To Work or to Worship

By: Lance King

I’ve been reading through Torah lately. The epic, multi-layered, sometimes paradoxical stories have struck me anew.  A lush garden provides all life’s sustenance, but also produces the first relational triangle-the source of great lifelessness. “Sibling Rivalry” indelibly taints the soil to which all future siblings are destined to tend together. And “trickery” is a nearly continual personality trait in God’s “first family” (see Rebecca, Jacob, Laban, Israel’s 11 sons, Joseph – and that’s just Genesis!).

The most intriguing new discovery has been the ten round battle between Moses and Pharaoh (Exodus 5-12). The divinely inspired will of Moses is for God’s people to “Worship God”- to escape the daily grind of brick-making for deep rejuvenation. Pharaoh’s will, however, is more pragmatic, “Keep Working!”  Worship-hungry Moses reengages the slave-driving Pharaoh for an absurdly lengthy ten-round bout. The reader knows God’s will and cheers for Moses at every turn.

I’ve long wondered why it took God ten plagues to set God’s people free. Did so much loss have to occur before Pharaoh relented? Instead of all the “heart softening” and “heart hardening,” why didn’t God simply “deliver” God’s people into the wide open space for worship and praise, rest and feasting?

It seems likely to me that God’s people these days are still suffering between the same conflicted priorities.  A potent voice of authority says, “Work” and “Work more” then “Work harder!” Meanwhile, the voice of the stuttering underdog counters, “Walk away and worship.” Caught in the middle, we watch and cheer… and then continue making bricks, perhaps even more strenuously than ever.   Perhaps the reason Exodus features ten plagues is because God knows the priorities of the empire (pyramids, profits, etc.) are so deeply ingrained in all cultures, that prioritizing worship is simply too counter-productive.  Round after round I feel the struggle.

As with all great stories, Exodus reveals Torah’s truth on multiple levels.  The slave-driven Egyptians steadily work their way to tragedy. Those daring to trust the small, stammering voice from God find that life outside of work yields a new kind of aliveness which involves no bricks, but endures for generations and leads to a new and promised land.

Now I suppose I’d better get back to work! Or, might I worship instead?

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