The most pronounced event of redemption that occurs on a national scale in all of the Old Testament is the exodus. But the exodus, in reality,is a much larger phenomenon than merely the initial escape from slavery that we typically associate with the term, exodus. The exodus includes so many other aspects, some of which will be covered in upcoming lessons.
The people of Israel had become a big family; so big, in fact, that we start to talk about them and to think about them as a nation. But while their numbers had increased their fortunes had declined. The people had been reduced to a miserable condition of slavery. The practice of slavery is one in which certain human beings come to believe that they can own other human beings as if they were their property. This is a most unnatural way for human beings to think and behave. But it happens.
After many years of this unpleasant condition it had become time, in God’s eyes, for this horror to end. So God, who, remember, always started a great project by way of one man, chose Moses to lead the people of Israel up out of Egypt.
Moses, you may remember, had been rescued from almost certain death by the king’s daughter, who snatched him up out of the river when he was still just a little, itty-bitty baby. The king’s daughter raised Moses as his own. So he grew up in the king’s palace. By the way, in Egypt they called their kings–Pharoah. Pharaoh is merely the Egyptian word that means–the guy who lives in the big house.
When Moses had grown to be a man he began to take notice of the injustice that the people of Israel were suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. This troubled him. So much was Moses troubled that one day, while he was walking along in the countryside, he spied and Egyptian beating up on an Israelite. This, of course, was perfectly legal. The Israelite punching-bag had no rights. A slave-holder could just keep slugging away all day long until the slave dropped down dead. That’s how awful the practice of slavery is. Well Moses wouldn’t stand for it. Jumping up like a super-hero springing into action, Moses gave that Egyptian such a thumping that he fell over dead. Moses might have gotten a little carried away. Now he would have to bury the body, hoping that what he had done didn’t get discovered. But he soon found it had. By the end of the next day, Moses was on the run, fleeing from the authorities to another land. Moses remained there in hiding for 40 long years, which is just about as good as a jail sentence.
But then, after Moses’ 40 year stint in the desert was up, God called him into the game. God said, appearing to Moses in disguise as a burning bush, “I want you to go in there, Moses, and tell that Pharaoh that it’s not right for him to be keeping people locked up as slaves. You tell him, God says, ‘let those folks go.’”
“He’ll never believe me,” Moses said. “I don’t think even the Israelites will believe that I got this assignment from a burning bit of shrubbery. Anyway, I’m not very popular back in Egypt.”
“I want you to go anyway,” God said.
“Can’t you get somebody else to do it,” Moses protested. “Why does it have to be me?”
God said, “Because I said so. Now, go.”
Well you can only argue with a burning bush for so long. So finally Moses accepted the assignment that he couldn’t really find a way to turn down. In he marched to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and Moses announced, “God says that you’ve got to let these people go.”
Pharaoh just laughed in his face.
“Who is God,” Pharaoh asked? “I’m the Pharaoh.”
“It’s not right,” Moses persisted. “God isn’t going to stand for it,” he insisted.
“God has put up with it for 400 years now. This is established tradition.”
“It’s unnatural for one human being to own another. It’s evil.”
“I’ll show you evil,” the Pharaoh roared back. “Get out of my palace!”
Moses had tried to prove that God meant business. He had performed a couple of little tricks. But the Pharaoh wasn’t convinced. He got his magicians to mimic the tricks that Moses had performed, like turning a stick into a snake and back again.
Moses’ little meeting with the wicked king at first just made things worse. The Pharaoh was so mad that he made the Israelite slaves work harder and faster. He had them whipped and yelled at and beat.
“Thanks a lot,” the Israelites said to Moses. “You’re a big help.”
Moses felt real bad about that. He asked God, “Is this your idea of help?”
“Hold your horses,” God replied. “All in due time. God tell the Pharaoh again, I’m only going to give him this one last chance.”
Moses did. And Pharaoh laughed at him again.
“It’s your funeral,” Moses said.
So Moses left the palace. And what followed after that was a never before seen series of natural disasters that struck the whole land of Egypt. Since these disasters were things like, invasions of frogs, and flies, and storms and such, the Pharaoh was able to shrug them off as mere accidents. Still, as one disaster kept piling up on top of another, the land was suffering terribly. Pharaoh’s one last chance actually turned out to be nine last chances. And every time that things were going bad for the Pharaoh, he would say he was sorry. He made a mistake. He would ask Moses to pray for him. And Moses would. And the disaster would pass. And then the Pharaoh dug in his heels and refused to release the slaves, and so then came one more disaster. Finally God realized, ‘this guy isn’t going to budge.’ So, the final solution was a disaster of such epic proportion that the whole land of Egypt would insist on the dismissal of these slaves; as a plague upon their land. If the first nine disasters could be called ‘natural disasters’ the last one was not. The first nine natural disasters were God’s way of saying to Pharaoh, ‘slavery is unnatural. And if you are going to behave in an unnatural way, I will show you how nature takes her revenge.’ But then, when none of that worked, ‘a final, violent uprising was planned, and the Israelites were sprung from their situation after all of Egypt’s first born males were mysteriously killed in the dark of the night. This event is forever remembered as the Passover, because that night the angel of destruction passed over Egypt. But the destroyer also passed over the houses of the people of Israel, their doors painted with blood as a signal, and spared their children. It was a terrible night. In the morning when the people awoke, Egypt wanted less to do with Israel than Israel did with Egypt. The Israelites weren’t just freed. They were kicked out.
So…off they went.
But, wouldn’t you know it, that old Pharaoh just didn’t know when to give up. He changed his mind one last time and ordered his armies to go out and recapture the escaped slaves.
Well…that was a mistake.
The people were just wandering around, not sure where to go when the Pharaoh’s armies came charging after them. Of course, the people panicked. They were stuck there in a pinch. They had reached a big body of water that they couldn’t cross. And from the other direction came blood-thirsty, sword-waving soldiers.
Moses asked God, “Now what do we do?”
“Lift up your stick,” God told Moses. And, miraculously the sea that stood in their way of escape split apart and opened up into a dry path through which the people of Israel could pass. They got away.
Oh no, but wait! The Egyptians were still hot on their trail. The soldiers charged after the escaping slaves. But there, in the middle of the now dry sea bed, with the Israelites already safely on the other side, the waters suddenly closed upon them and they drowned, every one.
The Israelites were out. They were free.
But now, where to next? Getting away is one thing. But having a place to go is another. God would lead them on an adventure after that that would last them 40 years. And it wouldn’t just be the experience of getting away that shaped the people of Israel. There was more that they still had to learn about themselves in the wilderness.
The dramatic events of the exodus are the redemptive act of God in the Old Testament par excellance. The most direct connection with the catechism can therefore be seen in the second article of the Apostle’s Creed that describes the redemption from the slavery to sin, death and the devil that Jesus affects. Though we don’t always necessarily and immediately think about it, our encounters with the evils of slavery, practiced amongst human communities, is very fundamental for our understanding of what salvation itself means. Could we understand the meaning of slavery to unseen forces like fear and self-interest if we were not first shown what slavery looks like as acted out amongst peoples? Seeing Israel’s release as the sum total of redemption, however, as stated above, is too narrow. There is release. There is a sort of building up or reconstruction of a badly damaged and highly dysfunctional people, warped and distorted by years of enslavement. There is, after the forging of the people into something stronger, the call to complete the conquest by coming into a new land, a land of their own; and then, to live therein properly and decently. A process started is not a process complete. It’s a first step. Just so, Jesus saved us, is saving us and will save us. We will get to where we’re going. But the getting there is still ahead.