Forgotten History

A Reflection on Exodus 1:8 – 2:10

“Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” With this one line, a statement of history forgotten, great change comes to the land of Egypt. Joseph the dreamer is a hero in the Pharaoh’s household. Fat cows and skinny cows foretell famine that will come after times of plenty. The Egyptians are spared starvation and Joseph is reunited with his brothers who are also spared the hardship of famine.

Immediately after the king reveals his great un-knowing, fear overtakes him. Who are these foreign people and why are they here? We must do something before they “increase and join our enemies and fight against us. Let us set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor.” Oppression of the Hebrew people begins as a king, ignorant of history, grows fearful and dangerous. Is ignorance of history still dangerous?

We hear it said that history repeats itself; cycles of relative peace, then oppression or some other disruption. In the end a redeemer rises up to carry forth the story of God’s people. Forgotten history keeps us on the merry-go-round, always travelling in circles, never really going anywhere.

This text is the beginning of the Moses story, the great redemption story of the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses, the stutterer, is a most reluctant player. Yet Moses realizes his calling and Moses has not forgotten the history of God and God’s covenant with the beloved community.

Forgotten history plagues us today. We are fighting each other because we have forgotten our common bonds, as people of faith, as Americans, as citizens together whirling through space on a very small planet. We have selective amnesia about the good ole days. Not everybody lived in the plantation house. Not everybody had electricity, running water, food. Not everybody had a vote or a voice. We have selectively remembered those things that prop up our own narrative, our own hegemony.

Lest we forget, we fail God when we do not remember Joseph and all the dreamers of history. We grow smaller and smaller, weaker and weaker as we forget. There is much that is ugly in history. There is much that has oppressed and denied and short-changed and killed as we have forgotten who we are called to be. God’s economy does not short-change anyone.

Thankfully every day is a new beginning…”time to remember and move on..” as the song says. We stand on the shoulders of a checkered history in America. Now is the time, this is the moment when we are being called to remember history, the good, the bad, the ugly and to search our hearts and souls to learn a new way, the way of grace, and goodness, and Christ in the world. Forgotten history leads us to dark places. Look up. Look forward. Keep all that is good and learn from the bad. This is how redemption works. This is Resurrection.

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