He Had Lots of Chances of Turning Back, But He Didn't
“He had lots of chances of turning back, but he didn’t.”
This is a quotation (or at least very similar to a quotation) from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. In this quote, a hobbit (basically a short being who is not renowned in the world for much other than being peaceful) named Sam is on a journey to try to defeat evil with Frodo who is bearing the weight of evil incarnate in the form of a ring of power. (This is a very complicated story that I did not do justice to in the above sentence, and if you would like to hear me talk for an hour or more about something that doesn’t matter very much at all, please ask me for more information.) But Sam is on this journey with Frodo, and Sam says this about the heroes of the past. They had lots of chances of turning back, but they didn’t. And that sentence reminds me of the story of Moses.
We are in the midst of a short blog series titled, “New Beginnings,” where we explore the ways that God constantly offers us new beginnings and trying to learn how this could be.
And the story of Moses is no exception. Because this is a story that lasts for about 4 books in the Christian Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are all focused on this story for which Moses serves as the main human character.
And all throughout this story, whether it is Moses himself or, more often, the people of Israel, there is need for new beginnings over and over again. As you read through these books, it seems every time the people become involved in the story, there is something that goes terribly wrong. There is lack of faith, there is idolatry, there is rivalry and bitterness, infighting, and so much more.
And yet, Moses serves as the protagonist of much of the Old Testament. When we come to the New Testament, the figure who stands out tallest among all the options is Moses. Even though there are kings (David) and patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and the rest) and judges (Gideon, Samson, Deborah, and Ehud!), it is Moses who stands out among them.
And I think that we can see this for two main reasons.
First, Moses led the people during the single most formative period in their history: the Exodus. Now, of course, the better way to say this is that God led, Moses followed (reluctantly), and the people did too (even more reluctantly at times). This event came to define this group of people more so than any other in all of their ancient history, and so too, Moses is the definitive example or prototype of the people from this time in their history.
That is part one. Part two is because of this quote from Lord of the Rings–he had lots of chances of turning back, only he didn’t.
A lot of credit on this has to go to God, I will be honest. Because the very first time Moses has a chance to turn back, he tries to. Remember that scene in Exodus 3? God sends Moses to let the people go from Egyptian captivity, and Moses politely tries to refuse. But God won’t let Moses turn back, and it leads to a lifetime of not turning back on this new beginning that God is offering to the people of Israel.
Which leads me to a famous scene in the life of Moses. Take a moment to read Exodus 32 and the story of the Golden Calf.
Ok, I will be honest. There is a lot in this story that disturbs me. Not only are the people displayed in a negative light by way of their actions, but many question and wonder about the reactions of both Moses and of God as a result. Are Moses and God just in their reactions to the sin that has been committed? This is a big, important question, and it is the type of question that comes up over and over again throughout many readings from Old Testament passages. Much deserves to be said about this topic. But for today, allow me to set that question aside for another time. Because as I read this story, there is one verse that catches my attention and causes me to ask another question of myself. Perhaps it can do the same for you.
Exodus 32:31-32: “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
This is Moses returning before the Lord after the people had created a Golden Calf to worship, and it is after the Levites have killed 3,000+ in the community.
And Moses goes back before God to plead for forgiveness. Moses knows that the people have committed sin against God (and against one another too), and Moses asks God for forgiveness. Since this blog series is titled, “New Beginnings,” I hope it is not a surprise that God grants this very wish by giving Moses the 10 Instructions again, and by continuing to journey with the people of Israel. But what may be surprising is the way that Moses hitches his wagon to that of the Israelites.
“Please forgive their sin–but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
Why would Moses do such a thing? Why would he risk his own life even though he had nothing to do with what the people had chosen to do?
And herein lies the lesson from the story of Moses for this week: New Beginnings lead to transformation. And transformation, when it comes from God, is not a solo project. It is not something that can be kept to oneself. It is something that spreads like wildfire. Moses chooses to throw in his fate with that of the rest of the people because God had taught him what it meant to keep going–to not turn back. When God is the source of our transformation and new beginning, saving ourselves from pain or discomfort is not the primary lens that we see through. Instead, we begin to see through the lens of God–the one who continuously offers us second chances and beyond.
This week, may we seek to find our source of transformation through God our Father who we meet in Jesus. May we be like Moses in our quest to be faithful to God: even when presented with lots of chances of turning back, choosing instead to remain faithful.
Be blessed this week, and look forward to next week when we learn from Mary about new beginnings.