Scars

Day 20 

Scars

“Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians 

and was powerful in speech and action.” 

Acts 7:22

‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

    because the Lord has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

    to proclaim freedom for the captives

    and release from darkness for the prisoners’ 

Isaiah 61:1

The story of the Exodus found in Exodus chapters 2-4

Scars. We have them, and not just on the outside, numb lumps of tissued skin, but within us, numb lumps of scarring memory pushed into the recesses of our hearts where nobody sees, where nobody knows. Where we can pretend they don’t exist. There they remain, silent, but still at work in every thought, word and action of our being. 

We lived through the moments that caused them, and now, unthinking, we live through them still. We see everything through them, re-live everything through them, these tinted window-pane scars colouring every moment, every relationship ever after. We see ourselves through them.  Who am I? I am who my scars say I am. Is there another way to be?

They had them too, these people. Numb lumps of tissued skin and number lumps of scarring memories. For generations power had bent them down, ground them down, down to dust. 

They were slaves. They were the children of slaves. Freedom was a foreign thing. 

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But they were not just dust.  A wisp-thin thread of breath still lingered in their lungs and in the echoing corridors of their minds there remained a faint remembrance of a time when they’d been loved, a moment they’d been chosen. A memory, like a tune half remembered but almost forgotten, like a distant melody floating on the breeze. A song once sung over them in a garden long ago. 

So they called with all their breath, with all their tears, with all their beaten broken hearts. They called to God. The God who had made their fathers a promise. They held onto this promise like a lifeline thread. They clung onto it as though their very breath depended on it. Because it did.

And God heard them. Remembered them. Leaned low and listened.

‘‘During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.’ Exodus 2:23-25  

God was concerned for them. So He began His powerful work of emancipation.

Through a baby. A child. A confused young man.

‘When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”’ Exodus 2:10

Moses now grows up in the gap between these two cultures, the adopted son of ruling royalty and the biological son of slaves. Hebrew, Egyptian, privileged. Confused. Belonging everywhere. Belonging nowhere.

Nowhere but the very centre of God’s great plan of redemption for Israel. And Moses began living in this calling before he even knew he had it, led by his beating heart towards justice…

‘One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. The next day he went out and saw two Hebrews fighting. He asked the one in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”

The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “What I did must have become known. When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.”’ Exodus 2:11-15

Before he was called by God, Moses already found himself called by his own heart, drawn toward caring for the oppressed and the vulnerable. 

‘Now a priest of Midian had seven daughters, and they came to draw water and fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. Some shepherds came along and drove them away, but Moses got up and came to their rescue and watered their flock.’ Exodus 2:16-17

The word used for ‘rescue’ in verse 17 above is the same word God will use when He calls Moses to partner with Him to come to Israel’s rescue1. 

Moses already had a heart that lent towards justice, a stirring within him that cared for the down trodden, and it wasn’t just talk. On all three occasions, (the oppression of the Egyptian slave master, the Hebrews fighting and the daughters of Jethro at the well) Moses makes the concerns of the oppressed his own. And intervenes. 

God sees Moses long before Moses saw himself and He was going to take that one small heart of Moses that leant toward justice and stretch it over a much larger injustice.

God sees us. He sees who we truly are long before we do. He sees the authentic shape of our beating heart and strengthens us to be… ourselves. 

Moses, a fugitive from Egypt, marries into yet a third culture, alien and estranged, he then names his first born son for how he feels…

‘Moses agreed to stay with the man, who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage. Zipporah gave birth to a son, and Moses named him Gershom, saying, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.” Exodus 2:21-22

Who am I? I am slave, a son of slaves. I am a failed prince, a fugitive. I am a stranger, an alien. A foreigner in a foreign land.  Who am I? I am who my scars say I am. Is there another way to be? 

Jesus

Moses didn’t know, didn’t understand who he was. His identity was caught now between three worlds: the worlds of a Hebrew slave, an Egyptian Prince, and a desert dwelling Midianite. Who was he? Where did he belong?  Nowhere. 

Nowhere, but the centre of God’s plans for Israel’s redemption. He just didn’t know this yet. So God came down to make this clear…

‘Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”’ Exodus 3:1-5

YHWH draws near in fire and holy light and whispers the belonging Moses soul has never fully found…

‘Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.’ Exodus 3:6

‘I am the God of your father’ Moses, the family you belong to, the people you belong with, and these people, your people, belong with Me.

Just as He first introduced Himself to Isaac (Genesis 26:24) and Jacob (Genesis 28:13), God now introduces Himself to Moses by His relationship with his forebears. God introduces Himself to Moses (a floundering fugitive just as Jacob had been), not because Moses is flawless and faithful, but because God is: faithful to this family, faithful to His promise to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 26:2-4),  faithful to His own commitment to bless all people through this people.

‘The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” Exodus 3:7-10

‘I have seen’, ‘I have heard’, ‘I am concerned’, ‘I have come’; Because God always sees, always hears and is always concerned for the cries of the oppressed, and searches out his shepherds, calling them from their sleepy wilderness into His strategic action. 

Whether is is Martin Luther King, Samuel Sharpe or William Wilberforce God seeks out people with hearts which beat in time with His, beating for justice, beating for compassion, beating with the courage to answer His call.

But the call to courage can be a rhythm that causes hearts to miss a beat. A life forged in the muddy reality of human relationship, human brokenness, human inhumanity is a life full of scars reshaping our souls. 

‘But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”’ Exodus 3:11

Who am I? I am a voiceless nothing. I am a fugitive, an alien, a failure. Who am I even to be speaking with this God of Israel. ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?’

Who am I? I am who my scars say I am. Is there another way to be?

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Who am I? The question that has settled in the depths of Moses being since the moment he was drawn out of the water as a child. He has lived this question, viewing everything through it, this tinted window pane scar colouring every moment every relationship ever after. Colouring this moment right now, this moment when the God of all the Universe is calling him by name into who he truly is. He can’t see, can’t comprehend this call, all he can see is his own inadequacy, because he cannot see himself as God sees him.

And YHWH’s answer is not to explain to Moses who he is, but to explain to Moses who He is, and that He will be with him. Because we never truly know ourselves until we know ourselves through God’s eyes, until we know God and know ourselves though His presence with us. And this takes the time it takes.

‘And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”’ Exodus 3:12

And the sign God gives Moses is His word that they will meet back at same place, having accomplished everything God has said, arriving back where they started, knowing the place for the first time2.

Because this is really how we know His name, know Him. Through taking a journey with Him, through the unfolding of our story with Him on this road. There is no other way to really learn His name. It’s a walk. A long one. With Him. It’s a story we live in and find ourselves alive in. With Him. This story He has been writing, this road he has been walking since before all time began.

Moses won’t know who he is, until he knows himself through God’s eyes and he won’t know who God is until he takes a journey with Him, to the centre of God’s heart. And the same will be true for the whole nation of Israel, and every other nation, every other human being with breath in lungs on this pale blue spinning ball. Knowing God is a journey we take. Sometimes reluctantly. 

“Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”’ Exodus 3:13

A name is the beginning of a person, the Iceberg-tip of knowing who a person is. In ancient Hebrew culture a name is chosen carefully with the intention of capturing the destiny and essential nature of a person. It is imbedded intimately into the story of both the child and the family they are born into. ‘Esau’ meant ‘hairy’ because he was, ‘Jacob’ meant ‘deceiver’, because he did, Moses meant ‘to draw out’ because he was drawn out of water, and Moses’ son’s name, ‘Gershom’, meant ‘foreigner there’ (Exodus 2:22). Because that is how his father Moses felt all the days of his life. 

So when Moses asked God, “What is your name?” He was also asking Who are you? What is your nature, your essence, your story?

So what name can the God of all this spinning universe be captured by? What name does He present Himself to humans with that humans can comprehend? How do you label the God who laid the foundations of the cosmos and holds the spinning galaxies in His hand? How can any ‘tip of the iceberg’ name sit right on a God whose story is eternal, whose vastness is incommunicable, whose glory is unfathomable?

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And so God answered with a descriptor of the indescribable, replying with a name naming the unfathomable, limitless, incommunicable nature of who He is…

‘God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I Am has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14

I AM. I am who I am. I will be who I will be. The One who is. YHWH. The name naming the reality of God… endless, absolute, omnicient, omnipotent, omnipresent…

Present with us.

I Am. No explanation, no limitation, no job description, no title. God could have given Moses His business card in the form of an intergalactic light show, a description of how He made the earth or a spiritual experience envisioning God’s throne room. But God keeps it simple. Mysterious. Confusing. Don’t even try and get your head around this Moses. Because no label humans give me will ever hold me anyway. I Am. YHWH. You will know me as you walk with me. I Am. With you. 

God will reveal Himself to Moses as they travel along this road together and Moses will come to speak with God ‘as one speaks with a friend’ (Exodus 33:11). But right now on this mountain, at the beginning of their journey together, standing before this bush all fire and light, Moses is squinting and shielding his eyes, unable to hold this moment in his small bewildered mind. God knows this is all much bigger than Moses can comprehend, so He gives Moses another name, a window into who He is: Faithful. 

The story of His already long walk with Moses’ family line. 

I Am; The God of your fathers. 

‘God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,

    the name you shall call me

    from generation to generation.’ 

‘Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, “The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.’

Exodus 3:15-16

And this is the second and third time (three times in 10 verses) God introduces Himself in the context of His relationship with Moses’ fathers and forebears, embedding Himself into their story, the story of His long walk with them.

Jesus GodIMGP9544YHWH Jesus God

God embedded Himself into the storyline of frail human beings, their stories woven through with Him. His large and long story of blessing and covenant faithfulness to faulty, floundering human beings. All of us. 

As Moses walks with YHWH he will learn who He is; faithful. But right now on this mountain standing in front of a bush on fire, Moses feels out of his depth, all at sea, like a baby set afloat on a raging river, swamped by circumstances beyond his control, borne along by a current leading back to all the places he thought he’d escaped and feels inadequate to face. 

‘Moses answered, ‘What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, “The Lord did not appear to you”?’ Exodus 4:1

What if..? What if they do not believe? What if I do not believe? What if my anxieties and insecurities are stronger than the word of the living God? What if I am living in the shadow of a confusing painful past and seeing reality through the scars it inflicted? 

Who am I? I am who my scars say I am. Is there another way to be?

Moses question isn’t really a question, but a stalling excuse. 

God answers Moses ‘question’ with another ‘question’- that’s not really a question.

‘Then the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’

‘A staff,’ he replied.’ Exodus 4:2

What is that? As if He doesn’t know what it is. A staff. The tool of a shepherd for doing the job of a shepherd, shepherding sheep. Shepherding God’s children out of slavery to safety. But Moses doesn’t see this yet. His shepherding in the wilderness up until now had been a wandering and a hiding. His staff a crutch to lean on. 

So God takes this crutch and forms it into a weapon, a weapon to wage a war on darkness.

‘The Lord said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’

Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.  Then the Lord said to him, ‘Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.’ So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. ‘This,’ said the Lord, ‘is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared to you.’ Exodus 4:3-5

‘So that they may believe’….so that you may believe Moses. The only ‘crutch’, the only staff any of us need lean on is God’s presence with us, His power, His faithfulness. All our crutches that are not Him will eventually become snakes, tempting us away from reliance on YHWH, the only being who can truly be relied on. 

God then gives Moses three signs to convince Israel (and to convince Moses) to believe (Exodus 4:6-9). But still Moses identity as a ‘nobody belonging nowhere’ retains its death-grip on his heart. All the burning bushes and miraculous signs in the world will not convince a heart convinced of its own inadequacy. Healing is the only miracle that can free Moses mind. He is a slave to the scars of his past. A child of slaves. Freedom is a foreign thing. Confidence is a foreign thing. 

Who am I? I am who my scars say I am. Is there another way to be?

‘Moses said to the Lord, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’ Exodus 4:10

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God has appeared to Moses in a bush alight with fire and holy light, personally introduced Himself as YHWH, ‘I AM’- the almighty, limitless and omnipotent God. He has declared His commitment to the welfare of Moses and his people. He has turned crutches into snakes, skin into sickness, sickness into healing and then promised greater miracles yet; 

And all Moses can see is his own inadequacy. 

He can’t hear God’s call because his identity scars call louder, scream longer than God’s voice. The God of all the universe stands before him in fire and light but Moses’ insecure identity is a stronger reality for him than God’s presence right there with him. 

Seeing isn’t believing when our eyes are coloured and conditioned by our past. Seeing isn’t believing when what we believe about ourselves stops us truly seeing; Truly seeing ourselves. Truly seeing God. Present. Right there, with us. 

The uncomfortable truth is that we, like Moses, all live and breathe and pass our days on a planet inhabited by humans. Humans who love conditionally, and love occasionally. Our human identities are forged in our ‘formative years’, formed by broken breaking moments of loneliness, negligence, impatience, inconsistency and a thousand other words that name our pain. And God, well He can be standing right there before us, beside us, all around us, revealing His commitment to us and our vocation, and all we can see is our ‘not enough’ all we can feel is our inadequacy and all we can hear is the thudding of fear in our chest. 

When we feel to see, we fail to see, fail to see the world as it is, ourselves as we truly are and God, right there. With us. A faithful God, slow to give up on us, after we have long given up on ourselves. A God who says ‘Who are you? You are mine. You are who I know you to be, though you don’t believe this yet. You are not who your scars say you are. There is another way to be; Whole.’ 

God replies now to Moses with more questions that are not really questions… because He knows Moses won’t yet be able to answer them anyway. Not really. Not with more than words.

‘The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’ Exodus 4:11-12

I will be your crutch. Lean on me. I will be your staff to lean on, your voice to speak with, your words to say. Stop living out the script lines of your complicated childhood, lines rehearsed through a lifetime of belonging nowhere. You belong. With Me.

But Moses script lines are more convincing to him than the word of God.

‘But Moses said, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.’ Exodus 4:13

Moses didn’t yet understand God’s heart or God’s ways. Not yet. He thought he needed eloquence and confidence for this job. He didn’t understand that he already possessed all he needed, a humble shepherd’s heart that leant toward justice… and the presence of God with him. God doesn’t see things as humans do. We see outward appearance, performance, presentation. God looks at our heart, searching for the faintest remaining flicker of His Imago Dei there, fanning it to life. Moses’ humble heart that bent toward justice and acted for the oppressed was perfect for his calling. He just didn’t know it yet.

Knowing God is a journey, a long walk of getting to know who He is and getting to know who we are in Him, and who we aren’t- in recognising the false story our script-lined life has given us. Moses will mention his ‘faltering lips’ on two more occasions (Chapter 6, verses 12 and 30) but after this his excuses strangely disappear and he becomes a strong, humble and respected leader, a leader who leans towards justice and mercy. The leader he was all along.

But right here at the beginning of the journey though God is angered at Moses for not believing His word, He meets him where he’s at, while having no intention of leaving him there. God allows Moses the support of his brother Aaron,

‘I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. But take this staff in your hand so that you can perform the signs with it.’ Exodus 4: 14-17

‘So you can perform the signs…’ so you will remember to lean on me and believe who I say you are over who your scars dictate you to be.

Knowing God is a journey, a long walk of getting to know who He is and getting to know who we are in Him, and who we aren’t- in recognising the false story our script-lined life has given us. This was Moses journey, and it would become Israel’s journey too. 

So Moses goes, with his staff. 

With his God. 

So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. 

And he took the staff of God in his hand.’ Exodus 4:20

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And over a millennia later God himself in leather sandals will go, will ride on a donkey into another city full of people enslaved, a people bound not with physical chains, but spiritual ones. And a week later these people will choose their chains over Him, and condemn Him to die for trying to save them. And God will use this, the darkest moment of their slavery, to break every chain around every human heart forever. 

Just as He said He would through the prophet Isaiah. 

‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,

    because the Lord has anointed me

    to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

    to proclaim freedom for the captives

    and release from darkness for the prisoners’ 

Isaiah 61:1

Who are you? You are mine. You are who I know you to be, though you don’t believe this yet. You are not who your scars say you are. There is another way to be. Whole.

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Journey Further

Knowing God is a journey, a long walk of getting to know who He is and getting to know who we are in Him, and who we aren’t- in recognising the false story our scars have given us. 

Where are you at on this journey?

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References, Notes and Credits

1 Goldingay, John ‘Exodus and Leviticus For Everyone’, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010

2 “We shall not cease from exploration, And the end of all our exploring, Will be to arrive where we started, And know the place for the first time.” T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

All Biblical quotations are from the NIV Bible UK version (NIVUK) unless otherwise stated. Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

All photos are taken by myself (Liz Campbell) unless otherwise specified below.

Photographs of my daughter Zoë as a baby by Caroline ‘Monkey’ Harrison.

All photos of stars and galaxies are used with grateful thanks to the NASA,  STSCI, Hubble Heritage, ESA and AURA Team. Use of these images is in the public domain. Hubblesite.org

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