Continuing reflections after reading Michael Walzer’s Exodus and Revolution, who suggests that the Exodus story is the template for revolutionary movements throughout history. I think there are some lessons here for us today.
I had missed it in previous readings of the text, but the original plan was for the whole company of the elders of Israel to confront Pharaoh. In the end, however, it was just Aaron and Moses. It seems that one by one the others drifted away the closer that the entourage came to the palace. Isaiah [59:16] (reflecting on the Exodus story) suggests that God watched the parade toward the Palace and noticed what Moses must have noticed—namely, that “there was no man” (KJV) willing to step forward and take responsibility for challenging Pharaoh’s oppression of the people.
That behavior became constitutive of the people in the wilderness as “murmuring.” Why, Moses, did you take us away from the milk and honey of Egypt? Are you trying to destroy us? Didn’t we have it better back there? Such murmuring is an abortive attempt to “man up.”
What needs to happen before you gird your loins, put on your sandals, take up your staff and march toward the possibility of the promise? Murmuring is a sign of not taking responsibility, looking for someone else to be responsible. Murmuring is background noise. What is needed is courage and resolve.
Courage is what the 40 years of wilderness wandering was all about. Murmuring dis-courages; wilderness either totally destroys resolve or it en-courages. (Yeshua’s wilderness experience en-couraged his mission.) The message of the Hebrew scriptures is clear—because the escapees were not able to build resolve, but continued to murmur, it was only a new generation of Israelites who would be able to complete the liberation from Egypt and enter a new land of milk and honey. (Even Moses had to be left behind.)
The current socio-political climate of the United States is constituted by “murmuring.” We have a president who tries to lead by murmuring (via Twitter). His followers want to return to the milk and honey of the Egypt which they think can be remembered as an idyllic time for all—especially white males. The Democrats murmur daily about how great everything was during President Obama’s tenure. Rather than articulating cultural values and norms by which attitudes and practices can be assessed, we have a society composed of groups trying to win the battle of murmurings. (“We can murmur better than you can.”) Unfortunately, even the most proficient and highly qualified murmurings will not provide a stable base for a compassionate, peaceable, and just society.
It will probably take a leader who can remind us that we need to gird our loins, put on our sandals, take up our walking staffs, and march into the wilderness that will leave many/most of us behind as a new wave of courage takes hold, emboldening the remnant to ply for compassion, peace, and tender justice. With so much murmuring, we are already in the wilderness, but without a leader to call us to the Way.