On Consecrated Ground

Moses on the Mount; Exodus 3-4

Moshe, a Hebrew truant from
His resident Egyptian land
Committed crimes with this outcome:
His life was now in Pharaoh’s hand.

Absconding to a rural place
In Midian, he found a mate
And then a new trade to embrace:
To tend her father’s sheep-estate.

While absent from his past abode
The Pharaoh who had threatened died.
But floodgates of oppression flowed.
To Yahweh Moshe’s people cried.

One day he led his flocks up high
For sheep to graze in pasture land,
Where hill and mountain touched the sky,
On Horeb’s holy highland grand.

Then some wild conflagration soared
Before him—something set afire.
A sight that dared not be ignored:
Ablaze, a shrub would not expire!

The startled shepherd turned to see
The spectacle mysterious
Where he would hear the Lord’s decree,
Yahweh’s command imperious,

Wherein angelic speeches called
And Shepherd Moshe heard his name.
Though distant, nonetheless enthralled,
God spoke and off his sandals came.

For this was consecrated ground.
“I am the God of Abraham,
Of Isaac, Jacob, God renowned!
Your fathers’ God is who I am!”

The voice of Yahweh pierced the sky
And horror colored shepherd’s blood:
That man who saw his God would die
But met a contract like a flood.

“My cherished people suffered long
I’ve heard the cry of misery—
Afflicted population’s song.
Now they shall be a deportee!

“For I’ve descended to their aid
And shall dispatch them from their lords,
From Egypt’s hell a grand parade,
Captors to vanquish without swords!

“Then they will seize a fertile land
From Canaan and her neighbor states
With milk and honey flowing grand!
But first I issue these dictates:

“You go to Egypt’s Pharaoh king,
And bring my people, Israel, out!”
The mandate echoed with a sting!
Came Moshe’s protest with a shout:

“So who am I to do this charge?
To traverse Egypt’s boundary
And extricate a people large
As Israel from her slavery?”

“But it is I who dwell with you.
Affix this sign to your account:
When you have brought the people through
The borders, serve me on this mount.”

“But if I tell your people straight:
‘Your fathers’ God has summoned you,’
And they demand your name, relate
To me the answer that is true!”

“Tell Israel, His name—I AM.
I AM created this crusade,
Your fathers’ God—of Abraham,
And Isaac, Jacob—to your aid!

“Assemble, then, their elders first
And tell them their own fathers’ God
Has shown you He knows their coerced
And harrowed grief on Egypt’s sod!

“And state my pledge that I will take
Them thence to Canaan’s fertile ground
And Canaan’s neighbor-lands. I’ll make
A milk-and-honey land renowned!

“And when they listen to your voice
You go and tell the king precise:
Say: ‘It is our God, Yahweh’s choice
A three-day leave to sacrifice.’

“The king will never let you go
Until coerced by powers vast:
I’ll blitz his empire blow by blow
Until he grants you leave at last.

“And then my people’s vast parade
Will leave but not with empty hands
As Egypt’s masses lend their aid,
Bestow their favor, grant demands:

“Let women ask their neighbors’ share
Of gold and silver ornaments
And clothing for their youths to wear.
Their plunder thus will fill their tents!”

Moshe’s dissent grew earnestly:
“Your people will not trust my word
They’ll doubt that you appeared to me!”
The shepherd’s anguish was deterred

By Yahweh’s query on the stick
In Moshe’s hand. “Now fling it free,”
He said, and when he threw it quick
He ran—a snake it turned to be!

Said Yahweh, “Look! Extend your hand
And take the tail within your clasp.”
He seized the serpent from the land—
A stick again in Moshe’s grasp!

“Thus shall they know that Yahweh God
Their father Abraham revered
And Isaac’s, Jacob’s Master awed—
Has now indeed to you appeared.

“Now put your hand inside your cloak.”
Inside his cloak he thrust it hence
And pulled it out, and in one stroke
A leprous hand he yanked it thence!

“Return it now,” And when he drew
It out the leprosy was gone!
“Now if they doubt the staff you threw
The second sign they’ll act upon.

“Suppose suspicions still abound;
Get water from the River Nile
Decant it to the driest ground
When turned to blood it shall beguile!”

But Moshe remonstrated still,
“I cannot speak with eloquence;
Not in the past nor yet until
Today. My tongue is my offence.”

“Man’s mouth,” said Yahweh, “who has made?
Who makes him deaf or mute, I ask?
With blindness or with sight arrayed?
‘Tis I, Yahweh—who gives this task!

“Now go, depart, I send you there
And I will place your mouth at ease
And teach you what you must declare!”
Moshe said, “Send another, please!”

A fierce inferno flared up high
As Yahweh’s fury targeted
The shepherd, “But you shall comply!
Aaron your kin—he’ll speak instead!

“He’s on his way to you perforce,
Fraternal nod to your flawed prayer.
Articulate then your discourse:
You’ll both divine demeanor bear.

“For I will teach you how to act,
He will address the people well—
Another mouth for your contract,
And you as God beside him dwell!

“So take the stick, your staff, in hand
To execute these dazzling signs.”
At this, he left the holy land,
To harmless, previous confines.

Another adjunct to his call
When Yahweh eased the shepherd’s dread:
“Now nothing can my will forestall;
Your foes in Egypt are all dead!”

“Tell Pharaoh, ‘Israel, my son,
My firstborn—you shall let him go
To serve me! If this charge you shun
I’ll death to your firstborn bestow!’”

Then exited the triad thence,
Moshe, his brother, and his God,
Prepared for skirmishes immense
To free a populace abroad.

 

 

Jeff Kemper has been a biology teacher, biblical studies instructor, editor, and painting contractor. He lives with his wife, Sue, in York County, Pennsylvania.

 

 

 


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7 Responses

  1. David Watt

    Jeff, I give you credit for crafting a poem of forty stanzas on the theme of Moses on the Mount.
    I appreciate that the biblical theme should be reflected in the language of the poem. However, I felt that some of the inversions detract from the poem’s flow.
    For example:
    ‘He ran-a snake it turned to be!’ ‘A leprous hand he yanked it thence!’

    One of my favourite stanzas is:

    ‘And then my people’s vast parade
    Will leave, but not with empty hands
    As Egypt’s masses lend their aid,
    Bestow their favor, grant demands’

    Reply
    • Jeff Kemper

      Thanks, David, for taking the time to read my poem. I think I need to expend some time and energy toward its revision. You pointed to some flaws that I will take into account for the sake of a better flowing read. I appreciate your help.

      Reply
  2. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    I really appreciate the effort that has gone into converting this scriptural story into poetry. For me, poetry is a wonderful medium for teaching. As I read, the rhythm and rhyme sang along at a pace that swept me up in the wonders and awe of the message and for that I am grateful. Thank you, Jeffrey.

    Reply
    • Jeff Kemper

      Susan, I appreciate your taking the time, and thanks for your encouraging words. Yes, it took a lot of effort and, I fear, I might yet require quite a bit more. I am never quite satisfied with what I write; perhaps that’s common. As others have pointed out, it needs some tweaking.

      Reply
  3. C.B. Anderson

    Jeff,

    Yes, as others have intimated, some of the passages are a bit bumpy. I particularly did not like “blitz,” which is a German word that means lightning.
    In the first stanza you rhymed a stressed “from” with an unstressed “-come” in “outcome.” This is a bad idea, because this is not how rhyme best works. There were a number of other minor infelicities, but I won’t get into that here. The point is: you have attempted something very difficult, and you came close. If you go over this poem line by line, you should be able to determine for yourself where the hiccups occur

    Reply
    • Jeff Kemper

      Thanks, C.B., for your critique. I don’t agree with you on the use of the word “blitz,” which, after all refers in English to something quick and often to something harsh like warfare, which seems to describe how the plagues would eventually strike as the Exodus account’s portrays them (war waged by Yahweh against the Egyptian gods). One might charge that it is anachronistic, but since it has lost most of its original meaning and its loanword status as well, I thought it usable here. But I will re-evaluate its use in my poem.

      However, upon rereading it with these critiques in mind, I agree that it has its share of bumps. I began retelling biblical passages as poems a decade or two ago and found it quite enjoyable, but the longer the passage and the more closely I try to adhere to the text, the harder it is and the more “infelicities” show up. I appreciate your critique, and any advise would be welcomed.

      Reply
      • Jeff Kemper

        Please excuse the errors in my comment above. It’s late and I’m quite tired!

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