The Exodus narrative
The primal experience of God in the Scriptures was as Liberator, not Creator.
The Exodus narrative begins with a new Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8). Scholars are unable to determine the identity of this Egyptian potentate who embarked on an ambitious building project around 1,300 years prior to the Christian era.
According to the narrative, the new Pharaoh was a harsh taskmaster, demanding increased production from his slaves to build more supply cities (Ex. 1:1-11) to house all of his grain. He oversaw the daily operation, pushing his foremen to make sure his subjects continued to meet their daily quotas of brick-making while forcing them to find their own straw (Ex.5:4-19).
Egypt was the super power of the Middle East, controlling numerous city-states who paid significant taxes for protection. The socio-economic system placed Pharaoh at the top of the pyramid as a divine-king. Those who supported him and helped administer the government became wealthy off the backs of the working class and poor. The military provided protection and enforced the unjust policies. The gods were worshipped to guarantee their ongoing blessings of power and wealth.
At the time of the Exodus, Israel did not exist as a people. The term “Habiri” referred to those considered outside the law and who often created problems for the individual city-states. Archeologists have uncovered a number of letters from various subject kings written to Pharaoh requesting help to subdue these dissident groups. It is unclear if the term refers to the origin of the Hebrew people. What is certain is that the group that left Egypt was of mixed ancestry (Ex. 12:38).
The Exodus experience began with the people giving voice to their agony. The pain of oppression touched the compassionate heart of the Divine Liberator. “I have heard the cries of my people and have come to rescue them” (Ex.3:7-8). God then recruited Moses and Aaron as the human agents to bring the plan to fruition.
The pursuing struggles between Moses and Pharaoh reflected the battle between the gods of Egyptian oppression and Yahweh, the Liberator. Although the outcome was never in question, the Egyptians were able to match Yahweh’s Divine power for the first two plagues.
After the third plague, the all-powerful Pharaoh began to sense that his illusory world was falling apart. In an attempt to maintain some semblance of control, he began to negotiate with Moses and Aaron. He granted them permission to go and worship their God provided they not go too far away.
He even asked for their prayers (Ex. 8:24). Then he tried to maintain control over their animals, but that also failed (Ex. 10:24). He finally submitted to the inevitable and asked them to bring a blessing upon him by their leaving. (Ex.12:31-32). Moses and Aaron then led a group of nobodies, commodities to be exploited, out of Egypt to freedom.
The story of Exodus is the archetype for all those enslaved by ruthless Pharaohs who continue to become wealthy off the backs of the working class and exert their power over others while fearing the demise of their position. The pain of agony can be heard today from those struggling to live on a minimum wage as they cry out against the Pharaohs of fast food chains and multi-billion dollar retailers. The pain of agony can be heard from the many women devalued monetarily, sexually and intellectually as they cry out against the male Pharaohs who fear gender equality.
The pain of agony can be heard from those physically, emotionally and spiritually assaulted by the Pharaohs of their religions. The pain of agony can be heard from the parents of Columbine, Newtown and countless other cities as they cry out against the pharaohs who control the gun lobby. The pain of agony can be heard from the environment as it cries out for justice against the Pharaohs who exploit the land, the sea and the sky.
God continues to hear the cries of those oppressed and recruits new Mosaic leaders: Pope Francis, the first pope from the Americas who proclaims a gospel of compassion and inclusiveness to those enslaved by religious righteousness and judgementalism; Bishop Tutu, a leader against apartheid who continues to teach the value of non-violence and forgiveness to a world trapped in a never ending cycle of violence and revenge; Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl who survived a Taliban bullet to her head yet continues her campaign to educate women enslaved by ignorance; and Rev. Mary Raymerman, a convert from Methodism who defied ecclesiastical sanctions to become the first American Catholic woman ordained to the priesthood, leading the way for others to break the barriers of an all-male clergy.
Listen- the Divine Liberator is also calling you.
Peter J. Carli
Spread Eagle, Wis.