17 April 2012

Exodus 15:1-21

"Pharaoh's chariots and his army he cast into the sea." (v. 4)


This event is central to Jewish spirituality: the liturgy recounts the destruction of the Egyptians that led to the Israelites deliverance twice a day. Two stories from the rabbinical tradition show how the rabbis grappled with this story and its deeper meaning beyond the obvious joy at liberation from oppression.

The first tells of how the guardian Angel of the Egyptians pleads to God to have mercy on them and so God convenes an assembly of the angels who debate the issues. As the mood of the assembly moves towards mercy, Michael the guardian angel of the Israelites brings before God a brick from Egypt in which is embedded a baby, killed because its mother gave birth while working in the brick factory and the child got caught in machinery - "this is how they oppressed your children," says Michael and God immediately moves from the throne of mercy to the throne of justice and the Egyptians are drowned. Here we are presented with an emotional and passionate God who responds to the horror of oppression with the fiery heat of judgement.

The second story tells how the angels in heaven joined in the singing of the people at the drowning of the Egyptians and God says: 'Be silent! My creatures are drowning and you would celebrate?' Here the stress is on the universal care of God for all humanity and the divine one's sense of loss at the death of any of God's own creation. Again here is a passionate, feeling, emotional God wrapped up in the lives of all creatures.

The Exodus story would of course have been central to Jesus' own upbringing and in his ministry we see this struggle between mercy and judgement, and the deep feelings of compassion and wrath. In the story of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus presents us very much with the God of our first story, and in his look of love on the rich man (Matthew 19:16-22) we see the compassionate one feeling for the one lost to eternal life in his worship of wealth.

To Ponder

Which character(s) in the stories do you identify with and why?

How do these stories relate to your own understanding of God?

Bible notes author

Ray Gaston and Annie Heppenstall

Ray Gaston is inter faith tutor and enabler for The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education and the Birmingham Methodist. Prior to that he was in parish ministry in inner city Leeds for 12 years.