READING ROOM
 
  Walter Brueggemann  

 

On the Night of Pharaoh's Surrender

So Moses said, "This is what the Lord says: 'About midnight I will go throughout Egypt. Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the slave girl, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well. There will be a loud wailing throughout Egypt - worse than there has ever been or ever will be again. But among the Israelites not a dog will bark at any man or animal.' Then you will know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel."

At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was a loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.

Exodus 11:4-8; 12:29-32

"By the time of this narrative in the book of Exodus, that life-giving force given by God has been completely submerged and robbed of its vitality. Israel has been reduced to nothing more than a pitiful band of helpless slaves, without any clout and without enough significance even to be noticed in the empire...Pharaoh will dominate; Israel will submit.

"Who would have thought that down in the slave huts reside all the promises of God, until this Pharaoh who seems to have everything his way comes at midnight, hat in hand, and says in a massively embarrassed petition, 'Bless me, give me life, do for me what I cannot do for myself.' In that moment all power in the world is reordered and life surges with mew possibility, because the surge of blessing that God has long ago lodged with this people is now made public and visible....

"You may enter the narrative as you choose. You might be the small, weak underling who turns out to be a carrier of powerful blessing that only waits to be recognized..."

"You might be foe a while the large dominant power who is used to having it all your own way, with an awareness of your own impressive influence. But now in a moment of terribly anguished recognition and self-awareness, you sense that God's gift of life is not in your possession. The power of blessing is outside you, and you must receive it from some of those whom you have bullied..."

"Or you might take the entire drama inside your body, there to discover that your secret gift of life from God is found in the very parts of your body and your person which remain unnoticed and unrealized. You must, perforce, turn the strong effective parts of your self to the dismissed parts, in order to receive your future where you least expected it. And you must do it at midnight."

"The drama of blessing, so poignant in Jesus, is not confined to the body of Jesus. It is also at work, according to God's odd calculus, where the failed, emptied forms of power must come in petition to the hidden, unnoticed carriers of life. It is such a scandal, but then our faith is built on the scandalous affirmation that the power of God is given in hiddenness, so that more blatant forms of power must come and finally, just after midnight, say 'Bless me.'"

from "The Midnight of Power and Weakness" from The Threat of Life

 

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