Walking with God: A Journey from Noah to Moses
August 08, 2004
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 desert 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." 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.
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."
But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"
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."
The story of God calling Moses at the burning bush is a powerful image of experiencing relationship with God. It is a vivid, electrifying contact that changes Moses, and guides him in his life in a new way. From Swedenborg, we gain insights into this and many other stories of the Hebrew Scriptures, and how they parallel our own spiritual faith development through the changing stages that we experience as infancy, early and late childhood, pre-adolescence, adolescence, and early and late adulthood. Throughout all these stages, what the Israelites experience, and what we experience, is a growth in individual identity and relationship with God. We grow through phases of connection and rejection of the inner goodness and truth that is God within us.
The infancy period is the pre-flood period of humankind, and ends with Noah, the one good person whom God calls to bring us out of that infancy period into further growth. Noah represents the part of us that wants to obey.
God pulls us out of infancy and into a period of early childhood. This is a time of being able to learn. It is a preschool period of life for humankind, and in our individual lives. It is also a period when we see ourselves as part of a family. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob represent that period of time when family and its continuation is the most important thing.
In late childhood, when we enter elementary school, we start to see that we are part of a larger world. This is when we see Joseph emerging as the one who carried an inner sense of goodness and truth. Because Joseph went down into Egypt, learned a lot, and rose in stature, he was able to help his people during a time of famine. So he represents the stage when we are drawn out from the small circle of family around us into the larger world of peers.
This brings us to the story of Moses. After Joseph died in Egypt, a Pharaoh came to power who did not remember Joseph. In our pre-adolescence from sixth grade to junior high, we may forget a lot of our good inspirations to share and help fellow students, friends, and others in the community. We are then more worried about what people think of us and how we look. We think, "Do I have the right clothes and friends and bike and sneakers?" We become, like the Israelites, overpowered by the things of the material world: possessions and image.
This is what the new Pharaoh coming to power in Egypt stands for in us. We have become slaves to our desires for material things--just as we can be slaves any point in our lives: to our work, to our intellectual pursuits, or to our relationships. When we become overwhelmed by the importance of material things--this "knowledge" of Egypt--we begin to show off because we "know a lot." This is the time period when Joseph has died in us, and we have become slaves to external considerations.
Then Moses comes along as the deliverer provided by the Lord to break the bonds of external considerations, and to lead us back into relationship with God and with our good and true self. The burning bush experience marks the height of puberty, the beginning of the period of adolescence. The story of Moses is full of correspondences to our growth during the high school years.
The Lord works in us all of our lives. But we ebb and flow in our ability to connect with God. Moses' whole life has correspondences to this journey, to the challenge of emerging identity and independence that marks the physical and emotional changes of adolescence.
Moses was an Israelite, but brought up by Pharaoh's daughter. He was raised to understand and accept the externals of life, until one day he saw an injustice: he saw someone hitting another Israelite. He attacked, and then fled. In high school, did you ever stand up for somebody--an underdog--and then were forced to emotionally, if not physically, run away from that circle of friends? You couldn't remain with them in the same way. You challenged their values and expressed your own--your independence, your identity. And you were both exhilarated and afraid of the possibility of becoming your good and true self.
Moses fled to the land of Midian and became a shepherd. Did you do anything in high school that later in life you did in a different way? A hobby, a job, a skill? Moses worked as a shepherd. He led sheep around a mountain, caring for them, protecting them, and guiding them to places of nourishment and safety.
When I was in high school, I tutored inner city kids in reading. I struggled with what to share with my friends about this. It was a question of either fitting in or letting people know what mattered to me. The question of what externally will make us fit in and what internally is going to make us feel good about ourselves becomes an important dynamic at this stage.
Moses is a wonderful model for the way in which this emerges. At first we don't want to do it, just as Moses didn't want to be sent. "Don't send me! Please, don't send me!" But we have those inner stirrings, that connection with goodness and truth that is our core relationship with God. We have a "Moses" inside of us: a desire to live in a state of love for the Lord and the neighbor. So what do we do with it? We have to work it out; we have to integrate it. Moses got Aaron to work with him; he got some help to go down to Egypt and confront Pharaoh.
Pharaoh was the king of external considerations. Pharaoh wanted temples built; Pharaoh wanted slaves; Pharaoh wanted everyone to do everything his way. We have known people like this--and we have been like this ourselves. Pharaoh is the part of us that wants to tell us "what's important." He represents the selfish, egotistical part of us that wants to have its needs met before anything else. Just as Moses has a place within us, so does Pharaoh. And eventually, they must confront each other for control of who we will become.
Moses brought some amazing power with him when he went to see Pharaoh. The power he brought was that God worked through him. And Moses recognized that it was not his power. This is where we get the power to find our identity and independence, and to figure out who we are.
When we see ourselves as beings through which good and truth is emerging, we are not being "Pharaoh," full of self, butting heads against all the other Pharaohs. No one wins when the egos battle. When the power we bring to a situation is our confidence that we are doing what is right and good, we are allowing God to lead us, just as Moses did. If we can say "I don't know if I can do it perfectly, but I'm going to try," then our emerging identity is our good and true self. We all know how much we admire that sense of rightness in others; yet it comes out in different ways in different people's lives.
Moses did not want to take this journey. Yet he did do it the best he could, and stuck with it all the way through. This is a reminder that God's power can work miracles; that goodness and truth can work miracles. This power brought the plagues, parted the Red Sea, and brought the Israelites to the mountain to worship God together in a new way. In addition to the urge to independence and identity, there is also a complete change in relationship. We learn new ways to be in relationship, just as the Israelites had to adjust, as a community of former slaves.
When Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt, many of them didn't want to go, and many of them complained most of the way. There was a comfort in what was known and familiar. They didn't mind being slaves, because they knew what to expect.
The Exodus brought to their attention that God was calling them out of Egypt for their own good, and that the relationship they had known as slaves was over. They had been slaves long enough. It was time to travel to a new place, and to live in a new relationship with each other and with the world. They also had to trust Moses, and accept him as their leader.
In relationship with other human beings and in relationship in community we learn about relationship with God. We learn about God through other people: through acts of unconditional love; through acts of justice and righteousness; through words of compassion and understanding. This is one way we learn who God is, because we can feel God in these experiences with people in everyday life.
There are ups and downs to these relationships. Moses was the leader; he brought the Israelites out of Egypt. But as soon as he had gone up Mt. Sinai, what did they do? They forgot all about what he taught them, and built an idol to worship--a golden calf, mimicking the worship of Egypt. They fell back on what they knew: external worship.
Our trust and connection to the relationship with the goodness and truth within isn't permanent, fixed, and unchanging. It has times when it is very close and strong--as I'm sure it was when they followed Moses closely through the parting of the Red Sea, and they saw the results of God's power. But when Moses was gone, they didn't trust that he would be back.
Later, the people told Moses to go up the mountain for them. They said: This is too much; we don't want this now.
There are times in life when what is needed to accept the relationship with God is very intense--and we may want to have someone else in front of us. The part of us that can be connected to God will not always be something we can consciously connect with. Sometimes we will be afraid of it. Have you ever been overwhelmed by something so good that you almost didn't want to have it happen to you? We hesitate because it's scary to touch how wonderful relationship with God is. It can burn. It can hurt. It can bring us to tears.
So this story of people coming out of a situation of slavery in Egypt is also about ourselves in our high school years when we are developing an identity, and starting to understand our independence from the past and from the known structures of family and school as we become more independent. We do have a Moses within us, guiding us through that relationship of obedience to God. We are not perfect. Parts of us are fussing and complaining. But we are trying.
And then what happened to the Israelites happens to us. We end up in the wilderness! Moses did not go into the land of Canaan after parting the Red Sea. The Israelites did arrive at the border of Canaan, the land of milk and honey that represents our goal of spiritual maturity and connection with God. But they didn't go in because there were giants in the land. The spies they sent out came back and told them that it was too scary.
They needed to be tested in the wilderness. Spiritual maturity doesn't come easily. We need to trust that God will provide the manna in the desert. We need to trust that following our inner sense of goodness and truth will guide us where we need to go. In the wilderness, the old fears need to die off: the self-doubt and unwillingness to fight the hard battles in order to win the life we believe we want.
One important thing that God guided the Israelites to do in the wilderness was to build the tabernacle. The tabernacle was a house of worship that moved with them. It was a place where the goodness and truth that went with them was protected and honored. The things that are good within us, even in our wilderness experiences, are protected by God, and they travel with us.
Our relationship with God will eventually become strong enough that we are ready to enter Canaan. That is the story of Joshua, who led the Israelites into the Promised Land after they had traveled forty years in the wilderness. But for today, we will only traveled through the Exodus to the period of adolescence.
I encourage you to use Scripture and the writings of Swedenborg as a way to connect with your life journey. Remember that you have taken a sequential path through the life cycle--but also that you can go back to certain challenges during any stage of adulthood. You could be back in the wilderness even later in life. And you can keep returning to Scripture to rediscover how God is with you on that journey.
That's the most important thing. God is with the us all the way through. In every stage there is a remnant of goodness and truth that is drawn into the next phase. And even in our darkest times and our wildernesses, we have the tabernacle traveling with us; we have the experience of God right with us.
Whether or not you are actively participating in the guidance of God and feeling in connection with God, trust that it is within you. God doesn't give up on us--ever! I hope this, especially, will stay with you from these reflections. No matter what part of the Bible story you are experiencing in your spiritual life right now, remember that your relationship to God is alive. You only need to turn your mind toward it to see how it is manifesting. And with the correspondences in Scripture, you can see it in a new light.
Lord, guide me in the changes of my life, and bring me into greater awareness of my relationship with you. Help me to see that you have always been with me on my journey, so that I may feel the deep peace and comfort of being fully known and appreciated. Thank you both for loving me as I am and for encouraging me and challenging me to become more authentically my true and good self. I ask for your strength and guidance to act on the inspiration that you constantly provide. Help me to grow in understanding and compassion so that I may more nearly walk in your footsteps, following your love and light. Amen.
Rev. Susannah Currie