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From the Burning Bush to Pharaoh's House

Moses—our first biblical advocate

By Joel Edwards
July 2011

Most Christians I know readily identify with Moses when he was in God's presence before the burning bush. Certainly in my own holiness tradition, it's the rallying point at which we share in that sense of awe, wonder, and holiness, and where we become aware of God's searing holiness. It's here that we glimpse the person we really ought to be before God.

But it's also the place from which we draw our moral aspirations, because, as we all know, holiness demands morality. The burning bush is the place from which Christians emerge to talk about our views on marriage, abortion, and human sexuality. And it all makes perfect sense.

Except that this is not the whole story. Few of us worship at the burning bush and also remember that it is the place from which Moses also received his mandate to go to Pharaoh's palace to say, "Let my people go!" This makes Moses our first biblical advocate. There is no other way of speaking up for poor people without speaking up to the powerful.

The Bible leaves no doubt that prophetic advocacy is central to our gospel of well-being. It is the very essence of knowing God (Jeremiah 22:16) and ruling well (Psalm 82:1-4; Daniel 4:27). Moses' commitment and activism were clear when he became so impassioned that he killed an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-14). But it was quite another thing for him to appear before Pharaoh with God's demand to let the people go free (Exodus 5:1). David Beckmann summarized this well in the book Attacking Poverty in the Developing World: "God did not send Moses to Pharaoh's courts to take up a collection of canned goods, but rather to insist on political and economic change—the liberation of the slaves."

This is one of many reasons I value Bread's work. Bread is a Christian ministry that understands and exemplifies the notion that biblical advocacy is integral to the gospel we preach.

As with Moses, our message will not always be heard, but biblical advocacy that reminds us of our promises to poor people is at the heart of God's mission in the world. As Archbishop Rowan Williams of the Church of England says in Doing God, the prophetic role of the church is "obstinately asking the state about its accountability and the justifications of its priorities."

And this means that one of the church's most important journeys is going from the burning bush to Pharaoh's house.

Rev. Joel Edwards is director of Micah Challenge International, a global coalition of Christians holding governments accountable for their promise to halve extreme poverty by 2015.

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