From the Daily Office Readings
Moses said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been nor will ever be again. But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites – not at people, not at animals – so that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” And in hot anger he left Pharaoh.
(Exodus 11:4-8 – March 31, 2012)
Why is Moses angry at Pharaoh? Moses (and God) have put the Egyptians through a series of miserable plagues. The people of the Nile valley have lived through water turning to blood killing all life in the river; invasions of frogs, lice, and flies; livestock diseases; painful, unhealing boils; hail and thunder; locusts; and unnatural darkness. Throughout the course of this series of events, there have been many times when Pharaoh seemed on the verge of releasing the Hebrews but then “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go.” (Exod. 10:20) ~ Over the years, I’ve read a lot of commentary on this passage, the introduction to the slaughter of the first born which is context of the Passover. Wesley opined, “Moses hereupon was provoked to a holy indignation, being grieved, as our Saviour afterwards, for the hardness of [Pharaoh’s] heart.” Well, yeah, but who’s responsible for that? Over and over again the Scripture tells us it was God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart! Pharaoh’s not just obstinate, he’s manipulated into stubbornness by God himself! Why be angry at Pharaoh? ~ I don’t really think he is. I think he was mad at God…. ~ I think it’s OK to be mad at God. We have the freedom to express and respond to that emotion, to own up to our occasional anger with God. When parishioners come to me and “confess” being angry at God, I tell them it’s OK, that God is a big boy and can take their anger. The issue to be addressed is whether they can! Can they pray their anger honestly? Prayer is not always peaceful and serene and believing that ought to be can be a real obstacle to faith. But praying out one’s anger is unfamiliar territory; it feels awkward; it’s not much like any prayer we hear in church. ~ Do you remember the episode of The West Wing in which Pres. Bartlett’s secretary was killed by a drunk driver? Her funeral was held in the Washington National Cathedral (an Episcopal church, by the way). After the funeral, Bartlett stays behind in the quiet privacy of the cathedral to offer a personal prayer to God … not out of sadness or faith or hope. His prayer is offered out of anger. He begins by calling God a “son of a bitch” and a “feckless thug.” Then, good Roman Catholic that Josiah Bartlett was, he continued in Latin. Here’s what he said: “Am I really to believe that these are the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with your punishments. I was your servant here on earth and I spread your word and I did your work. To hell with your punishments and to hell with you!” No amen – just a cigarette stamped out on the cathedral floor, after which Bartlett stalked out. Pretty clearly “in hot anger he left.” Praying our anger is not like any prayer we (usually) hear in church. ~ Scripture doesn’t tell us what Moses did in or with his anger, but we do know what followed. The story of Moses’ “hot anger” and what followed it affirms for us that anger, even anger at God, need not be destructive. It can be the source of a rebirth of hope; it can heighten our confidence in the future, and empower us to undertake the creation of a new reality. Appropriately and creatively channeled, anger, even anger at God, can lead us out of bondage and into freedom.