As you read this week, understand that the story of Exodus lies at the very heart of Jewish identity. Throughout the centuries, as this people has endured persecution, pogrom and holocaust, the remembrance of God’s deliverance has sustained this passionate community. This story of Exodus also shaped the telling of the Christian story from the very beginning. Matthew’s gospel sees Jesus as the new Moses. Mark’s gospel characterizes the work of Jesus as deliverance and redemption. The Exodus story also creates hope for any number of communities that have experienced oppression. Liberation Theology of our own time is a direct descendant of this Exodus tradition and continues to spark a hopeful fire within Black and Brown peoples across the globe.
Whether the liberation from Egypt is a story that is set in time or one of those deeply true stories that transcends time, no one will ever know.
There is less archeological confidence in the historicity of the stories of Exodus and Conquest than there used to be, given our growing insights of historical criticism. Some scholars think of this as “paradigmatic history” whereby…
… the narrative is seen to make a claim for intense particularity, but a particularity that invites and permits rereading in a variety of circumstances (Brueggemann).
Consider again the context of the Exile and the very real possibility that this ancient story from Egypt was told from the experience of Exile in Babylon. The story doesn’t have to be what actually happened a long long time ago in Egypt in order for it to be true. The story is “true” because all kinds of people who suffer from the oppression by all sorts of tyrants are enabled to hold on to the hope that their cries will eventually be heard and the Creator-Sustainer-Redeemer of all-that-is will ultimately act for salvation and shalom.
As you read Exodus 1-15, pay special attention to chapter 3. Here is a pivotal introduction of God, YHWH, Yahweh, I Am. Recall the I Am sayings of Jesus from the Gospel of John and consider again how radical John’s Christology is.
As you read the story of the plagues upon Egypt, you may be troubled (as I have been) with the odd phrase repeated again and again: “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” Think about this within the context of the storytellers’ theology. For the Hebrews of Egypt and the exiled Israelites in Babylon, God is the all-powerful Lord of all creation. Even the most powerful kings of the earth cannot resist the indomitable will of the Sovereign Lord of all Lords. The storytellers frame the contest between God and the Pharaoh as an opportunity for God’s glory to be seen, not just to Israel so as to build their faith, but also to the kings and kingdoms of the earth so as to demonstrate the supremacy of the one true God.
In the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, there are two different traditions of the sacrificial lamb. One seems to be more dominant in the biblical story itself and in our traditional Christian theological reflections and that is the tradition of the scapegoat. An animal is sacrificed in substitution for the sins of the people as atonement. This remembrance of sin and forgiveness is celebrated even today in the symbolic rituals of Yom Kippur. (We will unpack this particular notion of the sacrificial lamb more fully in a few weeks when we get to Leviticus.)
But in our story today, there are no hints of a substitutionary death of the lamb on account of sin. Instead the Passover lamb is strength for the journey; it is the one around whom the community gathers, the sharing of whose life binds the community together. It is celebration and sustenance. This is the other thread of meaning for the sacrificial lamb that is especially appropriate theology for the Christian Communion/Eucharist. This tradition that weaves throughout the biblical texts is the tradition of community and covenant.
As you read the Psalms (24, 90, 105), you will notice that Ps 90 is attributed to Moses.
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
Be sure to take time to appreciate Psalm 105 and its powerful poetic remembrance of these core stories of Israel. Compare this song with the “psalm” recorded in Exodus 15.
As you read Mark 11-16, you will notice that Mark’s description of the last supper on the night before his crucifixion was a Passover meal. The Christian celebration of Easter has always coincided with the Jewish celebration of Passover. The dates dance around each other based on the lunar calendar, but their relationship is fixed.
Some Christian churches recognize this relationship by celebrating a Jewish Seder with a Christian twist. My friend, Rabbi Jeffrey joined us at one of our Seder meals one year and led my congregation through the traditional ritual. It became very clear to us how the meaning of Passover connected across the ages to the meaning of the Christ. It was a moving experience.
As you read Ephesians, revel in the powerful poetic prayers; there are several. Words have power to stir the human soul; power that is wielded by some to provoke fear and hatred. Power that is used by others to inspire us to awe and goodness.
Notice as you read, the repetition of the persistent biblical theme of God’s deliverance from slavery, sin, and “death.” Also the theme of God’s triumph over pharaohs and tyrants, named here as “rulers and authorities” – not just on earth, but “the cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…”
See again in the letter to the Ephesian churches the Pauline passion for breaking down barriers between Jew and Gentile.
Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2003).