I, Pharaoh

The cliche’ is that I have decided to read more Scripture in 2023. But to shake it up, I’ve decided to start in Exodus, which is where I normally give up. I am also committed to meandering, rather than plowing through. If at this point in 2024 I end up in Exodus 20, then so be it. I will consider that a success if I have been present to these ancient words that are part of my story of faith.

I started early, in the day after Christmas, and today I made it through locusts, the next to the last plague before the first Passover.

Here’s what stood out to me: Pharaohs are always going to Pharaoh.

Egyptian Pharaohs.

Russian Pharaohs.

American Pharaohs.

It doesn’t matter.

In Exodus 5, when Moses and Aaron were asking for their people to be released from work for three days to go into the wilderness to worship God, Pharaoh scoffed and demanded they do more with less. When he was confronted about this injustice, he called them lazy.

When I read this, I couldn’t help but think about the recent the holiday travel disasters caused by Southwest airlines and the stories coming out from employees about how this was years in the making, caused by cuts to infrastructure in the business to bolster the bottom line.

I thought about the signs put up by frustrated restaurant owners who couldn’t staff their businesses when COVID restrictions were lifted, complaining that “No one wants to work anymore.” Apparently, an entire workforce, one that disproportionately bore the weight of sickness and death caused by a pandemic that the wealthy wanted to ignore, deciding not to return to jobs paying poverty wages earned them the label “Lazy.”

After the seventh plague, thunder and hail, came a moment of comedy. Pharaoh, whose defiance of God caused him to endure water turning into blood, swarms of frogs and gnats and flies, dead livestock, and boils, finally declared “This time I have sinned; the LORD is in the right, and I and my people are in the wrong.” (Ex. 9:27)

This time.

But, of course, he didn’t mean it. It took more plagues– locusts, darkness, and the killing of firstborn children– to get him to relent.

Pharaoh’s “This time…” reverberated through the centuries when, after witnessing the death of George Floyd in real time, the Pharaoh’s of our world decided, “Ok. This time we get it. We will stage a ceremonial taking of the knee. We will do the DEI training. Now we believe you.”

But, of course, they didn’t mean it. It will take more plagues to get them to relent.

However, there is hope. God, in whatever way we conceive of God, is always releasing people from bondage. History is always bending toward justice and waiting for Pharaohs like us to do the right thing.

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