Category: The Exodus

Giza Pyramids

Lazy Slaves?

I couldn’t help but see some present day parallels with the Old Testament text in my daily lectionary reading for today:

10The slave bosses and the men in charge of the slaves went out and told them, “The king says he will not give you any more straw.11Go and find your own straw wherever you can, but you must still make as many bricks as before.”

12The slaves went all over Egypt, looking for straw.13But the slave bosses were hard on them and kept saying, “Each day you have to make as many bricks as you did when you were given straw.”14The bosses beat the men in charge of the slaves and said, “Why didn’t you force the slaves to make as many bricks yesterday and today as they did before?”

15Finally, the men in charge of the slaves went to the king and said, “Why are you treating us like this?16No one brings us any straw, but we are still ordered to make the same number of bricks. We are beaten with whips, and your own people are to blame.”

17The king replied, “You are lazy—nothing but lazy!

Tissot - the Golden Calf

Syrian Refugees and the Israelite Exodus

An interesting story about some Syrian refugees in Toronto has been making the rounds, discussing how many are beginning to feel hopeless stuck in their hotels waiting to be processed. The article specifically refers to the hotel used as a case as a “budget hotel.” This probably means small rooms crammed with large families, bland and repetitive food, being unable to talk to anybody without knowing English, and being unable to even take your kids outside because it’s not like you could pack winter boots with you from Syria (it’s been a mild winter, but they would still need some winter clothing).

Some people are responding by basically telling them to shut up and stop whining. They’ve made it this far, escaping war and probably years in refugee camps with worse conditions. I can sympathize with that a little bit. In the big picture, another maximum 2 months crowded in a budget hotel is not a huge deal after years it took them to get there. But that also doesn’t really do justice to what they’re going through. Take a moment to imagine you’ve escaped war, took a long journey, spent 3 years in a refugee camp, got the exciting news that you have been approved to come to Canada where you can finally create a life for your children… then you get here and you’re stuck in a 200 square foot room with those four young children 24 hours a day, eating the same bulk processed food every day, your kids can’t play, you can’t talk to anyone except other refugees, and you have no idea when you’ll be allowed to leave.

Poussin, Nicolas - The Victory of Joshua over the Amalekites

Barbs in Your Eyes

There are many “texts of terror” in the Bible, mostly in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) but you can find some challenges in the New Testament, too. The biggest challenge often comes when noticing that God apparently orchestrates genocide against the Canaanite people at the hands of the Israelites. One of these texts appear in Numbers 33:55-56, including the rationale for the extinction (NIV)

55 “‘But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 56 And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.’”

Christians in the modern Western world tend to read this prescriptively: God is ordering genocide because God is afraid that these other people will corrupt Israel. I’ve discussed elsewhere how we can talk about whether or not God actually did command this and why if so, but I want to step past that for a different aspect of the text this time.

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

Simplicity in the Desert

In the last post of this series we saw the Israelites complaining that they were better off in Egypt where they at least had food.

4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I’m going to make bread rain down from the sky for you. The people will go out each day and gather just enough for that day. In this way, I’ll test them to see whether or not they follow my Instruction. 5 On the sixth day, when they measure out what they have collected, it will be twice as much as they collected on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt. (Exodus 16:4-6 CEB)

God answers their fairly-legitimate complaint. After all, they do need to eat. But God doesn’t exactly give them gourmet meals. They’re the chosen people, on their way to the promised land of milk and honey. By the usual ways of thinking about the world, we would expect that these chosen people would get a feast.

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

The Rut of Oppression

Note: there are some mild spoilers for the movie The Dark Knight.

The Israelites through their Exodus would often lament as in Exodus 14 about maybe it being better in Egypt. Here’s one of many examples:

2 The whole Israelite community complained against Moses and Aaron in the desert. 3 The Israelites said to them, “Oh, how we wish that the Lord had just put us to death while we were still in the land of Egypt. There we could sit by the pots cooking meat and eat our fill of bread. Instead, you’ve brought us out into this desert to starve this whole assembly to death. (Exodus 16:2-15 CEB)

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

Praising Justice

Concluding the escape from Egypt, the Israelites led by Miriam sang a song of praise, starting with this:

I will sing to the Lᴏʀᴅ, for an overflowing victory!
Horse and rider he threw into the sea!
The Lᴏʀᴅ is my strength and my power [or song];
he has become my salvation.
This is my God, whom I will praise,
the God of my ancestors, whom I will acclaim.
The Lᴏʀᴅ is a warrior;
the Lᴏʀᴅ is his name. (Exodus 15:1-3)

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

The Stubbornness of Power

I can recall reading/hearing the Exodus story as a kid and teenager and thinking how stupid Pharaoh must have been. His people – including him and others in the royal household – lose crops. They lose drinking water. They get sick in ways that would keep them from doing pretty much anything of any kind. Thousands die directly in the plagues. Many more would die later since it isn’t like the crops and the livestock reappear. Some have even suggested that this Exodus was the cause of the decline of the Egyptian Empire. Finally, they lose their first-born sons which is enough to change his mind… briefly.

I’d like to think that if I was in Pharaoh’s position, just one plague would be sufficient to have me believing that I should let these people go. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized it’s more complicated than that. I’d say the real lesson here is his stubborn addiction to power. Looking at it this way I actually began to feel almost sorry for him because he was caught in a lie that many of us fall for as well.

There is a common phrase: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see this many times throughout history, biblical and otherwise, but Pharaoh is definitely a primary example.

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

Moses, the Not Good Enough

We’re not told exactly how long passes between Moses fleeing Egypt to Midian and his encounter with God, who for the first time identifies as Yahweh or I AM (rendered the Lᴏʀᴅ in most English translations). We know it was long enough that the previous Pharaoh has passed away. Through these intervening months or years, the Hebrews have remained in brutal slavery but Moses seems to have concluded there is nothing he can do about it after losing his influence along with his temper in killing an Egyptian. So now, in Exodus 3, Yahweh has appeared to Moses and told him that he would be the representative to free his people from their slavery and return them to the Promised Land.

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

Subverting the Egyptian Empire

Before we get to the heart of the Exodus story, Scripture includes three interesting stories back-to-back from Exodus 1:15-2:15 right after introducing how the Pharaoh has brutally enslaved the Hebrew people.

In the first, Pharaoh has ordered the Hebrew widwives Shiphrah and Puah to kill any boys born to the Hebrew slaves. They didn’t follow this order, though, because they respected God more than they respected Pharaoh. Instead, they come up with a reason why they could not possibly carry out Pharaoh’s orders, claiming that Hebrew women give birth so quickly that they couldn’t get there in time to kill the sons. This act of defiance that could seem small on its own saved at least dozens of lives if not hundreds or thousands – exactly how many we don’t know because it doesn’t specify how long they carried on with this “failure” to do as they were told.

Ethics and Justice - Holding Hands Across the World

Egyptian Slavery

Before delving into the Exodus story, we need to quickly return to the time of Joseph generations earlier. We tend to approach the story of Joseph in the Bible as one of a great hero who conquered over many tribulations. Sure, many of those tribulations happened because he was an egotistical jerk to his brothers, but we generally see him as a good guy. I’m not disputing that general evaluation but there is one very interesting piece to the story I had never really noticed before recently:

13 There was no food in the land because the famine was so severe. The land of Egypt and the land of Canaan dried up from the famine. 14 Joseph collected all of the silver to be found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan for the grain, which people came to buy, and he deposited it in Pharaoh’s treasury. 15 The silver from the land of Egypt and from the land of Canaan had been spent, and all of the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes, just because the silver is gone?”