The Book of Exodus tells the story of Israel’s liberation and it serves as a fierce and beautiful summary of the spiritual combat we endure and the freedom we are fighting for.
Here are five lessons from the Book of Exodus.
God’s Nature as I AM does not Preclude Relationship
Moses, who is to liberate the Israelite people, asks God what is name is:
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? God answered: I will be with you; and this will be your sign that I have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God at this mountain. “But,” said Moses to God, “If I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,” and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” God replied to Moses: I AM WHO I AM.”NABRE Exodus 3:11-14
This name of God has been the source of much theological discussion and indeed one interpretation is that this name points us to God being Ipsum Esse Subsistens or the subsistent act of to be itself. What everyone agrees on is that this Name God gives himself is meant to preserve his mystery. However it also in some sense represents a relationship. When we start a new relationship we tell people our name and learn theirs.
While God is mysterious, seemingly unknowable, incomprehensible to our organic brains, he nonetheless intends to help us cross that chasm into knowing him.
For Americans Freedom is often freedom to do whatever we want. In the story of Exodus whenever Moses asks for Freedom from Pharoah it is always the freedom to go and worship God.
This represents a very profound spiritual truth. To be trully free from what is bad we must also know what we want freedom for. A kite can only fly if it is tethered to the ground by a string, otherwise it will crash. Or think of money. It is worthless, unless you spend it well.
Moses brings about freedom from Pharoah, so that the people can have freedom for God. It is only when we make time to pray and listen to God that we will be able to understand how to best spend our Freedom.
The Dignity of Women
It is true that the culture of the world the bible grew up in was very gendered. There are many historical, anthropological and economic causes of this and indeed we can see the sin of sexism played out by persons in the Bible as well.
I do find it interesting however that Israel’s liberation could not have happened without Women.
In the first chapter of the Exodus the king of Egypt demands that the midwives to kill the men of the Israelites. “The midwives, however, feared God;” (Exodus 1:17) that is to say, they recognied that God’s truth and their dignity as made in God’s image and likeness was more enduring than the corrupt power of a disordered political power. So they disobey Pharoah and obey life, in service to God who is Life and tell Pharoah “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. They are robust and give birth before the midwife arrives”
She who kneels before God can stand before anyone!
Pharoah tries again to kill the Egyptian boys and Moses is again saved and is raised by a Woman, this time Pharoah’s daughter. And so it is to this day that Christian Men are saved through the intersession of Mary.
Respect for Foreigners
In his amazing book, The Exodus, Ricard Elliott Friedman writes:
One of the things that has impressed me through my years of the study of the Hebrew Bible was this repeated concern for aliens. Fifty-two times? How many things are mentioned in the Five Books of Moses Fifty-two times? . . . And – remember this – we do not find it anywhere else in the laws of the ancient Near Eastern world.From The Exodus (emphasis added)
The Exodus is a political book. It demands a politics where we look out for the outcast and the foreigner. God is always with the outcasts. And the Bible was unique in this interest.
That Disney song from the Hunchback of Notre Dame gets it:
I don’t know if You can hear me
Or if You’re even there
I don’t know if You would listen
To a gypsy’s prayer?
Yes, I know I’m just an outcastGod Help the Outcasts
I shouldn’t speak to You
Still I see Your face and wonder
Were You once an outcast too?
God stands with the alien, the forigner, the immigrant, the gypsy, the outcast, the poor, the ones whom society rejects. It is to them God will send his grace, the first will be last and the last will be first.
The Importance of Religion
A people are held together by knowing their history. A Sci-Fi novel I love (Ender’s Game) puts it this way: “I am what I a remember.” Throughout Exodus pains are taken so that the Israelites will remember their history and carry its spiritual lessons with them.
“‘You will keep this practice forever as a statute for yourselves and your descendants. Thus, when you have entered the land which the Lord will give you as he promised, you must observe this rite. When your children ask you, ‘What does this rite of yours mean?’ you will reply, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice for the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, he delivered our houses.'”NABRE Exodus 12:24-28
How many crimes of history could have been prevented if people had learned from even earlier history? Even today we suffer because we do not know our past and many forces try to erase it.
For religion to be powerful it cannot be made up from scratch, it must be based on and carry with it the lessons from the past. This is one of the many problems with being “spiritual but not religious.”
If I had to recommend someone read one and only one book from the Old Testament it would be The Exodus. It summarizes in such a dramatic way the biblical view of God. Maybe now as our Earth is more conflicted than ever and freedom endangred we should take some time to heed its lessons.