We think of the Egyptians’ gods as wooden, golden statuettes, worthless little sculpted animal-headed objects. A bit like how God describes idols in Jeremiah: “Like scarecrows in a cucumber field are they, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, for they can do no harm, nor can they do any good” (Jeremiah 10:5). Statues, hieroglyphs, concepts, toothless. No power. Nothing to fear.
Oh contraire. Have you ever wondered how the Egyptian magicians turned their staffs into snakes? Water into blood? There was real power there. Paul warns the Corinthians about idols, about meat sacrificed to idols, and to have nothing to do with them. Why? Because the little gold or silver or wood statue was anything? Of course not. It’s toothless, among other things. But behind every stupid statue that people worship is a very real demon (1 Corinthians 10:19-20), with real power, and Paul didn’t want them to have anything to do with demons.
Moses, going off to face the Egyptians, would have been scared enough, facing Pharaoh, and Pharaoh’s army, and the death sentence on his head from killing an Egyptian. But I don’t think Moses was an idiot. I think he knew he was facing real power.
I wonder, when the magicians heard that Moses was in town, did they grab their little statues and hurry off to meet him, making sure their god was with them to give them power to turn staffs to snakes?
Is this why Moses asked God for His name? He wanted something to carry into battle with him, something to guard him as he went? Is this what the Israelites were thinking when they made the golden calf? The Egyptians had all their little visible, tangible idols they could hold, and that meant the god was with them. Moses left, God abandoned us. We need something we can hold.
But when God gave Moses His name, He didn’t give Moses a visible, tangible statue to carry into battle. He didn’t give him something to hold. No. When God goes into battle with you, He holds you.
Excerpt from “Peace and How to Keep It.” Coming fall 2020.