“He (Moses) looked around to make sure no one else was there. Then he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.”
Exodus 2:12 (Common English Bible)
“Looking around at them with anger, deeply grieved at their unyielding hearts, he said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’”
Mark 3:5 (Common English Bible)
Moses was born during a time of great darkness. A new king was seated in Egypt and he feared the growing strength of the Jewish people. They were a minority people in Egypt and their growing number unsettled the king. So the king resolved to “deal with them.” As a result, the Egyptians organized their military to harass the Jewish people and force them into slave labor. But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread. Pharaoh’s contempt for the Jewish people grew until he looked upon them with disgust and dread. More had to be done to hold this growing, minority population in check. The first chapter of Exodus details the evil that was unleashed by the king: young children would be separated from their parents and the male children would be thrown into the Nile River and drowned.
Born to Jewish parents, Moses was numbered among those who would suffer the cruelty of Pharaoh’s unsteady and fearful leadership. When his mother saw that Moses was “healthy and beautiful” she hid him from the Egyptian authorities for three months. When she could no longer hide him, she placed her son in a reed basket, sealed it, and placed the child among the reeds at the riverbank. Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe in the river, found the child, and, moved with compassion, resolved to raise the child as her own. Raised as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses lived a life of ease and privilege in the royal court. Yet, as maturity came on, Moses began to be angry. Perhaps he fought against the anger, this disturbing indignation at the intolerable injustice he saw day after day propagated against the Jewish people – his people! Nonetheless, anger took possession of Moses.
Pay close attention to the developing narrative here in Exodus – it is when Moses found something to be angry at that he found God. Perhaps Moses’ anger was foolish. It did explode in such grand fashion that he killed the solider that was beating a Hebrew slave. Yet, Moses could no longer watch something so unbearably wrong and not take action. We might imagine the consequences to a pastor today for speaking the truth to power. Moses knew immediately that his response might not have been wise. He sought to cover it up. But intrinsic to this story is that Moses’ anger unleashed the beginning of the real Moses – the Moses portrayed on the silver screen and proclaimed from the pulpit. A quiet Moses would have made little difference, would not have been remembered. Soon, following this explosion of anger, Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandments that have shaken generations. As Henry Emerson Fosdick writes, “His indignation against evil got him somewhere.”
Each generation presents some incarnation of injustice and evil. Occasionally it is hard to see God when the suffering of the present age presses so profoundly upon our consciousness. Well, perhaps if we permit the present injustice to arouse our indignation we will see God. We will experience God’s nudge to quit our moral apathy, untether our passion for fairness and justice, and in our own response experience something of the holy ground that Moses stood on. When our Lord, Jesus Christ saw a deed of mercy being withheld by some misplaced ceremonial allegiance, he looked around with anger and took action to correct an injustice. Jesus teaches us by his response that, in the face of evil or injustice, we are not Christian if we are not angry. Martin Luther once wrote that it is when he is angry that he preaches well and prays better.
Harry Emerson Fosdick, What Is Vital In Religion: Sermons on Contemporary Christian Problems, (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1955) 4.