There were 12 guys from the lower tier at tonight’s Bible study in the maximum security unit of the county jail.
When I arrived on the unit the CO let me know that pill call would likely come midway through the study. That was fine because there was a natural break in tonight’s study.
Only 3 of the 12 guys were regulars that I’d seen before. The others were new. There has been a lot of turnover. The nature of this ministry is that I’m not sure what has happened to the guys I no longer see. Were they acquitted, or released to drug treatment, parole, or sent upstate? I’ll probably never know. That is another difference between prison and jail ministry.
I made sure to have every man say his name. One of the new guys opened us in prayer.
I asked what they knew about Moses. Most guys said Moses was one of the guys on the upper tier of the unit. (That is true) I asked if they knew anything about Moses who lived a long time ago. One of two knew that he had led the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt.
I said that we were going to look at a different chapter of the life of Moses.
11 Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren. 12 So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 And when he went out the second day, behold, two Hebrew men were fighting, and he said to the one who did the wrong, “Why are you striking your companion?”
14 Then he said, “Who made you a prince and a judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
So Moses feared and said, “Surely this thing is known!” 15 When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.
I asked the guys to describe the story in their own words. In the language of the streets, it went something like this. “Moses saw one of his homies being beaten by a rival gang member. When he thought the coast was clear (that meant it was premeditated) he put a hit on the rival gang member and stashed the body.
The next day he sees a couple of his homies fighting. When Moses tries to break it up they get up in his face wanting to know who made him all high and mighty. They say they knew about the murder. Apparently somebody is a snitch because Pharaoh hears about it and Moses has to leave town.”
Clearly they were able to see this story in a context familiar to some of them.
There was some speculation about the motive Moses had in killing the man. Was he reacting to in injustice? Was it racially motivated? How much was Moses aware of his own identity as a Hebrew as he grew up on Pharaoh’s household?
Was it second, minutes, or hours between the time that Moses saw the abuse and when he killed the man? The length of time would determine if this was premeditated or a crime of passion.
Making sure no one was around when he did the killing and the fact that he hid the body meant he was trying to cover up what he had done.
The next day when he confronts the two Hebrew men who are fighting they actually “disrespect” Moses. They don’t see him as one of their own. Was he seen the same way some people see bi-racial people, as not belonging to either race?
There was also speculation on the character of the two men who were fighting.
Nerdy theological aside:
When I prepare for a study that uses Old Testament scripture I will usually try and read Rashi’s commentary and perhaps look at the Midrash. I found it amusing that the jailhouse theologians tonight were considering some of the same things as rabbinic scholars from long ago. From Rashi:
two Hebrew men were quarreling: Dathan and Abiram. They were the ones who saved some of the manna [when they had been forbidden to leave it overnight, as in Exod. 16:19, 20]. [From Exod. Rabbah 1:29]
Back to our study.
Within a matter of a few days Moses went from living in the most powerful house in Egypt to being on the run – unable to see family or friends again. He lost everything in a hurry. The men in the study could relate to that. One man talked about how things had been going well for him, but then his addictions ruined his relationships and his life.
I asked what might have gone through the mind of Moses as he was on the run and in the first few days, months, and years that he was in exile. Were those last two days in Egypt played over and over in his mind? One man talked about replaying the events that led to where he was now.
At this point Pill Call came so I lost 8 of the 12 guys for a few minutes. This gave me a rare opportunity to just talk with a few of the guys. They have few opportunities for regular conversations with someone other than their cellie. I appreciated getting to know them better too.
After Pill Call we looked at:
3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.3 Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”
4 So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!”
And he said, “Here I am.”
5 Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”
I explained that it was 40 years between when Moses left Egypt and when he had the encounter with God in the burning bush.
Forty years: that sounds like a sentence for murder.
I asked of God had a checkbox with the question, “ Are you a convicted felon?” Apparently not.
I asked why.
One of the men replied with a sense of awe, “Because God forgives.”
God can love, redeem, and use someone even if they have murdered.
Why did it take 40 years? The consensus was that Moses needed to change from someone who was raised in Pharaoh’s house and felt entitled, to someone who was described as the most humble man in the world.
God waited for Moses to be ready.
So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush
It wasn’t until Moses turned to look that God spoke.
God was patient with him.
God is patient with us.
When we turn to look, God speaks.