instructs: "Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin; and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. For the LORD will pass through to slay the Egyptians; and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door, and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to slay you." What's a basin? A big bowl. Yes, about handwashing size. When you kill a lamb like this, all the blood runs into the basin. Then the Hebrews had to spread it on the doorposts with a bunch of hyssop. Hyssop's a plant; if you tie a bunch of hyssop together it makes a broom or a brush. Question: why did they have to spread the blood on the doorposts? God told them to. Well, yes. But imagine you're the destroyer, the angel of death, floating over the houses going into each one and killing all the firstborn. Then you fly over a house with blood all over the doorway...what does that tell you? That something's already been killed there! Yes, genius! So what do you do? Go to the next house? Yes. You pass over the houses where something has already been killed. What is this event called? The Passover!  Yes! Jewish people still observe the Passover every spring. And tell me, who else in the Bible was able to spare the firstborn by sacrificing a substitute animal? Abraham! Yes, good. But suppose instead of sprinkling blood, the Israelites just stayed inside and prayed hard...would that work? No! Suppose they didn't want to mess the doorway up and left the basin full of blood on the porch? No! Killing a calf instead of a lamb? No! Right. For God to help the Israelites, they had themselves? Yes, they had to cooperate with God. Could they cooperate however they wanted to? No, the way God wanted them to. Yes, it's still like that, we have to work with God, to cooperate, his way, not our way.

So around midnight, "Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where one was not dead. And he summoned Moses and Aaron by night, and said, "Rise up, go forth from among my people, both you and the people of Israel..." And so the Israelites prepare to exit Egypt after 430 years. What's "exit" mean? To leave somewhere. Yes, to go out. Next we'll see what the Israelites did when they exited.

Story continues in the next post, Media.