As is often the case when outsiders arrive on a nation’s soil, fear drives the policies of that nation’s leaders.
Afraid that the Israelite’s growing numbers and prosperity would threaten the Egyptian way of life, Pharaoh orders them into slavery. Saved from the slaughter of all the Hebrew male children (Pharaoh feared they would one day rise against him), Moses is taken into the royal household where he would be caught in the cross-current between two worlds.
Raised as a royal son, Moses knew the workings of the royal family. In some ways, he was one of them.
But not quite.
Taught by his biological mother about his people and their history, Moses grew up knowing he was a Jew. In some ways, he was one of them.
But not quite.
When God called Moses out of his complacency and gave him the task of saving the Israelites from Egyptian oppression, Moses was hesitant. He had spent years in the country, living as an exile and raising a family. He’d found a peace he had never known back in Egypt. But who better to navigate the difficult political waters of the Egyptian system than the one who knew both sides of the divide?
Pharaoh, of course, doesn’t take kindly to Moses’ demands to free the Israelites.
Hadn’t Moses been raised as a brother to Pharaoh? Hadn’t Moses once benefited from the labor of the Israelites? Hadn’t his bed been made by a Jew? His food served by a Jew? His clothes washed by a Jew?
And now Moses wants to demand their freedom?
So Pharaoh does what angry and threatened tyrants have done throughout the ages: he blames the victims.
If the Israelites think they have time to go out into the wilderness and pray, they clearly have too much time. If they think they have enough surplus of their goods to be able to go out and offer sacrifices, they clearly have too much. So Pharaoh come’s down hard on them. Their work is made heavier. They are forced to find their own supplies, Egypt won’t help them any longer.
When people are starving, they aren’t able to see the long journey to food stability they need to take. First, their bellies must be fed. Only then will their minds and souls realize how hungry they are.
Likewise, when a person is forced to do grueling work and threatened with physical violence, it can be difficult to truly see from where salvation will come. The Israelites cried out for salvation. Perhaps, at first, it seemed they had found that it in Moses … but when their suffering was made worse, their vision blurred. It was difficult to see what tomorrow would bring when they were worried they wouldn’t survive today.
“Look what you’re doing to us!” they cried, “It was bad enough before, but it’s gotten worse now! Leave us alone, Moses!”
The tactics employed by Pharaoh were not new to his regime, nor did they end with it. Those same tactics can be evident in our world as well.
When people begin demanding some sort of relief, we often turn to victim-blaming techniques, whether we realize it or not. When people begin to clamor for justice, leaders will often turn them against each other.
How are we blaming the victim in our society? Who is crying out for relief? Who is asking for justice in our world? Are we helping them find the power they need to claim that justice? Or have we hardened our hearts like Pharaoh?