Exodus 15: The Songs at the Sea

Ivan Aivazovsky, The Passage of the Jews through the Red Sea (1891)

Exodus 15: 1-19 The Song of the People

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:
“I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously;
horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.
 2 The LORD is my strength and my might,1 and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
 3 The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.
 4 “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he cast into the sea;
his picked officers were sunk in the Red Sea.1
 5 The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone.
 6 Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power –
your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.
 7 In the greatness of your majesty you overthrew your adversaries;
you sent out your fury, it consumed them like stubble.
 8 At the blast of your nostrils the waters piled up, the floods stood up in a heap;
 the deeps congealed in the heart of the sea.
 9 The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil,
my desire shall have its fill of them. I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’
 10 You blew with your wind, the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.
 11 “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?
Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in splendor, doing wonders?
 12 You stretched out your right hand, the earth swallowed them.
 13 “In your steadfast love you led the people whom you redeemed;
you guided them by your strength to your holy abode.
 14 The peoples heard, they trembled; pangs seized the inhabitants of Philistia.
 15 Then the chiefs of Edom were dismayed; trembling seized the leaders of Moab;
all the inhabitants of Canaan melted away.
 16 Terror and dread fell upon them; by the might of your arm,
they became still as a stone until your people, O LORD, passed by,
until the people whom you acquired passed by.
 17 You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,
the place, O LORD, that you made your abode,
the sanctuary, O LORD, that your hands have established.
 18 The LORD will reign forever and ever.”

 19 When the horses of Pharaoh with his chariots and his chariot drivers went into the sea, the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them; but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground.

I remember singing the first verse of this ‘song at the sea’ or ‘song of Moses’ in Sunday School or vacation bible school. At the time, I had no idea what the song was referring to, it was just another catchy song that we sang at church. Like many of the Psalms there is a concrete story that the song references and celebrates. Here at the edge of the wilderness after witnessing the acts of the LORD their God to liberate the people from their slavery in Egypt they break into a song of praise which continues to be used today in some manner. Songs tend to capture our memories in many ways and here; in addition to the festival of Passover, the song becomes another way in which the people can remember and praise what God has done for them.

The LORD is portrayed as a mighty warrior. This is a frequent theme in scriptures and can be a source of both great strength and a potential for abuse. I have written about this in multiple places (Deuteronomy 20, Deuteronomy 2, Psalm 18, and Violence and the Bible) and I won’t rehash everything I’ve written here but I will address it briefly. When the powerful utilize the image of the warrior God to endorse the violence they commit on others then the image is being abused and we become the new Pharaoh who is utilizing their gods to endorse their rule and oppression. Frequently in the Bible the image of the warrior God is a source of strength and confidence for a people who are not the strongest, mightiest and most powerful. Often it is used, like in Psalm 46, to dream of an end to the destructive conflict that was a large part of the life of the people of Israel. Here, in the narrative of the Exodus, the LORD has acted as a warrior who defeated the army of Pharaoh and who conquered the God’s of Egypt. The signs and wonders as well as the splitting of the sea frequently used the elements of nature and here in the poetry those elements become extensions of God’s features. Like many of the Psalms this is a work of praise and poetry and while it may be theological (it talks about God) it is not systematic theology. It uses the full sweep of metaphor and poetic language to point to the power and experience of God.

I began this section speaking about remembering this song from my youth and songs become bearers of story and memory. In the same way that a song can capture an experience and bring back a memory from when you heard the song, songs also become memory bearers for a community. The hymns and songs that my church sings stretch across hundreds of years and bring with them the experience of the writers. This is one among the hymnbook of ancient Israel that continues to carry its echo of the experience of the people of the Exodus to our time. It is a song of hope, a song of trust, and the song of a people whose God intervened for them. May we also join into the singing to the LORD who triumphed gloriously and may we join in the hope of the song that the LORD will reign forever and ever.

Exodus 15: 20-21 The Song of the Women

Anselm Feuerbach, Mirjam (1862)

 20 Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them:

“Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”

Here the song breaks and the women pick it up led by the Prophetess Miriam. Throughout the Bible women become those who lift up faithful songs. Women like Deborah (Judges 5), Hannah (1 Samuel 2), and Mary (Luke 1: 46-55) become bold singers of songs of faith to their God. Women, even in the ancient world, could lift their voice in song and dance. Carol Meyers suggests that women may had a very large role in the songs of ancient Israel. The word translated tambourine is probably a ‘hand drum’ which is the only percussion instrument mentioned in the bible and it is always played by a woman when it is mentioned. Since ancient music was much more rhythmic than tonal perhaps women were essential to the performance of many types of music if they were the primary percussionists. Also, in a world where men were the primary combatants, women would have been those who greeted the returning soldiers home as they triumphantly return from battle and they would probably be the composers of these songs of victory. (Myers, 2005, p. 117f.) In the ancient world, the primary voice that was heard was the voice of men, but these songs of women continue to resonate and be heard from generation to generation, giving their own voice in praise to the God who brought them through the waters and home to their promised land.

Tarnov literary and art school, Miriams Tanz, Miniatur aus dem bulfarischen Tomic Psalter (1360-1363)

Exodus 15: 22-27: Entering the Wilderness

 22 Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea,1 and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. 23 When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. 24 And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” 25 He cried out to the LORD; and the LORD showed him a piece of wood;1 he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.

 There the LORD  made for them a statute and an ordinance and there he put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the LORD who heals you.” 27 Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees; and they camped there by the water.

The wilderness is a difficult place for life to be sustained. It is a place to be traveled through. Particularly for a large group of people and herds water becomes a necessary part of life. You can only carry so much water on you, and yet in the wilderness water is life. In the journey the people’s complaints will often be around water. Here they have journeyed into the wilderness three days and when they come to a potential source of water it is undrinkable. Here the LORD provides water that is drinkable where only there was bitter water before. This will be the first of many times the LORD provides a way for Moses to give the people water in the wilderness.

The LORD provides but there is also within this covenantal experience of the Hebrew people an expectation from the LORD. Here the people complain against Moses, but complaining to God is not necessarily looked upon as a negative thing within the Bible. The people are expected to lift their needs and the trust that the LORD will provide for them, but when their obedience begins to falter is when their life becomes endangered. The LORD is a God who provides and heals, who will make waters appear in the wilderness and bread where there is no grain. Yet, the LORD is also a jealous God who will not accept any rivals’ allegiances and struggles with the disobedience of the people.

Even in the wilderness there will be oases where the people can rest and renew their strength. Here they are led to Elim, a place with abundant water and a place where they can for the first-time rest on their wilderness journey. It will be a journey of learning to trust in the LORD their God, a journey from generations of slavery to being the chosen people of the LORD, and it will be both physically and spiritually challenging. Leaving Egypt was the easier part of the journey, finding a new life beyond slavery will be the defining journey for the people of Israel.

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To Catch an Albatross

Southern Royal Albatross in Flight, East of Tasman Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia, Picture by J.J. Harrison shared by Creative Commons 3.0

The albatross would dance in the air above
Riding the currents of the divine breath
Calling to us here aboard the ship
Urging us forward as we rode the wind
Charting our path before us as we sailed
Floating gracefully and effortlessly
As we struggled to trim the sails
to capture the atmospheric inspiration
 
Perhaps if I could befriend this avian guide
If I could somehow coax him to join me on deck
The spirit of the air descending on the son of man
I could befriend this emissary of the heavens
And this airborne ambassador might intercede
For these sailors and their captain upon the sea
Who struggle with wood and cloth and rope
To capture the atmospheric inspiration
 
I devised my plan to catch the great albatross
With fishes, I beckon him to circle lower each day
Slowly coaxing him down from the clouds above
Until the day when I might break bread with him
Sharing communion with him upon the deck
As we pass through the waters to the promised land
Fellow sailors, one of air and one of the sea
Passengers being borne by captured inspiration
 
My mind conceived the plan that never was executed
Thanks to the vision that visited me that night
For my heavy eyes became a screen where an angel showed
A future with the albatross captured by the heart of man
For they are spirits of air and we have hearts of dust
The winds would not give their blessing to my plan
Nor the seas consent to the spirit of air to be captured
By the creature of soil who longs for the air’s inspiration
 
For in my mind I wanted my friend to stay near me
And so, a snare was set to keep him from fleeing too far
Some measure of freedom I would allow my new pet
But spirits of air are not meant to be restrained in their flight
And heartbroken the bird soon began to look sickly
It refused to eat, it broke our communion in its fast
And soon in my dreams it lay motionless upon the deck
In captivity breathing out its final expiration
 
The skies and seas mourned the passing of this noble creature
This prince of the air which had graced us with its presence
And the ship came to a halt as we entered into the doldrums
No current and no wind to fill the sails and move us along our exodus
Water, salty water, everywhere, but not one drop to drink
As the sun beats upon these mariners growing ancient
Waiting for the days to pass upon the still and silent sea
Wishing for some inspiration from heaven to move us
 
In the nightmare, we dwelt for days unknown on those dead waters
Mere skeletons of the men we were prior to our journey’s genesis
Caught with our exodus slowly baking in this blue wilderness
With blackened lips and withered tongues the crew sought
The Jonah that had cursed their voyage and whose sacrifice
The seas thirsted for so that relief might come to those trapped
On this immobile wooden coffin which drifts aimlessly
Wanting some body to fill the uninspired wood and cloth
 
For I was the offending party, the one caught with the albatross
Now destined to be food for the fishes that circle this dead man
Instead of communing with the spirit of the air I am consumed
By the demons of the abyss that rise up to claim my body
Descending into the watery hell where I uttered my last cry
The albatross hung around my neck like a sinner’s crucifix
The spirit of the air and the man of soil offered to the sea
As my final cry expires into the watery tomb of the ocean
 
Water falls from the sky and the haunting cry of the albatross
Awakens the sleeper like Lazarus called forth from the tomb
And the salty air enters into my lungs as I wipe tears from my eyes
For I am alive and the albatross flies free, sailing the wind
This angel of mercy which flies before my life coaxing us along
As a gentle rain falls upon the creaking deck of the ship
And I am refreshed in my journey through the waters
As I inspire both the salty air and the new life I was granted

 

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Dreams of Grandeur

 

Robert W. Buss, Dicken’s Dream an Unfinished Painting (1875)

The dreams of the person I could be
The image of the person my mind’s eye can see
Dreams of grandeur about things I might do
Leave me dissatisfied with that which comes true
And when my critical eye spots the smallest flaw
I become my very worst critic and harshest law
 
Yet, I’ve enough wisdom within to know
That dreams may come and dreams may go
My imagined working capacity
Doesn’t always match reality
And comparisons are rarely kind
Between lofty dreams and reality’s bind
 
Someday, perhaps I’ll dwell at peace
The most grandiose dreams I’ll release
Content with all I am able to do
The dreams and tasks I made come true
And the person within the mirror I see
Will be satisfied with the person I came to be

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Exodus 14 Passing Through the Waters

Dr. Lidia Kozenitzky, Painting of the Splitting of the Red Sea (2009) available from http://commons.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Effib

Exodus 14: 1-9 The LORD of Hosts and the Army of Pharaoh

Then the LORD said to Moses: 2 Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. 3 Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” 4 I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD. And they did so.

 5 When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” 6 So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; 7 he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. 8 The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. 9 The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

The hardening of the heart of Pharaoh comes up again before this final conflict between the LORD the God of Israel and Pharaoh and the armies of Egypt. I have dealt with the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, which is an important theme and interpretive decision, both in chapter seven and more fully in chapter ten. I’m not going to revisit that discussion here other than to say our modern views of free will or divine causality would present us with an either/or choice. Either the person has free will or their actions are controlled by something externally. The Hebrew scriptures, and the worldview of the ancient Jewish people have far less problem than we do with these two principles existing together at the same time. Perhaps an analogy to addiction might be helpful at this point: an addict certainly makes choices that impact their life and the lives of those around them but addiction has many components (including genetics, family of origin issues, reinforcing behaviors, etc.) that make the choice to deny the addiction much harder. Regardless, in the story Pharaoh’s heart is again hardened and once again he places his forces in conflict with the people of Israel and the LORD.

In verse five the cost of Israelites’ freedom is realized by Pharaoh and his officials. The suffering of the signs and wonders is eclipsed by the future suffering of the loss of their source of forced labor. Ultimately this conflict is about slavery. Pharaoh and the officials of Egypt have benefited from the economic exploitation of the Hebrew people and imagining a new economy without their laborers proves to be a challenging task. It is far easier to mobilize the military might of the empire to reclaim the fleeing Israelites and return them into bondage in Egypt.

Six hundred picked chariots, this represents the elite military technology of the day. In an era prior to people fighting from horseback, chariots represented a quick and devastating force, especially on the open ground. The chariot provided the rider a platform from which they could use a bow or spear. Chariots became a key part of the army of Egypt and later the Israelites would adopt this weapon in the time of King Solomon, “Solomon gathered together chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.” (1 Kings 11: 26) Yet, Deuteronomy 17: 16 insists that ultimately technology, horses and chariots are not to be what the kings of Israel rely upon, but rather they are to rely upon the LORD their God and to fear the LORD and trust in the deliverance of God.

Exodus 14: 10-30 Deliverance at the Sea

 10 As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the LORD. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” 13 But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

 15 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 16 But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. 17 Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

 19 The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. 20 It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The LORD drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. 23 The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. 24 At the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. 25 He clogged1 their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”

 26 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” 27 So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the LORD tossed the Egyptians into the sea. 28 The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. 29 But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

 30 Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the LORD did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the LORD and believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses.

Ivan Kramskoi, Moses at the River Jordan (1861)

The approaching Egyptian army achieves its desired effect upon the host of Israel, they immediately fear the approach of the chariots of Egypt. In comparative size the Egyptian’s 600 picked chariots (in addition to other chariots and forces) comes upon the 600,000 men of Israel (see chapter twelve, verse 37) and if these were truly two armies the mass of the Israelites could repel the Egyptians but despite the military language used in relation to the movement of the Israelites they are still mentally slaves. They have not been trained for combat nor would they be able to match the equipment of the Egyptians. The people panic but Moses exhorts them to stand firm and that the LORD will deliver them.

The history buff and former military officer in me cannot resist the tactical piece of this narrative. Technology in warfare can often be decisive, but not always and frequently terrain may play a key role in neutralizing an advantage in maneuver, firepower or speed. On open terrain, which there is a lot of in the area the people would have to traverse, a chariot gives a decisive edge in maneuver. Yet, like all wheeled or tracked instruments of war in areas or dense forestry, urban landscape, mountainous terrain or swampland these vehicles become mired and unable to move (and conversely relatively easy targets for lighter infantry type forces). Here the chariots and chariot drivers, their horses and riders become ineffective because their wheels have become clogged. They are unable to move where the people previously passed on foot. The technology that provided a decisive advantage on the clear plain where there was easy traction becomes a liability unable to be freed from the soft ground.

Although it would be easy to rest on the tactical piece of the narrative and to discount the action of the hand of God in making the waters form a wall for the people to pass through on dry land in addition to the pillar of cloud and the angel of God taking place behind the people to prevent the Egyptians from being able to overtake them, that would be to miss the primary point of the narrative. It is not because Moses was a military tactician that the Israelites were delivered from the army of Egypt. Through the Exodus we have a God who intervenes, the LORD of hosts (literally LORD of armies) who conquers the Egyptian army, and who allows the people to pass through the waters of the Red (or Reed) Sea. This is a narrative about the LORD’s triumph over Pharaoh, the gods of Egypt and the army of Egypt. The LORD stands on behalf of these former slaves and repels and destroys those who would return them to slavery. The LORD the God of Israel is not an uninterested prime mover or a God who does not become engaged in history, but instead the point of the Exodus narrative is that God does become involved: sees, hears, chooses a side and acts decisively. As children of the Enlightenment, living in our secular and disenchanted world, it may be hard for us to imagine a time when God intervenes this directly in life. Even for the people of Israel they would have to wrestle with times in their story where God seemed uninvolved or to be silent, and yet here at the beginning of their story as the people of Israel they are constituted by the action of God to free them from slavery.

We often refer to tornadoes or earthquakes or floods as acts of God. Here and frequently in the bible God does act specifically through natural actions. All throughout the signs and wonders the river, the frogs, the bugs, the boils, disease, hail, and even the east and west wind (used previously with the locusts and here with the water) are all means by which the LORD showed power. The God of Israel is a God who can use the creation and manipulate it to overcome the power of humanity and the empires they create. Unlike the cinema versions of this story the narrative of Exodus moves more slowly, the wind from God blows through the night drying and then reverses in the morning covering up the Egyptians. The pillar and angel provide time and space for the large and probably disorganized Hebrew people to pass through the waters on the beginning of their journey from slavery into freedom.

Benjamin West, Joshua Passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant (1800)

The passing through the sea becomes a powerful symbol for both the Jewish and Christians who would continue to tell this story. For the Jewish people it becomes a marker of hope and power and a resonant image for what their LORD can do. In Joshua chapter three now the ark of the covenant becomes a marker of the LORD’s presence with the people and the river Jordan parts so the people can pass through. Centuries later in their exile in Babylon the words of the prophet Isaiah would poetically reference this previous crossing of the waters in preparation for what God would do in their time:

But now, thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43: 1f.)

 For Christians, this would become a part of the references to the times water was used to set apart a people as a part of the baptismal service. As, “through the sea you led your people Israel from slavery into freedom.” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, 230) So, Christians understand baptism as a way in which God delivers them to their freedom and calling as children of God as well.

 

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Exodus 13- Sacrifice, Liturgy and Journey to Form a Chosen People

Grigory Mekheev, Exodus (2000) artist shared work under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Exodus 13:1-16: Setting Aside Firstborn and Time in Remembrance

The LORD said to Moses: 2 Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine.

 3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day on which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, because the LORD brought you out from there by strength of hand; no leavened bread shall be eaten. 4 Today, in the month of Abib, you are going out. 5 When the LORD brings you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, which he swore to your ancestors to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, you shall keep this observance in this month. 6 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a festival to the LORD. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten for seven days; no leavened bread shall be seen in your possession, and no leaven shall be seen among you in all your territory. 8 You shall tell your child on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 It shall serve for you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder on your forehead, so that the teaching of the LORD may be on your lips; for with a strong hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt. 10 You shall keep this ordinance at its proper time from year to year.

 11 “When the LORD has brought you into the land of the Canaanites, as he swore to you and your ancestors, and has given it to you, 12 you shall set apart to the LORD all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your livestock that are males shall be the LORD’s. 13 But every firstborn donkey you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. Every firstborn male among your children you shall redeem. 14 When in the future your child asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ you shall answer, ‘By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from human firstborn to the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD every male that first opens the womb, but every firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ 16 It shall serve as a sign on your hand and as an emblem1 on your forehead that by strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt.”

It is a common religious practice to set aside that which is one’s best in the service of the deity one serves as a sign of trust, and in many ancient fertility religions there was a sense that if one does certain things to appease the god then fertility in the fields or flocks or family would be granted. The sacrificial system in Israel brings animals and they are sacrificed to the LORD, but the family would (as described in Deuteronomy, see Deuteronomy 14, 15, and 26) take part in the eating of the sacrifice as a celebration. This practice of setting aside the first born of animals that can be eaten and redeeming animals which cannot both demonstrates trust in the LORD providing future fertility for the flocks and herds as well as providing opportunities to bring together the family and community to celebrate the abundance of the LORD’s provision. Sacrifice for ancient Israel becomes a way in which the presence of the LORD is mediated through the tabernacle/temple and the priest and the acts of worship to the people. The setting aside of the firstborn animals also adds to the annual storytelling centered around the Passover and reinforces that the people are a people redeemed from the land of Egypt.

The redemption of the firstborn male children also serves as a reminder of the narrative of the people’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. It is a reminder of the oppression of Pharaoh that sought to kill the male children of the Hebrew slaves (and to represent the oppressive form of government their society was not to represent). It serves as a reminder of the final sign where the LORD breaks the hold of Pharaoh on the people by the death of the firstborns of Egypt and as a reminder of the LORD’s power. Finally, it is a reminder of their own status as redeemed people. Their identity is not based upon their power or might but upon the choice and action of their God. This identity is reinforced through the cultic action of the priests at the tabernacle or temple in their future settled identity in the promised land.

Liturgy, which is what is being discussed here, becomes a visual narrative with signs that point back to the narrative of the Exodus. In a world where people would not be able to attend worship at the temple every Sabbath the festivals and sacrifices become opportunities for the families and communities to re-narrate their constitutive story and reinforce their identity as the chosen, and redeemed, people of the LORD. They become opportunities to reflect with thanksgiving upon the LORD’s provision through the fertility of their flocks and herds and to remember the way in which the LORD acted decisively against the might of the Egyptian empire.

Exodus 13: 17-22: The Long Road to Freedom

 17 When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” 18 So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.1 The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. 19 And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” 20 They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. 21 The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Paul Hardy, The Pillar of Fire, from the Art Bible (1896)

As the people of Israel begin their long walk to freedom, they begin by taking the circuitous route. The people, fresh from their lives as slaves of the Egyptians, are not an army ready for conflict and are not settled into their new identity as the chosen people of the LORD. They may go out of Egypt physically prepared for battle, marching in formations or carrying what weapons they may have. Yet, mentally they are not prepared for conflict nor are they prepared for the burden of freedom. Ultimately, even the long road to the promised land will not be enough to calm the fear of the people of Israel or to remove from their mind the desire to return to the fleshpots of Egypt. All journeys must begin somewhere.

Recently I was sitting with a family who was watching a loved one struggle with an unexpected illness which eventually led to their loved one’s death. As a part of their devotion one morning they read the verse eighteen which refers to God taking the people on the roundabout way and they found it speaking to their situation. They did not wish for their loved one to suffer but it took time for the family to come to the point to where they were willing to let go and they found the difficult period of waiting as a period of grace where they could come to terms with the grief they would soon experience and they made peace with the decision to follow their loved one’s stated wishes and to let him die rather than prolonging his life through intensive life support. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, discussing Maimonide’s interpretation of these verses, states, “God sometimes intervenes to change nature. We call these interventions miracles. But God never intervenes to change human nature.” Yet, in Sack’s words, “He (God) gave humanity the freedom to grow.” (Sacks, 2010, p. 99) Perhaps there are times where God grants an instantaneous change of heart but it is my experience that God often allows us to grow into that change of heart through the experiences and relationship that we live through in our lives. The LORD, the God of Israel, is a God of the journey, a God of the Exodus. The people will come to understand both who their God is and who, by extension, they are in relation to God through their experience both in their liberation but even more on their journey in the wilderness along the winding path from Egypt to Canaan and from slavery to their new identity as the people of the LORD, the God of Israel.

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Exodus 12: Passover, Departure and a New Identity

Exodus 12: 1-20 Time, Ritual and Eating as Acts of Identity

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall hold a solemn assembly, and on the seventh day a solemn assembly; no work shall be done on those days; only what everyone must eat, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread, for on this very day I brought your companies out of the land of Egypt: you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a perpetual ordinance. 18 In the first month, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day, you shall eat unleavened bread. 19 For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether an alien or a native of the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread.

The taking of an enslaved people and transforming them into a chosen people, a nation of priests and agents of blessing for the entire world is a daring act of identity reconstruction. There will always be the temptation to revert to the former identity, to return to the land of Egypt and resubmit to the yoke of slavery when the call and covenant of the LORD becomes heavy or the passage of the wilderness or the people already occupying the promised land become a real and present danger. Identity is not something that is stated once and naturally becomes a part of one’s character, identity is formed through action, hearing, ritual and practice. If the Exodus is the narrative of Israel’s creation as a nation then Passover could be the ritual of renewal of that identity as it is handed on from generation to generation.

There are many ways in which identity is reinforced. We can trace the calendar most of Americans use back to the Julian calendar in 46 BCE so we may not consider the calendar as an important way of stating identity but you don’t have to spend much time studying ancient documents to realize how important the organizing of time is. For example, the Jewish Pseudepigrapha (A collection of documents from the centuries around the birth of Jesus which didn’t get included as a part of the bible) spends a great deal of time arguing about how to structure the calendar. Festival days which occupy the calendar shape the year and say when and how the year is ordered. For liturgical Christians, as another example, the year begins with the beginning of the season of Advent (four Sundays prior to Christmas) and this is held in tension with the Julian calendar which begins on January 1. Here time begins in the springtime in a time that celebrates the setting free of the people from their captivity in Egypt. Their year, like their new identity, begins and is centered around this act of liberation. The calendar is structured so that time becomes an active participant in the re-narrating this foundational story of the people of Israel.

Eating and practices also becomes an act of identity and remembrance. A couple of secular examples: when I served with 2d Cavalry in the U.S. Army there was a practice of always wearing our sleeves down (long sleeved battle dress uniforms can have their sleeves rolled up in garrison in warm weather for comfort) which while hot, especially serving in Louisiana, was the manner in which they would be worn in combat. It was a way in which the unit’s motto ‘Toujour Pret-Always Ready’ was reinforced through a practice. In the United States the practice of Thanksgiving, where certain foods are shared and eaten as an act of celebration but also a, perhaps unconscious, remembrance of the story told in elementary school of the first Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims in the new world of 1621. Eating becomes an act of remembrance and storytelling in the Passover. The food that is eaten remembers the events of the Passover where a lamb is slaughtered and the people eat unleavened bread. The festival and the food that is eaten also becomes a boundary marker for the people who are gathered. As I mentioned, in connection with Deuteronomy 14, if we understand the prohibitions legalistically we miss the point. The action of not eating leavened bread over the week of the Passover becomes a boundary marker which defines those who are a part of the community and those who are not. They are both expressions of devotion, reminders of a shared identity and bearers of the story. The lamb and the unleavened bread become visual words to pass on the story in a visual form across the generations.

Exodus 12: 21-28 The First Passover

 21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go, select lambs for your families, and slaughter the passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood in the basin. None of you shall go outside the door of your house until morning. 23 For the LORD will pass through to strike down the Egyptians; when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over that door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you down. 24 You shall observe this rite as a perpetual ordinance for you and your children. 25 When you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this observance. 26 And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this observance?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the LORD, for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt, when he struck down the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” And the people bowed down and worshiped.

 28 The Israelites went and did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron.

The meal within the home, or within the community of faith as it may be practiced today has a teaching purpose and here that purpose is located in the first Passover. The identification with future Passovers with the first Passover goes with one of the basic question of children, ‘what does this mean?’ The act and the ritual becomes an opportunity to tell again the story of God’s action of liberation, of the constitution of the people of Israel as they were taken out of the land of Egypt, and the beginning of the people’s journey to becoming the people of God. In the ancient world the slaughter of an animal was often reserved for a special celebration. In a world before refrigeration the meat would have to be eaten in a short period of time and therefore it was often only at festivals where a large animal like a lamb, goat or bull would be slaughtered and used as a part of the family’s or community’s celebration. It would be a feast looked forward to.

The plant here is probably Origanum Syriacum (Syrian Oregano) pictured above rather than what we call hyssop today

This first Passover has an element that was unique to that celebration: the painting of the lintel and doorposts with blood with hyssop. Here the blood serves as a marker to keep the ‘destroyer’ traveling with the LORD away from the Israelite houses. The ‘destroyer’ may have been thought of as ‘night demon’ which was a part of the folklore of all ancient Near Eastern cultures or, more likely in a biblical context, an angelic being that was dispatched as a means of destruction (see for example 2 Samuel 24: 16f. and 2 Kings 19: 35). (Myers, 2005, p. 99) Hyssop, which was used to apply the blood, is used elsewhere in the scriptures as a means of purification of lepers (see Leviticus 14 and Numbers 19) and that also serves as a metaphorical purpose of purification of sins in Psalm 51:9.

Lamentations over the Death of the First Born of Egypt by Charles Sprague Pearce (1877)

Exodus 12: 29-36: The Final Sign and the Departure of Israel

 29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his officials and all the Egyptians; and there was a loud cry in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron in the night, and said, “Rise up, go away from my people, both you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD, as you said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you said, and be gone. And bring a blessing on me too!”

 33 The Egyptians urged the people to hasten their departure from the land, for they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls wrapped up in their cloaks on their shoulders. 35 The Israelites had done as Moses told them; they had asked the Egyptians for jewelry of silver and gold, and for clothing, 36 and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. And so they plundered the Egyptians.

In the previous chapter the death of the firstborns in the land of Egypt and the people asking for gold and silver from the Egyptians is foretold, now the final sign comes and the cry goes up from Egypt. The loss of the children of Israel and their enslavement which brought about their cry to the LORD now has its echo in the cry of their oppressor. The portrayal of the LORD in the book of Exodus is that of a passionately engaged and involved God taking sides with the people of Israel against the leaders and people of Egypt. Egypt has been devastated, it’s crops, livestock and future have been compromised in seeking to hold on to a reliance upon the enslaved people of Israel. Change is hard and rarely comes without resistance but here, finally, the pain of the signs and wonders is enough to allow Pharaoh and the people to relent. No further conditions or restrictions are placed on the people’s departure to go into the wilderness and worship the LORD. Yet, now Pharaoh is put in the position of the petitioner asking Moses to intercede and bring a blessing for him as well.

The people do receive jewelry and clothing as they prepare for their departure. There is an urgency to the scene as the people of an Egypt, wishing for an end to this drama, open up their wealth and resources to send the former slaves on the way. Perhaps for the Egyptians this is a time of repentance or paying for years of servitude. Perhaps for the Hebrew people this is a recompense for lifetimes of servitude and the beginning of establishing themselves as a new people who are independent and free. The jewelry and clothing may not be the most important things for a long journey but for the departure of the people to worship they are gifts that can be dedicated to the worship of the LORD their God.

David Roberts, The Israelites Leaving Egypt (1830)

Exodus 12: 37-42: Beginning the Journey and Time Renarrated

 37 The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. 38 A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds. 39 They baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt; it was not leavened, because they were driven out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

 40 The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. 41 At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. 42 That was for the LORD a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the LORD by all the Israelites throughout their generations.

The journey of a mixed crowd of six hundred thousand men (not counting women, children) would lead to a departing people of over a million people, probably larger than two million. This is probably hyperbole, populations in the ancient world were much lower than today and even a million people would have been a very large portion of the population of ancient Egypt. Even at the beginning of the Exodus the people are not purely one ethnicity, they are a mixed group. The mixed group may refer to Egyptians and others who either chose to depart Pharaoh’s empire or who were linked to the community through marriage or other relationships. The narrative of a large group of people, Israelite and non-Israelite, and large herds making the initial stage leaving for the wilderness would have been a chaotic scene and yet an urgent one for the Hebrews and the Egyptians. The Egyptians want the people to depart prior to any additional punishment (or changes of heart within Pharaoh) and the Hebrews also now are finally having the opportunity to depart but are also driven out of Egypt.

Four hundred and thirty years of the Hebrew people in Egypt comes to an end. Their new calendar points to a new identity and the beginning of a new epoch. Time now becomes measured by their departure from Egypt and is reinforced by the vigil they are to keep. The move as a host, and military language begins to be used for their people, as they depart by companies.

Exodus 12: 43-51: The Ordinance Restated and Boundaries

43 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: This is the ordinance for the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but any slave who has been purchased may eat of it after he has been circumcised; 45 no bound or hired servant may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the animal outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. 47 The whole congregation of Israel shall celebrate it. 48 If an alien who resides with you wants to celebrate the passover to the LORD, all his males shall be circumcised; then he may draw near to celebrate it; he shall be regarded as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it; 49 there shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you.

 50 All the Israelites did just as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 That very day the LORD brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, company by company.

Defining group boundaries is an important function in any society. With the Passover being the constituting ritual for the people it is important to address who is to eat of the Passover. What does it mean to be a part of the community that takes part in this rite. Circumcision becomes the marker that a person chooses to identify with the Israelite community. Slaves become joined to the household and are circumcised and an alien in the land may choose to have their household circumcised and join in the Passover celebration and by extension the community.

 

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Exodus 11-The Final Deadly Sign

Exodus 11:1-3 Reparation, Respect and the Healing of Slavery

The LORD said to Moses, “I will bring one more plague upon Pharaoh and upon Egypt; afterwards he will let you go from here; indeed, when he lets you go, he will drive you away. 2 Tell the people that every man is to ask his neighbor and every woman is to ask her neighbor for objects of silver and gold.” 3 The LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Moreover, Moses himself was a man of great importance in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s officials and in the sight of the people.

These initial verses set the frame for the final and most deadly sign to come as well as the transition for the people of Israel from slavery to freedom. It seems strange to think of the Egyptians giving their former slaves objects of silver and gold and yet this gives a strong narrative resonance to the practice the people of Israel were to have in setting their own slaves free. Deuteronomy 15: 12-17 places this freedom in the seventh year of service and expects that the person will not be set free without the means to take care of themselves. The person who frees the former slave is to give generously so that the new freed person is able to re-enter community with freedom and possibilities and not be quickly reduced to servitude again. It will take the people of Israel many years to truly make the transition from being the Hebrew slaves longing to go back to Egypt to being the people ready to enter the promised land, but this action of receiving payment from the Egyptians may have been a symbolic step in that direction.

The Egyptians are not looked upon as the enemy after the Exodus. As Deuteronomy 23:7 states: “You shall not abhor any of the Edomites, for they are your kin. You shall not abhor any of the Egyptians, because you were an alien residing in their land.” Perhaps after all of this, for the people to truly be free they would have to make peace with the Egyptians. As Rabbi Sacks can insightfully say,

A people driven by hate are not—cannot be—free. Had the people carried with them a burden of hatred and a desire for revenge, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but he would not have taken Egypt out of the Israelites. (Sacks, 2010, p. 93)

Indeed, a wedge is driven in the narrative between Pharaoh and the officials and the people. The Egyptians here are holding the people in favor and granting what they ask. Even Pharaoh’s officials, along with the people, see Moses as a ‘man of great importance’ and a powerful alternative to Pharaoh. Perhaps Pharaoh sees Moses not only as a threat to his authority over the Hebrew slaves but also a threat to his authority and power over the Egyptian people. By the time of the final sign the only heart among the Egyptians still hardened is Pharaoh’s and the only ears that would not listen belong to him as well.

The giving of wealth does not guarantee that it will be used in the right manner. While some of this will ultimately be used in the construction of the tabernacle it will also figure into the construction of the golden calf. Ultimately the construction of the tabernacle will be a place where the best is given to make a place where the LORD can dwell among the people. Yet, the same gold and silver will be used in the construction of the image that makes the LORD’s anger burn hot enough he contemplates the destruction of the people.

Lamentations over the Death of the First Born of Egypt by Charles Sprague Pearce (1877)

Exodus 11: 4-10 The Final Deadly Sign

 4 Moses said, “Thus says the LORD: About midnight I will go out through Egypt. 5 Every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne to the firstborn of the female slave who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 6 Then there will be a loud cry throughout the whole land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. 7 But not a dog shall growl at any of the Israelites — not at people, not at animals — so that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel. 8 Then all these officials of yours shall come down to me, and bow low to me, saying, ‘Leave us, you and all the people who follow you.’ After that I will leave.” And in hot anger he left Pharaoh. 9 The LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, in order that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; but the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go out of his land.

This would be a story much more to our modern liking if Pharaoh remained the agent responsible for the continued intransigence against the LORD, but here again the narrative has the LORD as the agent who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. I have talked about this in both chapter seven and more in depth in the chapter ten. The witness of Exodus tells of God being that agent that hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that the ‘wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.’ God is the divine warrior whose blade has been loosed and who acts in wrath on behalf of God’s firstborn, Israel. I am not going to revisit the long discussion from the beginning of chapter ten on the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart other than to say that we as hearers of this witness have to make decisions on how we will receive the witness’ testimony.

Narratively there are many connections between this passage and the beginning of Exodus. An earlier Pharaoh’s policies calls for the death of the male children of the Hebrew people, and now there is a harsh ‘eye for an eye’ type of justice in the loss of the firstborn for the Egyptian people. The same cry that the Israelites make in their oppression and slavery will be the cry of the Egyptians at the loss of their firstborn.

The witness of Exodus is to a passionate God who refuses to allow the continued enslavement of his people. Walter Brueggemann (Actemeir, 1997, p. 773 vol. 1)points to one of the parables of Jesus to help illuminate this passage. In Matthew 21: 33-45 Jesus tells a parable about tenants in a vineyard (a common image in the prophets for Israel) who refuse to give their harvest to the slaves sent to collect and then eventually he sends his beloved son. The tenants kill the son and cast him out of the vineyard and the owners response in the words of the people hearing the parable is one we can understand:“He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at harvest time.” (Matthew 21: 41) The people hearing the parable call for a response of violence against those who perpetrate violence against the slaves and the son. We hold this witness in tension with the many other witnesses to the loving and forgiving father, but never dispassionate. Here in Exodus God reacts passionately to the oppression and murder of his people, his firstborn as he names them.

Moses leaves Pharaoh in anger, the first time that Moses shows hot anger as he leaves. The anger, with Pharaoh and perhaps also with God for things coming to this point where children are now the victims of the conflict is striking. Previously Pharaoh has cast Moses out but now Moses storms out on his own and it will be the people who urge the Israelites to hasten their departure. Yet between the declaration of the final sign and its execution there is a liturgical moment where the Passover is instituted and the narrative is brought symbolically into a meal to be told from generation to generation.

The witness to the people being brought out of Egypt is a complicated one even in its brevity. The LORD the God of Israel portrayed in this narrative might seem like a strange one to modern ears, even modern ears familiar with the story. We are used to a picture of God that does not become involved in dramatic ways. Often the portrayal of God by many modern people is benign, kindly or unengaged. The LORD, the God of Israel is none of these things. The God of the Exodus is powerfully engaged in the liberation of the people but who is also a jealous God who refuses to have any other loyalties above him. The God witnessed to in the Exodus is a God who it is wise to fear. God’s passion for Israel will be tried by the Israelites inability to show that same devotion back to the LORD.

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