Friday, January 27, 2012

The Pleasures of Sin

"By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time" (Hebrews 11:24-25, NIV).

What were the "pleasures of sin" that Moses refused to enjoy "for a short time"?

Hebrews 11:26 gives us a clue, in contrasting "the treasures of Egypt" with "disgrace for the sake of Christ". However, the pleasures of sin could not have been simply the wealth of Egypt. After all, in the previous verses, Joseph is highlighted for his faith even though he had the wealth of Egypt at his disposal as well. Joseph was never condemned for enjoying the treasures of Egypt.

So there must have been more to the pleasures of sin than merely access to wealth.

The difference must have been in how Egyptian society had changed in the centuries between Joseph's service in the royal court and Moses' adoption into the royal family. Joseph appears to have served a relatively decent Pharaoh, a man who treated his subjects fairly well. However, Moses lived under an oppressive Pharaoh, a man who would murder innocent children in order to secure his position in the world and oppress a religious and racial minority in order to benefit from their slave labor.

Several centuries later, the elites of Israelite society would imitate the attitudes of their ancestors' masters. The prophet Amos would say, "Woe to you who are complacent in Zion, and you who feel secure on Mount Samaria...You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions, but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore you will be among the first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end" (Amos 6:1, 3-7, NIV).

In his commentary on the minor prophets, Dr. Harold Shank writes concerning this passage:

"Being in the seat of political power made them forget who had real power...Historians report a greater gap between the rich and the poor in North Israel than in nearby Judah at the time. Taxation, greed, and political graft all combined to create hardships for the poor. At the same time, Israel's religious faith mixed the worship of the LORD with the Baals (see Hosea's treatment of this issue) that created a sensual religion bent on pleasure and prosperity. For Amos, the chief result of political security was social insensitivity, where the luxury of the upper class created terror for the underclass... (T)he terror would include the father coming home from the lost court case, announcing that they could no longer live where they were (5:10-11); or the children watching the wealthy trample their father to the ground (2:7); or a family watching as their mother was abused by one of the wealthy women who had too much to drink (4:1)...Whatever creative energies the Israelites had, they were not channeled into care for the poor among their countrymen or regard for the future of the state, but were poured out with luxurious abandon in music to sweeten their revelry...Amos describes the details of oppression (2:7: 3:9; 4:1; 5:12), the result of seeking evil not good (5:14-15), where power and luxury lure people into thinking only of themselves, disregarding the hurting within the shadows of their own homes and having no regard to how their consumption affects their own future" (College Press NIV Commentary: Minor Prophets Volume 1, Hosea-Micah, pages 260-263).

Moses rejected such a perspective on life. He refused to be self-absorbed. He refused to remain silent and passive while people were suffering under the oppression of his government. He rejected the pleasures of sin that flowed from the mistreatment of innocent people. He decided to abandon the wealth and power of his position in order to suffer alongside the people of God.

Moses refused the pleasures of sin, and acted upon his faith in the God of justice. In doing so, he became a hero to generations of God's people who would follow him.

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