The Shuvah Project #15 — Skin in the Game

New to The Shuvah Project? Find out what it is and why it’s necessary.

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses, Moses!”

-Exodus 3:4

Section One (Parsha Debrief):

This week’s parsha contained: a new generation of Israelites, a new Pharaoh, declaration of slavery, declaration of genocide, Moses’ origin story, the burning bush, Zipporah’s intercession, the first dialogue with Pharaoh, and Pharaoh’s response to the initial ask.

In the Midweek Reading Guide, we suggested God is orchestrating a resistance with Divine strategy. The Text uses specific stories and language to share two integral components of resisting norms and creating change.

  1. it takes strength and courage to defy power, group think, and herd mentality (i.e. it takes being divergent).
  2. it takes an ability to see humanity in all people.

If we don’t read carefully, or study from persons that do (e.g. Aleph Beta), we can easily miss how the Text is describing the Hebrews from Pharaoh’s perspective. 

Pharaoh Perspective

Swarmed? Sickened? More vigorous? Reeked? Endlessly multiplying…

That’s not how you describe people. That’s how you describe pests or vermin.

Something changed. The House of Israel was no longer royalty; they were no longer respected by Pharaoh. Instead, fear crept in. To preserve all that was his, Pharaoh began a propaganda campaign. The propaganda must have worked, because Egyptians willingly threw Hebrew boys into the Nile (i.e. mass genocide). 

Oppression, forced labor, and bitter treatment result when people are no longer seen as people, but vermin. Pharaoh created the conditions for a public’s willingness of mass genocide. Much like Hitler created the conditions for a public’s willingness of mass extermination. 

To resist these powerful cultural forces God needed divergents. Yes, Moses is a major player in our parsha Text and the resistance as a whole. But, God’s resistance was built on women. The women in our parsha Text are the origins of the resistance. The women are the divergents.

First, the Hebrew midwives directly defy Pharaoh, because of their love and reverence for God. Then, Moses’ biological mother does something miraculous — keeps a Hebrew baby hidden for three months! Next, the most pivotal moment of God’s resistance — Pharaoh’s daughter had compassion for a Hebrew!! Lets not miss the magnitude of the implications. This is the daughter of the most powerful person in the world. The daughter of the man who is heading the propaganda campaign. The daughter of the man who decreed all Hebrew boys must be drowned in the Nile.

Yet, she has compassion.

Pharaoh’s daughter fights against the cultural norms. She sees humanity and likeness in someone different.

God can use people who have eyes to see.

To top it off, Moses’ sister (i.e. Miriam) has the courage to speak to the daughter of Pharaoh and seal the deal. Before Pharaoh’s daughter could be persuaded otherwise by her maidservants, Miriam nudges her to go all in!

What’s more, Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t just raise Moses as Egyptian royalty. At some point, she told him that he was actually Hebrew. Otherwise, how would Moses have known an Egyptian was beating one of his people (Exodus 2:11b)?

Being a divergent isn’t easy. As we’ll come to see, God calls His people to be set apart. Historically, this hasn’t been an easy call. It requires putting skin in the game — literally.

Lets roll it back for a moment. How does Pharaoh’s daughter know the baby in the reeds was one of the Hebrew boys?

God marked His people in an unmistakable and irreversible way. God and the Hebrews had a sign for their covenant. It was set back in Genesis 17 and it was the first time in the narrative God asked His people to be responsible for a portion of the covenants they shared. It was the first time God asked His people to put skin in the game. It was the covenant of circumcision.

That’s how Pharaoh’s daughter knew. The baby boy in the reeds looked different.

When oppression comes, as it does here… as it does throughout history (e.g. the holocaust) being a Hebrew male isn’t something easily hidden. It’s life or death.

Our parsha even invites the implications from God’s perspective. We don’t know why Moses delayed in circumcising his son, but he did. I can imagine life would be easier for his son without the sign of the covenant. Apparently God isn’t ok with Moses’ decision. So much so, that God shows up at night ready to put Moses to death (Exodus 4:24). To which, again, a heroine shows up and Zipporah saves Moses’ life by doing what he should have.

It’s life or death.

Bearing the sign carries with it the potential to face oppression and death by the Empires of the world (e.g. Egypt, Babylon, Persia, Rome, and the Nazi regime).

Disregarding the sign carries with it the potential to be confronted by God.

God can use people who have skin in the game!

Section Two (Connection to NT + haftarah):

The author of Luke seems to share these sentiments about true skin in the game, based on how the response to Jesus’ teaching is described. But, I also think there’s more.

For instance, our parsha Text provides Moses’ origin story. In it we get glimpses of the tension he must have wrestled with — being raised in privilege, but called to speak good news about freedom from an oppressor to a Hebrew people he never really knew. In the Luke Text, Jesus returns home, to which the people ask, isn’t this Joseph’s son? — a pointed reminder that the person carrying the good news might not be the people’s choice.

We even see the Israelites in Egypt get angry with Moses and Aaron because their good news brings repercussions of increased hardship under Pharaoh. Jesus, in the Luke Text, faces an enraged people because His good news doesn’t sit well with those in power.

Both persons bring good news to unlikely candidates, those not in power, those not in the in crowd.

But, both Moses and Jesus, speak truth to power. Both Moses and Jesus put true skin in the game. Both Moses and Jesus had the potential to get hurled off a cliff or drowned in the Nile.

God’s resistance — the divine strategy — puts skin in the game.

It’s a faith full of action!

What’s more, the parsha Text makes it known that God is very much with the Nation of Israel in their troubles — it’s in His name (Exodus 3:13-15). The connected Luke Text makes it known that God is very much with all nations in their troubles. A brilliant pairing. In fact, the author of Luke chose Jesus’ words wisely to show that God sent His prophets to the gentiles, too (Luke 4:24-27).

Good news is for all poor, healing is for all brokenhearted, liberty is for all captives, freedom is for all prisoners, and Jubilee is for all (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2).

Section Three (missing the mark):

It seems like in God’s resistance, He invites people to do the hard, often lonely work, of speaking truth to power.

But, what does speaking truth to power actually look like?

A prominent pastor once attempted to compare the take-a-knee sub-movement to the midwives in our parsha Text. No. They aren’t even close. Not by a long-shot. There’s no risk in taking a knee. Whereas, these midwives risked their lives. It was life or death. They made a conscious, defiant decision to lay down their lives on behalf of saving innocent newborn Hebrew babies.

That’s what God’s resistance is made of — people willing to risk it all.

Although take-a-knee doesn’t compare to the actions of the Hebrew midwives… the oppression, slavery, and systemic propaganda people of color face does compare. So to does the inability to hide their identity. Like anti-Semitism, racism is real. 

Yet, divergents didn’t put signs on their lawns saying, hate has no home here. Instead, Pharaoh’s daughter brought an enemy-of-the-state into her home. Divergents didn’t put signs on their lawn saying, do good. Instead, Miriam asked Pharaoh’s daughter if she could go and do.

Pastors should do and speak likewise.

Divergents act. Their actions speak volumes about God’s divine resistance strategy.

Section Four (real-world applications):

We are only two days removed from the celebration of Jesus’ birth. The birth of another wave of Divine resistance. Only a handful of people stopped and took notice of Jesus’ birth. Today, likewise, we can easily miss the opportunities right in front of us.

In our parsha, the Text says, God saw the Israelites, and He took notice (Exodus 2:25). This is an odd statement. It is similar to the odd notion that God had to remember Noah and the ark, as if they were something easily forgotten. Maybe the Text says this because it’s drawing a connection to the very next section in which Moses also took notice of something. Moses noticed that the burning bush wasn’t being consumed (Exodus 3:2-3). I would have missed this point if the the Rabbis at Aleph Beta hadn’t unpacked it for me. You see, burning bushes are common in the desert wilderness. So, it’s likely a lot of nomads and shepherds would have seen this bush, and others, burning. Yet, it is Moses who took the time to pause and really look to notice that the bush wasn’t being consumed. After which, God calls Moses’ name and we get that familiar here I am response.

The Text invites us to see that God chose Moses because he’s not a surface looker, he takes notice of what’s really going on — he too has eyes to see.

Our first step to joining God’s resistance is to stop and take notice of the injustices and oppression all around us. Our next step, is to put skin in the game.

Lets be clear, skin in the game doesn’t mean volunteering for our pastors. It means voluntarily bearing the sign. For some, that’s the sign of circumcision. For others, that’s the sign of the cross. For both, it’s potential life and death.


Next Week’s Readings: Exodus 6:2-9:35; Luke 4:31-37

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