Go Down, Moses (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)

January 17, 2018

 

Exodus 3:7-12

Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’

 

“Go Down, Moses” (Lift Every Voice and Sing II #228)

 

1. When Israel was in Egypt’s land, let my people go

Oppressed so hard they could not stand, let my people go

 

Refrain

Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land

Tell Old Pharaoh to let my people go

 

2. The Lord told Moses what to do, let my people go

To lead the children of Israel through, let my people go

 

3. They journeyed on at his command, let my people go

And came at length to Canaan’s land, let my people go

 

"Go Down, Moses!"

by Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda

January 15, 2018 (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)

 

Black people in America have a long history with Christianity. This old spiritual is just one of many piece of art and culture we inherit from the African-American Christian tradition. Many blacks became Christian while in bondage, but many also brought Christianity with them from Africa. And as far back as the recorded history goes, black Christians in America have seen themselves in the biblical story of the Exodus. Just as the children of Israel cried out for freedom in Egypt, the children of Africa cried out for freedom from slavery in North America.

 

And even after the victories of emancipation in the Civil War, this country continued to oppress and subjugate black people. Some of the oppression was overt and explicit, like Jim Crow laws and segregation. Others were not acknowledged in public but quietly accepted, like terrorism from the Ku Klux Klan and lynchings.

 

Today we remember the life and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights activist, prophet, and martyr. Dr. King led a movement of social change that led to legal protections against segregation, voting discrimination, and many more civil rights in this country.  But to this day, blacks face discrimination and violence in ways that other minorities do not -- police brutality, harsher prosecution and sentencing, reduced access to bank loans, and more negative things than I care to mention in this forum.

 

The struggle for freedom, equality, and equity is not over. Dr. King may be enshrined in the civic calendar, but his goals and those of his followers have not yet been met. But this would not be a surprise to Dr. King. If he were alive today, fifty years after his assassination, I believe he would be sad and angry by the injustice, but not shocked. See, Dr. King’s activism was inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ and the biblical stories of our loving, liberating, and life-giving God. And he was wise enough to know that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice” (“Our God is Marching On,” delivered 03/25/1965), because our God is just.

 

The journey from slavery to freedom is never easy. It has not been easy for blacks in the USA, and it was not easy for the people of Israel. God acted miraculously to free them from Egypt, but it still took courageous action from every family and individual in Israel. God spoke to Moses and Moses spoke to Pharaoh, but none of that would have mattered if the people did not go when Pharaoh finally let them go. The people sacrificed their old lives, which were hard, but familiar. And they walked and wandered through the wilderness for a generation, seeking a land flowing with milk and honey.

 

God promised to give them something greater on the other side of their journey, but they needed to take some steps to get there. God was on the side of the oppressed people, but Israel needed to speak to the powerful Pharaoh and leave that land on the night of the Passover. Go down, Moses! Tell Pharaoh to let my people go! And all you Israelites, pack up your things, don’t wait for the bread to rise. Leave in the night and cross the sea into freedom.

 

We swim today in a river that has been flowing for generations. The stream of the Israelites in Egypt have inspired countless subjugated peoples to rise up and resist their oppressors. The time is always ripe for the Church to be a voice of truth to corrupt centers of power. Now is as poignant a time as any for Jesus-followers to fight for our freedom and the freedoms of our neighbors. To all the Pharaohs and slave masters of the modern world, we proclaim with Moses, “Let my people go!” Because in Christ, we are all truly free.

 

4. Oh, let us all from bondage flee, let my people go

And let us all in Christ be free, let my people go

 

Go down, Moses, way down in Egypt’s land

Tell Old Pharaoh to let my people go

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

  • Gittleman, George. "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Exodus."  Congregation Shomrei Torah. Published January 17, 2013. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://www.shomreitorah.org/2013/01/17/dr-martin-luther-king-jr-and-exodus/

  • Tuason, Ramon.  "Biblical Exodus in the Rhetoric of Martin Luther King." The Stanford Freedom Project. Accessed January 10, 2018. https://stanfordfreedomproject.com/multi-media-essays-on-freedom/the-biblical-exodus-in-the-rhetoric-of-martin-luther-king/

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