Remember Tahrir Square earlier this year? Oddly, perhaps, I thought of the Egyptian revolution several times as I read a book about Moses' influence on the United States.
"'Freedom is the right to be free, and then the obligation to accept responsibility. If you don't understand that, then ugly stuff happens. And when you do understand that, you're prepared to meet the obligations straight-on.'" (pg. 132)
I read this statement in America's Prophet: How the Story of Moses Shaped America. Author Bruce Feiler was speaking with an African-American pastor about slavery and an Old Testament truth the slaves as well as other Americans had to learn. Society is not great if you have total freedom. Anarchy is not that good. In fact one political theorist suggests "the solution...is to voluntarily commit oneself to a new form of bondage. To reenslave oneself." (pg. 96)
Moses represents both. There is the freeing of the Israelites from the bondage of the Egyptians (whose Hebrew name apparently means "the confining place" or "pressed in"), yet they are soon put under a code of law. The children of Israel trade bondage to Egypt (often representing "the world" in Christian talk) for divine law.
Americans took inspiration from this. Before the Pilgrims got off the boat, they wrote the Mayflower Compact as a form of law governing them when they landed. Though not everyone agreed to it and didn't sign on, it shows that many of them understood that total freedom was not ideal. Who is going to keep your freedom to swing your fist in check with my desire to keep my face bruise-free? :)
According to the author, Exodus provides three things:
1. "A language of chosenness for a beleaguered population"
2. "A rhetoric of mission that emboldens the aggrieved people to strive for their own liberation"
3. "A rhetoric of control that allows the newly emancipated community to rein in any tendencies toward excess" (pg. 129)
I was trying to think of these things in light of the Arab Spring since it has been so much in the news throughout 2011. Even Egypt was included and while they were successful in ousting Mubarak, they are going through the growing pains of forming a new government and constitution. They are in that critical area of having won some freedom, but now having to curb it for the sake of not abusing minorities and just for common decency. No one wants criminally-minded individuals to think they now have the freedom to loot and make life more chaotic. The same is true for other countries such as Syria. Although they are still fighting that battle if, God willing, they are successful and one day free of the Assad regime, they will have to basically build a government from scratch. They will have to restrain any undesirable tendencies of those experiencing certain freedoms for the first time.
In the post where I showed off the many American Moseses, a friend mentioned that America could have chosen one of its own historical personalities instead of Moses since God provides for everyone. She stated that we didn't have to borrow from another culture. Yet I think for some - starting with the folks on the Mayflower - they were inspired by what they read back then. Just as we may get inspiration today from scientists, artists, musicians, poets and maybe even TV personalities and sports figures, they apparently took their inspiration from the Bible. Especially the Old Testament.
One lesson I took from this is that while the early settlers and former slaves realized they needed to "reenslave" themselves and drew inspiration from Moses, they didn't adopt Mosaic law completely. Some aspects were relevant. No need to murder and steal and commit adultery and lie and covet. It's always good to honor God and parents. But as far as I know they didn't find it necessary to become Jews and adopt the no-pork-or-shrimp rule or circumcise every male child or avoid mixing fabrics and such things. They saw the Mosaic Law as good and a principle from which they could learn. People need some guidelines in order to enjoy their freedoms. At the same time, they realized the Mosaic Law was for the children of Israel. They were OK with adopting the spirit of Mosaic Law without binding all Americans to every little law God deemed necessary for the Jewish people.
I think this is important because society today is not the same as it was then. Sure we are humans and have human traits that have passed through time. But things do change. We have to deal with regulating vehicles on busy streets which was not an issue when most people walked. And they had to deal with diseases such as leprosy in tougher ways than we do now that we can treat them with modern medicine.
It's a good lesson for me to realize principles are there, but they are not always applied to every generation the same way. Some things you can disregard and still honor God in how you deal with others. Jesus gave me the impression it's really the way we treat God and others that matters the most. When you honor God and love others, you naturally will not murder, steal from, commit adultery against or lie to them.
What lessons can we learn from Moses today? What lessons might the Egyptians of 2011 - mostly Muslims and Christians who should have some fondness for Moses - learn from him to help their own country?