In a context of confusion and flashy journalism, rigour becomes a precious value.
I vaguely remember hearing stories about the Lord from my grandmother. He was the one who helped our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when they were in really tough spots.
Let me introduce myself to you. My name is Zaccur.
I am in Israelite, but I am living in Egypt, where my people are forced to work as slaves for the Egyptians on their massive building projects – back-breaking work, never any let up, no holidays, no retirement, just work, work, work, day after day after day.
We have been living in Egypt for the past 400 years and have been slaves for as long as anybody can remember.
We have just enough food to keeps alive, and yet we have to sit and watch the Egyptians gorging themselves on all kinds of delicacies that we can only dream of.
We live in hovels, while they live in luxury in their houses and palaces that we have constructed. They live on our sweat and our blood. It’s not fair; but what can we do?
We would love to break free; but what chance is there of that? At the first sign of rebellion the Egyptian army would be on us, with their horses and chariots, spears and swords.
And what have we got to fight with? Only the tools we work with. Yes, any uprising would be quickly and brutally put down.
Actually, I am a lot better off than most of my compatriots. Last year I managed to get a promotion to be a slave foreman. There was so much competition for the job, dozens of people trying to catch the eye of the Egyptian slave driver. And he chose me.
So now I have to be really careful to do my job well, because there are plenty of men out there waiting for any slip-up so that they can step in and take my place.
The job does have its unpleasant side: you have to cow-tow to those despicable Egyptians, pretending that you are on their side, being nice to them all the time. You have to discipline your own people if they are not toeing the line.
Turn your back for a minute and you could have an Israelite throwing rocks at you; and you’ll never find out who it was. You are looked down on by the Israelites as a traitor, and by the Egyptians as an Israelite; and all the time you have to make sure that your gang produces its quota of bricks.
However, the advantages of the work, the better treatment that you get from the Egyptians and the little privileges here and there make it all worthwhile.
Then one day this guy Moses turns up. Nobody had had sight or sound of him for 40 years, but he tells us that the Lord (whoever he might be) has chosen him to lead the Israelites out of slavery, and he and his brother Aaron perform some amazing signs, like turning his stick into a snake, turning his hand leprous then making it go back to normal, turning water into blood (see Exodus 4:1-9, 29-31).
Pretty impressive, I must say! This Lord must be quite some god!
So, off these two go to Pharaoh to ask for us to take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the Lord – not too unreasonable a request. But that is when our trouble really started (see Exodus 5).
Pharaoh was furious, reckoned that we were all lazy, and so told us that in future our people would not be given any straw to make the bricks; they would have to find their own straw, but they would still have to produce the same quota of bricks.
Now you don’t need to be a genius to see that, if you have to spend all that time gathering straw, you are not going to have as much time to make bricks, so production levels will inevitably go down.
And that is exactly what happened. We foremen tried to explain this to the slave drivers, but they were having none of it. Day after day they beat us black and blue for not fulfilling our quotas.
We were at the end of our tether. What could we do? Finally I was chosen to be part of a deputation to Pharaoh. Surely he would listen to reason! But no.
He told us that all this talk of sacrificing to the Lord showed that we were lazy. He threw us out and told us to get working; and there would definitely be no straw. We were in deep trouble. We were finished.
As we left his palace, who should we meet but Moses and Aaron, waiting to find out how we had got on. I can tell you, they were the last people I wanted to see. They were the ones who had caused all this trouble, with all their empty talk about freedom and the Lord.
I told them straight, “May the Lord look up you and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.” We should have realised that two old men in their eighties were no match for Pharaoh and the might of his court and his army.
We have a proverb, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12); and I feel pretty sick now.
Why did this God, the Lord, who says he’s on our side, raise our hopes, then dash them to the ground? If he really is God, then when you do what he says, shouldn’t your life become easier?
Yet when I think back – and I don’t get much time these days for thinking – I vaguely remember hearing stories about the Lord from my grandmother. He was the one who helped our ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when they were in really tough spots.
Life wasn’t always easy for them, but he brought them out of trouble to the other side. Could he possibly do the same for us?