More skipping forward in our Old Testament journey this week. We’ve left Joseph behind, the Israelites have come to Egypt to survive the famine and have been members of the Egyptian community for some generations, multiplying and prospering.
A new Pharaoh has come to power, and he is not that keen on the large number of these foreigners, unless their status is changed from residents to slaves, thus creating a work force for all the plans the Pharaoh and empire have.
Again, generations have passed, young male babies are ordered to be killed, Moses has been born and placed in a basket to float down the Nile. Pharaoh’s daughter finds him and raises him as her son. Moses grows up with a foot in the world of the Pharaohs as well as a foot in the world of the slaves. Eventually Moses needs to leave Egypt and becomes a shepherd. He experiences God’s call on his life and the takes on the challenge to set his people free. He goes back to Egypt and Pharaoh; he demands the freedom of the Israelite people and in response to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart Moses initiates the ten plagues.
Pharaoh finally lets the Israelites go, and so Moses leads them into the desert. And here our story continues with one of the most well-known images of the Old Testament, equal to that of the Ark and the rainbow, we have the crossing of the sea.
Here is yet another foundational story that has so many layers and aspects to it. What does it mean that Pharaoh changes his mind and chases after the Israelites? What are the deeper meanings behind this story? What else can we read into the crossing of the sea? How come God destroys the Egyptian army and chariots – notice how many times the word chariot is used in this passage. Why do the Israelites complain so much?
As an event in the history of the Jewish people, this Exodus is one of the most significant. It is an event that defines them. It is celebrated particularly at the Passover but referred to in every weekly Shabbat remembrance.
I think what concerns me about this reading is the reminder that the mechanisms of imperial power are still around today. We just need to watch and/or read our news today. However, what the good news is for me is the constant presence of God through it all. Moses called for the Israelites to trust in God, God would protect them, would give them a way forward, God would perform miracles to keep them safe.
I see the command from Moses to the Israelite people also being a command to us today – “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today.”