When Moses brought the Children of Israel out of Egypt, he had a large philosophical job ahead of him.
Let's see some of the problems he faced.
The people he led had grown up in a culture of many gods who compartmentalized the world into their own little territories. Moses now had to teach this battered group of former slaves that their God –who had seemingly deserted them– was not only a loving powerful God but the God who made and owned heaven and earth. Thus, he gave them the Creation story.
He had to teach them the spiritual history of the world and he had to teach them about God's unearned grace. He told them about the first Sin and humanity's inability to love, know, and understand God. He told them about the first religious war – the story of Cain and Abel. He told them the story of Lamech who mis-used and usurped God's grace. He told them how all nations gradually fell away from God. He told them about God choosing Abraham.
But the most problematical of all was that Moses had to tell a people who had been enslaved for four hundred years that they were God's people. He had to teach people who had been treated harshly by cruel masters that they were chosen by God and yet that they themselves were no spiritually better than the people who had oppressed them. This is a tough paradox. How could they be chosen above all people and yet in no way better than other people? This is a hard vision to swallow. And how does the imperfect human mind deal with the glory of a God-given vision?
Most people understand the pit-falls of receiving a vision. Through the story of Abraham and Hagar, they understand, the dangers of trying to bring the vision about through merely human means. In the story of Joseph, they understand that God may not tell the receiver of the vision about all the suffering and sorrows that precede the glories of the finalized vision. But there is another pitfall that the receiver of a vision may receive: one rarely discussed. And this is the pitfall of pride.
Moses goes about this by giving them illustrations of what their human ancestors did with the glory of a vision. (Later the writer of Judges would add his own capping touch as a reminder.)
Here are a few examples:
How does Abraham deal with the glory revealed to him? Let's see: God tells Abraham that in Abraham all the people of the world will be blessed. He tells Abraham that all the land he sees is for his descendants. Now, on the one hand, Abraham shows remarkable holiness in hot having a materialistic attitude towards his inheritance. He lives in tents. He allows Lot to take the greener pastures. He digs great wells and allows others to steal them from him. Good so far. But what is Abraham's attitude toward his spiritual inheritance. A kind of holier-than-thou mentality. Except for Melchizedek, he tends to think that people from other nations has no relationship with God. He doesn't trust the Egyptians to behave properly towards another man's wife and deceives Pharoah by claiming that Sarah is his sister. Later he is amazed to realize for instance that the Egyptians fear God. That's one of the first lessons Moses tells his people: other peoples also fear God. Isaac would also learn this lesson when he encountered Abimelech.
But there are other people who received some Divine premonition of their future and in their painfully human way "took the ball and ran with it."
Jacob has an eye from Esau's birthright from Day-one. But letting the pre-natal knowledge go, he has been told by his mother that God appointed him to rule his older brother. How does he handle this piece of good news? He blatantly sets out and asks his brother for his birthright. Later, not satisfied with getting the birthright from Esau, he uses a ruse to steal it. The covetousness behind Joseph's go-getting plan can only be understood by the fact that this idea of hierarchy is such a part of Jacob's make-up that he carries it into his relationship with his sons.
Consider Joseph: He has seen his father's tendency to compartmentalize his family into class. His father has given him an embroidered robe which the ruling class of the Canaanites wear, thus making him de facto head of his brothers. And what happens? God gives him two dreams about his future. Oh, some may argue with God's timing: surely God knew the immature mind or Joseph couldn't handle such a vision? Unfortunately God always deals with his people as if they will always do the right thing. He believes in His people and plans our lives as if He trusts us. So what does Joseph do with these dreams? He becomes a snoop. He decides that he is put on earth to keep tabs on his brothers. Responsible tyke, uh?
Consider Dinah's brothers: Dinah is seduced by the Prince of Sychar. Jacob and the king of the land both want to settle matters with propriety, after all the kids are in love with each other. But Dinah's brothers are so outraged that she has been seduced –and by a non-circumcised person that they use the act of circumcision –a religious act– to murder an entire town. In showing them this bit of family history, Moses shows his people that all peoples are capable of using religion to harm another and that the Israelites have also committed genocide just as the Egyptians attempted to do.
There are many things Moses taught his people. In a clever bit of writing, he shows Hagar and Leah as more spiritual and connected to God than Sarah and Rachel are. As slaves, the hearers of the Hagar story can only identify with another slave. Egyptian though she may be, her plight –a mistress who dealt harshly with her, who treated a pregnant slave as harshly as the Egyptians treated pregnant Israelites– made Hagar a human like them. But Sarah had heard the vision that her son would be the one in which Abraham's Seed would be called and rightly or wrongly, she had no room for Ishmael in her plans. I have no doubt that neither Abraham nor Hagar ever confided to Sarah what God told them about His plans for Ishmael. Sarah couldn't handle hearing that God would bless another.
But Moses is not the only one to tell about people who used visions badly. Nebuchadnezzar learned from God that his kingdom would not last forever and immediately set up a statue that implied his kingdom would last forever. Herod learned that a king of Israel was born and immediately set out to kill him. Caiaphas prophesied that it was expedient that someone should die for the entire people and straightway set about it.
But there were others who handled visions well.
Samuel, for instance, was told some news by God and managed to keep pretty humble about his divine appointment. Eli was told about his dis-appointment. Both men took the news well. Paul got enlightened on the road to Damascus and was humbled. (Of course, because of the greatness of his vision, God allowed a thorn in the flesh, a spirit of Satan to buffet Paul, to keep Paul humble.) Daniel and most of the prophets seemed to be worthy of their visions.
The question is then:
What are you to do if God gives you a vision? What if, for instance, God gives you a dream, a vision, a "word", a series of coincidence, that implies big things for your future? What will you do?
The answer is simple enough: be humble, acknowledge the blessings God has reserved for others.
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Very good article indeed.
I have a request. Could you write on how the church today should handle prophesies? Because everywhere Christians are prophesying to each other and it has become a real prophesy hype.
"I have a word for you sister". This is for you brother" ... It is too close, too predictable, too manipulate, in my view. I have the strong impression that most "prophecies" are (1) simple common sense dramatically shared as divine inspiration during worship time, some of it is (2) sheer phantasy mistaken for inspiration and only a very little portion is (3) true inspiration and guidance for a specific person's life, and hardly any of it is prophesy. That's my opinion, not my theological belief/dogma point, because frankly - I didn't dig into the Bible deep enough on the subject yet. But I would love to do so with others who are interested too.