This post concerns the Biblical story of Moses who freed the Israelites from bondage within Egypt and later led the Israelites until his death. My discussion here is not from any recent study or even a brief refresher of the details. Instead, I am reflecting on my recollection of what I learned about the story taught to me 50 years ago when I was young. I am particularly focusing on my impressions of the story rather than the exact details although supposedly I did try to memorize at least the key elements at the time.
In this past week, the story of Moses came into my mind and resonated with my experiences of the past year especially and of the past decade in general. Again, I was just recalling what was in my memory from that childhood education. I am confronting that recollection in particular.
Briefly, my childhood recollection had God commanding Moses to confront the Pharaoh and demand the freedom of Mose’s tribe from bondage. I recall that Moses was reluctant and probably would have preferred to live out his life of relative privilege within the Egyptian society granted by his adoption into the upper classes at the time. God had to command Moses to act, and he eventually obeyed. My recollections are murky, but eventually Moses became extremely religious (or perhaps he always was, I don’t recall) so that when he received the stone tablets of God’s commands, he shattered those tablets when he observed the debauchery of his tribe. My recollection is that he did so out of anger and disgust of his own people.
The stories of the old testament fascinate me because the characters, including God himself, are presented so realistically. While the stories can be fantastical, the actual descriptions of the individuals are eerily familiar, reminding me of people I have actually met, and at times even reminding me of myself. Although we recognize the Bible as marketing for the correctness and authority of the religion, the Bible, and the old testament in particular, contain stories of ambiguity and accident. The appeal of the Biblical stories is the authentic depiction of the people involved.
I will say that there are equally authentic depiction of characters and events in both the old and new testaments. All of the characters appear to be realistic, to be point of being recognizable in today’s life. We’ve met people like them, or at least heard of modern analogs facing modern circumstances. There is still a very distinct difference in the category of characters in the two testaments. The new testament characters almost universally remind me of educated people holding government or government sponsored positions. In contrast, the characters in the old testament, even if they are described as Kings, remind me of people who are not involved in government, and indeed are involved in avoiding government’s reach.
The characters in the old testament are people you may meet in a market or a public transport.
The story of Moses is a good example. The main story characters are God, Moses, and the Pharaoh, all of whom have privileged and exclusive positions within their society and time. Commoners would not be able to approach them except under very controlled circumstances. Despite their positions, their characters are depicted in a way that match people we would encounter in normal daily life.
I have met people with personalities matching either Moses, God, or the Pharaoh. I’m talking about personalities and temperaments and not about authority or actions. To be fair, I’ve also met people with personalities matching those depicted in the new Testament. The distinction is that the people in the latter are almost always personalities of people acting professional capacity typically in some government role or sponsored position. The people matching personalities of the old Testament are people I’ve encountered in daily life, or people I’ve heard stories about circumstances arising out of their daily life.
This probably was received the same way in the times when the stories were first told.
I concede that the author of this story may have deliberately constructed this story to have this kind of recognizability in order to make the stories relatable. I go further though in believing that the basic story is decent quality of journalism that accurately captures what an investigator would learn when chronicling a not too distant event. There were real people in this story, or at least realistic people, and they occupied the roles of Moses, God, and the Pharaoh. There is a sense where we could see ourselves in either role, at least in terms of our emotional and intellectual responses to the circumstances.
I reflect on this story recently because I realized that my response to the story has changed radically. During childhood when I learned the story, I projected from my world view at the time. That world view was as a minor with authoritative figures I had to defer to. I was a young teenager at the time and stereotypically rebellious although perhaps uncharacteristically keeping the rebelliousness a secret. From that perspective, I delighted in the righteousness of God’s commands, the growth of Moses to carry out the commands, and the well deserved defeat of the Pharaoh. I embraced the lesson of the importance and eventual reward for following God’s commands even at great costs of struggle and sacrifice.
The story is remarkable because the struggle was real. Even in my youth, I wondered why it was so difficult for God to accomplish his goals. He was God. His adversary was the Pharaoh. The various catastrophes he imposed on the Kingdom resulted in great losses of lives and fortunes, but of others, not of the Pharaoh directly. God should not go through such a long drawn out process. This is great story telling to stretch out the drama over a period so people can relate the circumstances. I think it also adds credibility that a similar sequence of events involving three actors actually played out with roughly the same responses by the personalities involved.
The drama comes from a triad of three personalities. The story of Moses could have played out in two different ways: one without God’s attention, and the other without Pharaoh’s presence. Given the personality I recall about Moses, he would have been equally comfortable in either alternative reality. The fact that there was a threesome is what disrupted Moses’ early life.
Triads occur frequently in discussions of conflicts. I am reminded immediately of the cartoon depiction of a man torn by an angel whispering in on ear, and a demon in the other. A more academic depiction is that of Freud’s tripartite personality of an ego struggling to satisfy both his lower id and his higher super-ego. The id is demanding immediate satisfaction of its desires or fears. The super ego is demanding sacrifices and postponement of rewards in order to accomplish something greater.
Using Freud’s analogy, I liken my childhood interpretation of Moses’ story where Moses was the ego, Pharaoh was the id, and God was the super-ego. The story is a morality play where the super ego defeats the id to the benefit of all.
Now, when I think back on this story, I am inverting the roles. God was the id, and the Pharaoh might have been the super-ego. The id defeated the super-ego. This interpretation seems to be consistent with the subsequent story where after Moses’ victory, he spends the remainder of his life leading his tribe wandering through the wilderness in an existence bordering on misery.
My youthful self interpreted those wandering years as a victory in that it was better to be free even if it may mean being more impoverished. My older self now wonders whether it was a consequence of a bad decision. The story itself is ambiguous. I recall that God was punishing Moses during this period when he should have been rewarded. I didn’t understand God’s reason at the time. Now, I wonder if God’s later punishment of Moses was because Moses followed God’s command.
What would have happened if from the beginning Moses just said no to God? God could have killed the man or at least made the remainder of his life miserable, at least a slave at the same level as the rest of his tribe. Had that happened, what then would God accomplish? What would have happened to the enslaved tribe?
Typical of the old testament stories, the story is ambiguous even to the extent where God Himself is ambiguous, and perhaps even ambivalent.
One of my favorite summaries of the Bible is that it describes a God of history instead of a god of nature. This God does not will anything in particular. He may set events in motion, but he may do so in the same way we might approach a video game when it is time to enter a new level. He just wants to see what happens. The key distinction of this kind of god as opposed to all others, is that he takes credit for whatever happens. Everything that happened was part of God’s plan but that plan was defined in retrospect.
This is a contradiction because a plan is supposed to precede the events. Despite that contradiction, there remains a power of respecting history itself. We may disagree with why things happen, but we have to live with the fact that they did happen. The beauty of the old testament stories is that it captures what the key players experienced as the events unfolded. The other beauty is the sequencing of stories, where latter stories would not have been possible had the earlier ones not happened. There is a sense that there is advancement and this advancement justifies the earlier events.
We don’t really need a religion to tell us that our current conditions are constrained by what happened earlier. Religion comes in when we insist that the current conditions are moving forward toward something better. The stories of the old testament describe sacrificing good things, sometimes a lot of good things, for the reward of something better even that something is small. As history further unfolds, that minor benefit will become very important, and the sacrifices will be forgotten.
We are living though something similar just in recent years. I believe we clumsily responded to scientific reports exaggerating the threat of a new pandemic. That response caused us to sacrifice individual freedom and economic initiatives. Those reactions now constrains our future to be unlike our past. We will have universal passports that anyone can scan for government approval for admission into any space. Those passports initially will be about the risks of infection of a virus, but these will be permanent and include infections of ideas or behaviors disapproved by government. Fast forward a few generations, the people at that time will confront new challenges where they will feel a need to defend the essential aspects of this kind of tracking and tracing.
Similarly, we are now embarking on universal adult vaccinations. This is starting for one particular virus, but already there is a demand for repeated vaccinations for boosters or for variants. Inevitably, there will be adult vaccines required for ever imaginable virus. In a few short years, there will be monthly vaccination schedules involving multiple vaccines at the same time, and in multiple locations in the body (both arms, and both legs, for example). To combat the remote possibility of natural illness from either of these viruses, everyone must suffer through vaccine reactions with certainty every month. Eventually, this kind of monthly trauma will define the responsibilities of being an adult. This is similar to how distant ancestors considered periodic communal sacrifices of their most prized animals to be their responsibility.
The precedence has now been set, and history is now on a completely different trajectory. The God of the old testament takes credit for this when our descendants get comfortable with their lot, seeing it as progress over what we sacrificed. The progress is to isolate man from nature. The ultimate goal is total isolation from natural harm so that that every affliction of man is solely the result of what we do to ourselves. When that happens, our descendants will praise the God for challenging us to make the sacrifices we are making.
Or at least that is consistent with my childhood reading of the Moses story. The wandering Israelites freed from Egyptian bondage eventually founded a state of their own that eventually experienced a short period of prosperity before losing it. That story led to the permanent obsession of a promised land. Ultimately, that promise was part of the bargain the tribes made to follow Moses out of Egypt. That promise was the reward for the suffering endured before the promised prosperity arrived to their descendants.
My more recent interpretation of the Moses story is different. The exodus out of Egypt might have been a bad decision. The Pharaoh may have had the super-ego type position but he was overwhelmed by the power of the id.
My more recent interpretation of the Moses story is different. The exodus out of Egypt might have been a bad decision. The Pharaoh may have had the super-ego type position but he was overwhelmed by the power of the id. The story that reaches us is probably incomplete in fully documenting the Pharaoh’s reasoning, but it is honest in telling us that the Pharaoh was earnestly considering the overall situation. In particular, he was frequently wavering in his resolve. This suggests that he was considering Moses’ arguments and God’s actions. The fact that his heart kept hardening in his own contrary positions suggests that he was not convinced. There may have been better arguments that favored his positions. He was considering the prosperity of the entire Kingdom. Maybe he was even looking out for the Israelites because he was very aware of what lies out in the wilderness that they otherwise would end up in. After all, the inhabitable options are controlled by elements the Pharaoh has been unable to conquer in an permanent manner.
The lesson of Moses’ story may be that God can give bad advice when offered proactively. The outcomes of following that advice may be great sacrifices, but there will be something good that comes out of it, and that something may be unexpected. God, being a god of history, will take credit of the good outcomes no matter what course history takes. Ultimately, Moses had a choice, and either answer would have worked the favor of the god of history. Moses could have said no. Things would have worked out.
The amazing aspect of the Bible is that the recurring theme that the individuals always have a choice, and that choice often is ambiguous absent God’s commands. The decisions and actions become history that God automatically owns. The point is that the choices could have gone either way. Follow God’s commands to sacrifice voluntarily, or accept the wrath of God’s choice of sacrifices. In either way, there is a penalty or loss but affecting different groups and at different scales. Either way, the actions or inactions constrain the future. When that future arrives, the new decisionmakers will view their history as progress in some way consistent with God’s grace.
My recent thinking about Moses’s story is that he had a choice to say no, and saying no could have lead to a different series of events that may have venerated him in some other way. A bigger change in attitude concerns the Pharaoh in this story. Later in life, I identify more strongly with the Pharaoh than I do with Moses. In particular, I am experience a similarly relentless sequence of failures in terms of what my I believe would be a better choice. My opponent has access to superior powers. After each failure, I try to reorganize my thoughts in hopes of prevailing against the next onslaught, but only to be disappointed again. I am being worn down in my own mini-challenges but in an analogous way to the much higher stakes that the Pharaoh faced. In the not too distant future, I will rush into my own version of a parted Red Sea and the experience the final and permanent defeat.
I will be living with universal social credit score passports that require monthly medical injections of who know what. The biblically minded writers will record my losses as being purely selfish just as they depicted the Pharaoh’s heart. I am not entirely selfish. I don’t want this kind of world for the people who will be around long after I am gone. I feel like I have good reasoning for this. The future generations would not have the opportunities I had personally, and they would not be able to enjoy the benefits made possible by others having the opportunities to do what they did.
The problem with the passports is that early in life most people who later become successful will at first make mistakes that will permanently exclude the from the future opportunities. Those who do escape the exclusion through good behavior earlier in life will be less likely to excel to the same degree as those who overcame their prior failures and disappointments.
The future will be bleaker for individuals. The future will be like the years of wandering through the wilderness. The population will find little pleasures and elevate them by contrasting that those particular pleasures was not possible before. Their overall wellbeing may be more impoverished and less optimistic at an individual level, but they will grow to accept that they are on the path of progress and all is occurring as a result to obedience to God’s will.
I fear a far bleaker world of vaccine dependency compounded by the increasingly generalized definition of a vaccine. The vaccine schedules are eroding our natural defenses. These defenses include more than just natural immunity to infectious agents. These defenses include the bodies ability to manage overall health such as fighting off precancerous conditions. The vaccine schedules will erode our fertility or our portion of the population capable of reproducing. Vaccine side-effects will hamper development of future generations so that they will be weaker mentally and socially as well as physically. While these latter concerns are conjecture, there is zero attempt to scientifically rule out these possibilities before pushing out new vaccines.
I have a Pharaoh level of concern of what will happen next. I also have the Pharaoh’s end-state resignation that I have no choice but to watch the walls of water collapse around me.
The intriguing part of Moses’ story remains why things did not turn out more happily for him after his victorious obedience to God’s commands. Moses would go on to get a stern lecture by God that resulted God giving Moses commandments engraved in stone tablets that Moses was burdened to carry back to his people. When he returned to his people, people who should honor him for their salvation from Egyptian bondage, he saw the massive incongruity of the people’s behavior with what was on the tablets. Then something remarkable was recorded: he smashed the tablets.
Of the entire story, the most intriguing aspect is his smashing of his stone tables with the personal autograph of God himself. We are told he did so out of anger for his people’s disobedience and disrespect of their God. I think there are other explanations but all of them to one extent or another put the blame on the people’s behavior.
I’m thinking about this story anew from a perspective over 50 years removed from when I first learned of the story. I mentioned before that from the beginning, Moses had a choice to say no. Things would have turned out differently, but the final result probably would be viewed positively in current times. By the time of the tablets, he was much older and wiser. When he faced the reality of his tribe he acted rashly.
Perhaps that rashness was a moment of clarity: what happened on top of the mountain was unnatural. The demands on the tablet were unnatural. In front of him was an exhibition of humans living naturally as part of natural world. God may have created something that Moses understands better than God does. The smashing of the tablets might have been Moses’ brief moment of clarity and confidence to say no to God.
I imagine that could have been what happened. In that case, the story is even more tragic because Moses recapitulates to God and proceeds to punish his tribe, telling his tribe that humans do not belong in nature. Maybe that is actually in the story, cleverly hidden so that young eyes will be unable to perceive it. The ultimate lesson is that men do not occupy the same realm God occupies, contrary to His wishes.
I see parallels with the current events. We are told with remarkable unison across all governments, as if instructed by a solitary God, that we need to be protected from nature, and against or own nature. The current tablets come in the form of mandatory schedule of vaccines and mandatory social-credit passports. Those governments are presenting these tablets to the people and are observing a similar incongruity Moses faced. They are rapidly approaching the moment that will forever define their character. Will they smash their tablets like Moses did his?