I have to admit it. I can’t mince words. This needs to be said. The Canticle of Moses makes me sick. It is blood-drenched, morally repulsive piece of scripture. Here’s why: It describes a divinely ordered and inspired orgy of violence where one group of people are massacred and another dance with joy. It makes me sick because we see identical events each night on our television. In scenes all over the Iraq and Syria, we see ISIS fighters shouting praises to the heavens at their newest massacres. We condemn these acts, as well we should. They too make me sick. But here, as if ripped from the New York Times, we have a scene that is no different from the ones we watch each night. If were to only omit the names and read you the reactions of Moses and the Israelites, and ask could you tell if these words came from the Koran or from the Old Testament, could you rightly tell? No, it’s nearly impossible, unless you know your Bible. Then if you do know your Bible, are you able to admit the uncomfortable similarities? Is Moses’ blood lust and supreme over confidence at doing God’s will OK because it’s our God, our understanding of the Judeo-Christian God that we’re dealing with? Do two wrongs make a right as long as it’s “our” interpretation of “our” God?
Has God become, for Moses, who Moses wants God to become? Is he singing a song or praise to his maddening idea of violence because that’s what he thinks reflects God’s priorities and actions? In reality, is Moses not having his own pre-Golden calf moment, dancing around and singing to a God he has made in his own image, reflecting his own opinions?
God said to Moses in Exodus 14:15, “Why is it you cry to me? You tell the Israelites to go forward.” That verse is left out of the lectionary reading. One way to read this is to say, “God is empowering Moses to be a better leader.” That interpretation may work for leadership manuals and if you want to see your scripture in a moral vacuum.
Is God asking, “Why do you want me to do your killing for you?” Is God putting some distance between himself and whatever Moses does next? This is your thing Moses. Is that a hint we’d much prefer not take? Do we want to keep dancing, feigning righteous indignation each time we turn on the news, or do we want to try to read a bloody story in a different way?