Here we are again, another year nearly down, and another Thanksgiving already on the horizon. While Thanksgiving is the distinct symbol of American blessing, it is also the one holiday that uniquely marks the union between God, the American people, and our bountiful land. So, as we celebrate our American tradition this year, it may also be an ideal opportunity to reflect on one Biblical radical that has actually inspired generations of Americans. In fact, this historical figure is renown for helping God guide His chosen people into the original Promise Land.
For four hundred years, Moses has stood out as the surprising symbol of America. In fact, as we peer into our nation’s history, we can see that Moses may actually have been America’s very first Founding Father. According to Bruce Feiler’s book, America’s Prophet:
- The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia contains scripture from Leviticus 25, which God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all inhabitants thereof.”
- Christopher Columbus compared himself to Moses when he sailed in 1492.
- George Whitefield quoted Moses many times as he traveled to the colonies (in the 1730’s) during the Great Awakening.
- Thomas Paine, in Common Sense, compared King George to the Moses’ adversary, the Egyptian Pharaoh.
- Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams all proposed Moses be on the official seal of the United States.
- Harriet Tubman adopted Moses’ name on the Underground Railroad.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. likened himself to Moses on the night before he was killed.
As Bruce Feiler writes, “As with every hard time in American life—from the frozen cliffs of early New England to the snowy caps of Valley Forge; from the fractured fields of the Civil War to the bloody streets of the civil rights era—Americans turned to Exodus for direction, inspiration, and hope.”
Americans have turned to Moses generation after generation. Not only because Moses led the Israelites from the chains of tyranny and slavery, but because he also possessed some unique qualities that we all either aspire to, or relate to in ourselves:
He stood up for the oppressed: In Exodus, Moses aligned himself with the powerless against the very powerful. Witnessing an Egyptian overseer beating a Hebrew slave, he surrendered his own life of opulence to defend the slave (killing the overseer). Once a prince of Egypt, Moses quickly found himself standing with the lowest members of society. He even ended up having to flee the country for his own safety.
Moses stepped outside of his comfort zone: In the desert land of Midian, Moses found refuge, married, had children, and lived rather comfortably (maybe not by our standards, but still). That’s when God asked him to help rescue the Israelites from Egypt and deliver them to “good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Moses accepted God’s offer and chose to lead God’s people. He chose to leave his rather pleasant life to help free an enslaved people.
Moses challenged the status quo: In fact, Moses confronted the mightiest king ever known to man: In Egypt, he stood up to the pharaoh, boldly stating, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Let my people go” (Of course, the pharaoh initially refused and increased the workload on the Hebrews. Needless to say, God unfolded a series of plagues to show the pharaoh who was really in charge of the place).
According to British Rabbi, Jonathon Sacks, when Moses confronted the pharaoh, he was also testifying to the right of prophets to criticize kings, the inalienable dignity of power of the human person…and clear sense of the moral limits of power.” While these ideals appear throughout the Bible, they were introduced with Moses, the radical who dared to stand up to the most powerful man of that time.
Moses demonstrated rather impressive leadership skills. By the power of Divine Providence, Moses raised his staff and parted the Red Sea (protecting the Israelites from further Egyptian captivity), introduced the Ten Commandments, helped establish the world’s first spy agency (in Canaan), and led the Israelites toward the land flowing with milk and honey. These were pretty great accomplishments considering the Israelites were “stiff-necked” people to have to lead.
Moses knew when to pass the torch: While God did not allow Moses to enter into the Promise Land himself (because of his own disobedience and lack of trust in God), Moses still chose to guide his people toward Mount Nebo. He spent his final days teaching the Israelites all that they needed to know.
Of course, Moses was certainly not the real founder of Israel, God was. Moses did not liberate the Israelites from slavery, God did. Moses was not the true lawgiver, God was. Yet, Moses allowed himself to be used by God in God’s timeline of human events. That’s rather inspiring.
According to Feiler, the Moses narrative is actually built on two pillars: FREEDOM and RESPONSIBILITY:
The first is FREEDOM. In times of oppression, slavery, or pain, the story suggests humans can cry out and God will liberate them from their distress. “I have marked well the plight of my people, “ God tells Moses at the burning bush. “I am mindful of their suffering.”
But freedom alone is not God’s desire for humans. Freedom must be accompanied by the second pillar: RESPONSIBILITY.” God offers us freedom from slavery but He expects that we honor His laws in return.
There is no freedom without obligation. True freedoms depend on giving up some freedoms in return for a civil and just society.
The Pilgrims were the very first radicals to take these two pillars (freedom and responsibility) to heart. Feiler says, “They (Pilgrims) were the first to sear these twin pillars into American life-freedom and law, Exodus and Sinai. A century and a half later, these parallel ideas would be entrenched in the defining events of American history, the liberation of the Revolution followed by the constriction of the Constitution.”
The Pilgrims basically reenacted Moses’ journey by sailing off across the sea and into the wilderness. They were convinced they were on a mission from God to escape oppression of a latter-day pharaoh and desired to build a new “Promise Land” in America.
Like Moses, the Pilgrims also experienced many failures, frustrations, and disappointments. They also saw the freedom from England turn to great despair once they reached their so-called “Promise Land”. As Feiler writes, “In Plymouth the pilgrims were isolated from trade, surrounded by Indians, and hamstrung in debt…Worse, their faith waned…America had not become a New Israel. It was the Old Israel all over again.”
Yet, this is America, and we still choose the Pilgrims as some of our favorite radicals, mainly because they dealt with great adversity and adversity builds character. Which brings us to America’s Modern-Day Radicals –Tea Partiers, Conservatives and Bible-believing Christians (at least according to the White House and all its mainstream jesters).
If you are a Modern-Day Radical, you can certainly “spot” tyranny and slavery beneath the: thousands of pages of government regulations, IRS targeting, NSA spying, excessive taxes, abusive executive orders, healthcare mandates, political corruption, and political correctness. In fact, like the Israelites, it’s easy for us all to feel powerless against the all-mighty government pharaoh these days.
However, just as previous generations have done before us, we can choose to turn to the story of Moses for a little guidance and inspiration.
Like Moses, may we remember that empowering the powerless (in this case-the individual) is always a worthy cause.
Like Moses, may we be bold enough to step outside our comfort zones (to align with God’s purpose for our lives).
Like Moses, let us not be afraid to challenge the status quo (no matter how powerful they may appear).
Like Moses, let us step up to lead when no one else is leading (chances are, if we see no one is leading, God is calling us (you and me) to do it).
Like Moses, let us pass the torch, teaching valuable godly truths to future generations.
Like Moses, let us cry out to God so He may hear us and free us from our distress.
Like Moses, let us learn to love and honor God’s laws in return.
May we also embrace adversity knowing that it is adversity that strengthens our “inner” radical (especially since God seems to use radicals to accomplish His finest works).
This Thanksgiving, be thankful for being a radical because, like Moses and the Pilgrims, radicals can be used as great blessings to others!