Jun 7 - The Redemption of a Killer

The Redemption Of a Killer

June 7, 2015

Exodus 2:11-15; 3:1-6

Exodus 2:11-15; 3:1-6
June 7, 2015

Exodus means “departure.”  We get our word, “exit” from it.  This book relays how the nation of the descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob were able to leave, to exit, to get out of Egypt.  

We left off with Joseph convincing his father and brothers to move to Egypt during a time of famine so he could make sure they had enough food to thrive.  We are told that over the next 430 years (Ex 12:41; cf. Gal 3:17),  the families of the 12 sons of Jacob had multiplied greatly in Egypt so that “the land (of Goshen?) was filled with them.”  The 12 families had grown into a nation.  

They were so numerous that the Egyptians feared their number and decided to enslave the whole lot of them – and since this was resisted by the Jewish people, there were extensive military clashes between the Egyptians and those who had settled in the Nile Delta – something that was recorded in the Egyptian history around that time (the “Asians” were Semitic people).  

Eventually the Israelites were subdued and ended up doing the heavy labour.  Because of the great animosity between the two people groups, the Jewish midwives were commanded to drown all Jewish newborns who were male, but to let the females live.  However, the midwives disobeyed their orders.

At that time, a couple, both of the tribe of Levi, had a son.  For three months the mother was able to hide her baby from the authorities.  But she realized that her son was eventually going to be discovered.  She then decided to place the 3 month old into a basket, seal the basket with pitch and set the child afloat along the banks for the Nile River where reeds would keep him from being washed into the river.  The hope was that an Egyptian woman would find the child and take care of it.  One of her daughters stood a way off to keep watch and see what happened.

As it happened, one of Pharaoh’s daughters was taking a bath in the river, saw the basket and sent her attendants to fetch it.  When she saw the infant crying in the basket she recognized that this was not an Egyptian child, which meant she should have drowned him right then and there.  However, we’re told that she felt sorry for him (2:7).  Moses’ sister came up and enquired whether she should get one of the Jewish wet-nurses to come and breastfeed the child.  

In the end, Pharaoh's daughter, without realizing it, paid this baby’s own mother to breastfeed him.  Once the boy was weaned, the Egyptian princess adopted the child and it was she who named him Moses (unusual because Moses is a Hebrew name).

This brings us to our passage in Exodus 2, verse 11

2:11 Years passed and Moses grew up.  One day he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour.  And he witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.  

It must have been difficult for Moses to grow up in Pharaoh’s court privileged, but never quite accepted.  His features would have identified himself as part of the hated Semites.  He really was a stranger among the Egyptians.  And so he journeyed to Goshen, in the hopes of finding some connection with his fellow Jews.  When he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he immediately identifies with the second as someone he was related to.

12 Moses glanced in all directions, and, when he thought that no one else was present, he bludgeoned to death the Egyptian and hid his body in the sand.  

This was premeditated murder, not a crime of passion.  Moses had to watch the Egyptian, possibly following him where no-one was around to see.   And afterwards he purposefully hid the body so he wouldn’t be caught or discovered.

13 The next day he went back and saw two Hebrews fighting.  He asked the one who was in the wrong, “Why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew?”  14 The man said, “Who made you ruler and judge over us?  Are you going to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?”  Then Moses was petrified because he realized that what he had done has become known.  

The comments by the Jewish man must have been extremely troubling.  On the one hand there was the fear about having been discovered.  But on the other hand, these cutting words were a blunt rejection of Moses as being one of their own.  They didn’t consider him someone to be thanked or protected.

15 When Pharaoh heard of the incident, he tried to have Moses killed.  But Moses fled from Pharaoh’s jurisdiction and went to live in the land of Midian.  

Moses, now truly without a people, likely followed the trade route through the wilderness of Paran to the town of Ezion-Geber and then south into Midian.  This would have been far enough away to dissuade Pharaoh from sending any troops after him.

He sat at a well in the land of Midian when a bunch of shepherds refused access to the well to seven sisters, who had come to draw water for their father’s flock – at least not until they were finished.  Moses came to the women’s aid and drove off the shepherds.  

I think of this scene like someone who is able to wipe out a bunch of guys because of his superior fighting skills and strength.  Maybe he had a bunch of Ninja moves he was taught as an Egyptian nobleman.  In any case, after he got rid of the other shepherds he drew the water in order to water the sheep of the girls.  

The seven daughters are so excited about the gallant behaviour of Moses, they quite forget their manners and rush home to their father to tell of their adventure.

The father, the priest of the tribe of Midian, by the name of Jethro (Ex 3:1),  shocked by their rudeness, tells the girls to go back immediately and invite this Egyptian over for a meal in order to thank him properly.    

While we are not told who Jethro was serving, what god he worshipped, it becomes apparent, years later, when he visits the Israelites in the wilderness, that he clearly believes in and brings sacrifices to the same God as Moses (Ex 18:9-12).  

Long story short, Moses ends up staying with Jethro and marrying one of the 7 daughters by the name of Zipporah.  They had a son, which Moses named Gershom (Ex 2:22; 1 Chron 23:15), a name that means “A stranger I’ve been,” indicating that he has truly has come home, found a place to belong.   

Decades pass.  By now, Moses is 80 years old.  We have no idea what happened in the intervening years.  And then Moses meets God, apparently for the first time in his life (or possibly because he was introduced to him by Jethro).

3:1 Moses was tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian.  He decided to lead the flock far into the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Even though these verses imply that Moses ventured beyond the traditional grazing grounds of Jethro’s family, it seems unlikely that he would have travelled all the way to the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba into the middle of the Sinai Peninsula.

Horeb / Mt. Sinai:  The traditional one at Jebel Musa on the Sinai Peninsula, and one, Jabal al-Lawz on the Arabian Peninsula near Midian.

There are many other locations that are proposed.  One of the reasons why Jabal al Lawz is thought of as a good location for Mt. Horeb / Mt. Sinai, is because of the verse that we have just read.

2 There the angel of YHWH appeared to him in a blaze of fire burning from the middle of a thornbush.  When Moses looked in amazement: although the thornbush was on fire, it did not burn up.  3 So Moses said to himself, “I have to go over and see this unusual sight – (and discover) why the thornbush is not burning up.”  

Of course, the reason why the bush was not being consumed is because this was no fire at all, it simply appeared to look very much like flames of fire.  This reminds me of the Holy Spirit appearing in what looked like tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:3).

The personal name of God, YHWH, has been used since the beginning of the book of Genesis, although that very name will only be revealed by God to Moses at a later date in this conversation.

4 When YHWH saw that he had gone over to take a closer look, God called to him from the middle of the thornbush: “Moses! Moses!”  And Moses said, “I am here.”  5 “Do not come any closer,” God said.  “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”  

Sandals or shoes, especially when you wear them hiking or among animals, can become very dirty and therefore can be symbolic of spiritual uncleanness.  God is holy or set apart and so is the ground associated with his presence.  

Just as you remove shoes when you enter a house so as not to dirty the carpet, so Moses removes his shoes as not to bring dirt close to the moral perfection that is God.  

This is both a reminder of what separates human beings from God as much as the possibility to be in relationship with God.      

6 (Once Moses complied) he said, “I am the God of your father [this is his physical dad, his family of origin back in Egypt], the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”  At this, Moses covered his face, because he was afraid to look at God.  

God wants to make sure that Moses in no way mistakes who is present before him.  And Moses, who up to this point had continued to gaze at the bush, now covered his face, afraid to stare at the God who was worshipped by his ancestors.   It becomes very clear that the God of the Israelites is YHWH and no other.

7 YHWH said, “… 8 I have come down to rescue my people from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land … 10  So now, go!  I am sending you to Pharaoh.  Lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 

Unbeknownst to Moses at this time is that he, along with all the Israelites, would end up worshipping God at this very place.

So here is an individual, a Jew where both parents were from the tribe of Levi, raised as a privileged youth who was likely not considered an equal by the other members of Pharaoh’s court.  Viewed as an Egyptian nobleman by his own people, who committed first degree murder, had to flee from justice to a place where he no longer felt like a foreigner, and had lived a pretty uneventful life, looking after the sheep of another man for most of his adult life.  There has been no reference to God in Moses’ life until the events at Mt. Horeb.  

Personally, I would not have thought of Moses as a good candidate to lead a nation, politically or spiritually.   

For one, he’s too old.  Granted that Moses lived a long life, but if you compare this to the average life expectancy of men in Victoria, he would have been the equivalent of about 55 years old – having no experience as a public figure or a political and spiritual leader.  If you are a potential employer, he would likely not have made your short list.

Second, Moses is of no significance.  Yes, there was a time he was a privileged young man, but he’s been a shepherd for a long time now.  Worse, he has not even established a flock of his own over all that time.  It makes me wonder what would have become of him if it hadn’t been for his father-in-law.

Third, and worst of all, he committed too great a sin.  I’ve never heard him apologize for what he did.  Is there really forgiveness for him?  

He reminds me of some former murderers who claimed to have become Christians.  

One of these, is Kang Kek ieu, also known as Comrade Duch, the person who was in charge of the top secret prison S-21, where anywhere from 14,000 to 17,000 were tortured and killed during the reign of Pol Pot in Cambodia.  

After prisoners were interrogated and tortured, Duch personally ordered their executions with chilling notations to his underlings.  He ordered children and teens to be smashed to pieces against trees and buildings.  He ordered women to either be executed or to be kept for “medical experiments.”  He ordered for other prisoners to be killed by having their bodies drained of blood so that the blood could be used for transfusions for wounded Khmer Rouge soldiers.  

Only a handful of those who entered the prison survived.  In many ways, Duch ranks as one of the worst war criminals in modern history – seemingly beyond redemption.

After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Comrade Duch changed his name to Hang Pin and went into hiding as a teacher.  In 1995 his wife was killed in an attack on their village.

Shortly after his wife's murder, Duch began attending the prayer meetings at an evangelical church led by an American/Cambodian missionary by the name of Christopher La Pel, whose parents and siblings had been killed by the Khmer Rouge.  After the church meetings, Duch would get together with La Pel to talk.  

 “My sin is so deep,” he said.  “I’ve done things that cannot be forgiven.”  But the missionary assured him that as long as he confessed his sins, turned away from them and believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour he would be forgiven by God and receive eternal life.

Duch wept and prayed, without specifying what he had done.  He was baptized the next day and his life was transformed.  The missionary said that Duch changed from that of a man with “no joy, no peace, no purpose in life” to someone whose “heart wanted to share the word of God to his friends and family.”

After two weeks, Duch went back to his village and started a house church that quickly grew to 14 families. With training and oversight from the missionary, Duch became a lay pastor.  His sister became a believer.

In 1997 and 1998 Duch worked for relief agencies, including World Vision International and the American Refugee Committee.

Around December 1998, the missionary received a letter from Duch asking for prayer. He planned to publicly confess his crimes and turn himself over to government authorities. 

The following year he admitted his real identity in an interview with a reported for the Far Eastern Economic Review.  He was thrown in a military prison for over 8 years, and incarcerated for another 2 before he was tried in 2009.  

Originally he was sentenced to 35 years, which in another trial in 2012 was extended to life without parole.

Of all the former Khmer Rouge detainees, he was the only one who admitted to all that he had done, describing in detail what would happen to those who were sent to prison S-21.  He was the only one who expressed regret and sorrow, the only one who apologized for the atrocities he had committed, and the only one who asked for forgiveness from the Cambodian people.    

Le Pel continues to visit Duch in jail when he is visiting Cambodia.  They pray together, celebrated communion and study God’s Word.  Duc is now 73 years old.

Of course, this story raises the question whether or not God could ever forgive a person who ordered the torture, medical procedures and deaths of over 15,000 individuals.  To most of us it would seem inconceivable.  

Another example that came to mind is a rapist, pedophile, serial killer, and cannibal by the name of Jeffrey Dahmer.  To me, he is at the top of the list when it comes to making a list of individuals who would be unacceptable to God.

He had drugged, raped, strangled and dismembered 17 boys and young men.  His crimes were so horrible as to be unimaginable.  Dahmer was caught in 1991 and went to trial, was convicted and thrown in prison for the rest of his natural life.

Three years into his term, in April of 1994, he took a Bible correspondence course which included the steps to salvation.  After he completed the course he desired to be baptized.  A pastor named Roy Ratcliff received a phone call that an inmate wanted to be baptized.  He had no idea that it was Jeffrey Dahmer who requested the baptism.  He met with Jeffrey over the next number of weeks and performed the baptism in May 1994.  

Ratcliff continued to meet with Jeffrey on a weekly basis.

In July of that year, an attempt was made on Dahmer’s life while he was in the prison chapel.  The blade broke, which saved his life.  However, in November of that year, guards left Dahmer unattended and unshackled with another murderer who had made no bones about despising Dahmer.  The inevitable happened in no time.  Dahmer was beaten to death with a metal bar.

At Dahmer’s funeral, Ratcliff, the man who had baptized him said,

Jeff confessed to me his great remorse for his crimes. He wished he could do something for the families of his victims to make it right, but there was nothing he could do. He turned to God because there was no one else to turn to, but he showed great courage in his daring to ask the question, ‘Is heaven for me too?’ I think many people are resentful of him for asking that question. But he dared to ask, and he dared to believe the answer.

Pastor Ratcliff who subsequently wrote a book about his visits, in which he tells his reasons for being convinced that Dahmer’s profession of faith was genuine – and that Jeffrey was a truly changed person. 

On the other hand, you have many believers who did not think that he could have been sincere.  Some were angry, like the university professor who attends Ratcliff’s congregation.  He remarked, “If Dahmer is in heaven, then I don’t want to be there.”  

Of course we cannot judge whether or not Duch or Dahmer’s conversions were genuine.  We have no way of looking at the heart.  But I think we can agree that if they truly repented then God’s grace and mercy is big enough to save even them.

YHWH is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  YHWH is good to all; He has compassion on all those he has made.            Psalm 145:8-9

We sometimes forget that Moses was a murderer.  We forget that king David was an adulterer and someone who purposefully commanded the killing of an innocent man.  We forget that the apostle Paul was an individual who purposefully hunted down Christians in the early church to incarcerate them in Jerusalem in order to have them killed (cf. Acts 9:1-2,21).  In fact, he was so successful, that we read in the book of Acts that Paul literally began to destroy the church (Acts 8:2).

Is it any wonder that when he returned to Jerusalem after his conversion, no one in the church wanted anything to do with him, thinking it was just a ruse to catch more believers (Acts 9:26)?   All but Barnabas, that is (Acts 9:27).

1.    We want retribution

One of our human tendencies is that we want retribution.  We want individuals who have created misery and suffering as death to suffer for it - throughout eternity.  Isn’t that our natural urge when someone hurts our children? 

2.    We hold on to grudges

Another of our human tendencies is that we are sometimes simply unwilling to forgive.  We would rather harbour bitterness and resentment even when we know that if we want to be forgiven by God for the wrongs we commit, we have to forgive others.  

3.    We write others off

Our third human tendency is that we tend to write people off for much lesser transgressions than murder.  They say something mean to us.  They hurt our feelings.  They talk too much.  They compensate for their personal insecurities in annoying ways.  They pick their nose.  100,000 different things can cause us to write another person off or distance us from them.  

We loathe to take others with a grain of salt … to treat them with charity … to overlook their idiosyncrasies.  

We write people off and we write them out of our lives.  Sometimes we simply are loathe to take others with a grain of salt, to treat them with charity, to overlook the small things. 

We forget the kind of admonitions in the NT that call us to treat others with kindness and with a tender heart (Eph 4:23), to be gentle and kind and compassionate and patient with one another and bear each other up and forgive each other (Col 3:12,13). 

4.    We write ourselves off

And, our human tendency, is to write off ourselves.  We may not have done what Moses did, but we still cannot forgive ourselves.  I was like that for many, many years.  I didn’t think that I deserved God’s mercy, and in my constant failures I thought that I will not receive His forgiveness … or my own, for that matter.  So I walked in constant belief, believing that if indeed I was a Christian, then the very worst kind.  

By the way, what I am not saying is that we should accept moral compromise in our own lives.  In fact, we should always strive to do better, to seek God more, to pray more consistently, to praise and give thanks, and to seek to please him more.  
But the calling of Moses does bring up an important question: