Reflections After Walking Through the Book of Exodus

This journey through the book of Exodus was an insightful journey for me. I am thankful for what I learned from four wise teachers who have spent far longer in this book than I did: my primary companions were Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and his book Covenant and Conversation: Exodus the Book of Redemption and Carol Myers volume on Exodus for the New Cambridge Bible Commentary, but I also learned from both Terence E. Fretheim whose Exodus commentary for the Interpretation Series I read at the beginning of the journey and Walter Brueggemann whose work on Exodus is in the New Interpreter’s Bible which I read closer to the end of the journey. In addition there is the discipline of writing out the book I am working through, which takes most of a composition book in the case of Exodus. I continue to be amazed by how much I learn in this process and how much I appreciate each book I have worked through.  Here are a few reflections looking back on my writing about the forty chapters of the book of Exodus:

  • In the book of Genesis, barrenness becomes a major part of the story of the people of Israel but in Exodus this is reversed and one of the central issues that give rise to the crisis in Egypt is the fertility of the people. This is one of the many narratives of reversal in the book of Exodus and will be a place where the narrative points to the Israelites being more robust than their Egyptian overlords.
  • From an overall perspective there is a contrast drawn between the vision of the lords of Egypt, and particularly the vision of a society where Pharaoh controls life and death, and the vision of the LORD the God of Israel for the society the Jewish people are to create. Yet, even for these former captives the vision of a society the saw modeled in Egypt will continue to occupy a potent place in their imaginations.
  • There is a surprising number of places where the role of women is highlighted in Exodus. Early in the book women are the primary resistors to the policies of Pharaoh: the midwives, Moses’ mother and sister, and even the daughter of Pharaoh all in their own ways resist the policies of death decreed by the most powerful man in Egypt.
  • Moses’ actions reveal a person unable to see oppression go unanswered. Moses’ actions with killing the Egyptian abusing a Hebrew and driving off the shepherds for the daughters of the priest of Midian to be able to water their flocks demonstrate he sees and acts upon injustice. This may be one of the things God sees in Moses when he is called.
  • Moses’ resistance to the call of the LORD is worth considering. Even Moses realizes his own inadequacies and attempts to talk God out of choosing him, yet the LORD sees something in Moses that Moses is unable to see in himself. The LORD also accommodates some of Moses’ fears by allowing Aaron to partner with him in this vocation.
  • Zipporah, Moses’ wife, also becomes one who rescues Moses. This time we enter one of the strangest parts of Exodus (Exodus 4: 8-26) where God comes to kill Moses and Zipporah becomes one more woman who through her actions spare Moses’ life.
  • I had never noticed the mythic elements of the signs/plagues previously. It makes sense to read this as primarily a conflict between the LORD the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt and how the plagues systematically demonstrate the superiority of the God of Israel over these gods. They are violent, but there is also an incredible amount of restraint as the signs unfold to resist the taking of human life until the end.
  • The Exodus story is perhaps the central story for the Hebrew Scriptures and is also the metanarrative of the West and has been recast many times. The power of this story in the Hebrew Bible demonstrates how those who were once the pilgrim people can be recast as the oppressor (the new Pharaoh) at later times. This potent move even resonates today. For example, the Civil Rights movement in the United States was able to recast the Exodus narrative to their own situation where they were the people looking for the promised land, living under the oppression of the polices of the Pharaohs of their own time.
  • The God of the Exodus is a God who chooses sides. In the Exodus the LORD hears, sees and responds to the oppression of the people. The LORD also warns these former slaves not to become the oppressors or they will find themselves opposed to the LORD their God.
  • Wrestling with the hardened heart of Pharaoh and free will. Is Pharaoh a villain or a tragic character? Does he become powerless in yet another great reversal in the narrative? However one’s theological position resolves this, it is an interesting theme in the narrative.
  • Looking at the strategies of Pharaoh I was struck by their parallels to the strategies many abusers use to main control over the abused.
  • The people will be forming a new identity as the people of God and liturgy, the structuring time, eating, storytelling and the journey will all be a portion of this identity formation.
  • Just as women were critical early in the story in resisting Pharaoh, they also become important in worship. Miriam sings with the women, women are involved in the creation of the tabernacle, there are women who are stationed outside the tent of meeting. These small glimpses highlight that women had a larger role than I initially thought in the worship of the LORD the God of Israel.
  • Israel continues to have crises of trust and identity along their journey. They will struggle to live by faith as they journey through the wilderness short on water and food. They will seek the relative familiarity and security of their bondage in Egypt. They will, in the absence of Moses, try to worship in the same way that other nations do.
  • Jethro, a foreign priest, will demonstrate to Moses how fulfill priestly responsibilities (he is the first one to sacrifice to the LORD in the book) as well as how to effectively lead.
  • Israel’s vocation as a priestly kingdom, a precious treasure and a holy nation is a high calling and one worth discerning.
  • Like when I worked through Deuteronomy, I find the expansion of the law in Exodus an interesting place to look at the type of society they were attempting to create and even though we may not copy their laws it is worth thinking about what type of society we would want to envision and what laws would make that possible.
  • The God of Israel is not an unemotional God like so many people imagine. The LORD draws close enough to be wounded by the people’s betrayal with the golden calf. The relationship is broken Moses becomes the mediator between the wounded God and the people who have broken God’s trust.
  • Exodus dedicates an incredible amount of space to the narrating and construction of the tabernacle, the holy things within it, the vestments for the priests and the ritual of ordination-holy space, holy things and holy people to work in that space. There is a lot in these two long sections to reflect upon, but the construction of the space is designed as a way for God to travel with the people and to bring a little bit of heaven to earth. We continue to need holy spaces, holy things within those spaces and people set aside for the work of God to mediate this God who desires to dwell among the people.

1 thought on “Reflections After Walking Through the Book of Exodus

  1. Pingback: The Book of Exodus | Sign of the Rose

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