11 November 2014

Exodus 15:1-21

"I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea." (v. 1b)


It's hard to imagine what it must be like to be born into captivity. Some have experienced it first-hand, but for most of us we need to read biographies, perhaps of African Americans of a century or more ago.

The story of the Hebrews was one of captivity, of being put to work in inhumane conditions by cruel taskmasters. All that the Hebrews knew was slavery. Their culture was one of being oppressed. In that situation, I guess, experience is the norm. They expected nothing more and saw no way out.

For some in that situation there remains a deep-seated, perhaps learned, sense of respect and humanity, but it would be so easy for that to be sapped by the constant abuse of captors, to comply with the orders. And if that is how we are being treated surely they deserve little more in return, 'an eye for an eye' and maybe more. I find it hard to judge dancing Miriam and singing Moses. So, set free, they celebrate and that celebration seems to glory in the fate of those who have died.

In recent years we have witnessed the perceived need to reap vengeance on those who harm us, and then some sense of elation when an alleged perpetrator is killed. We only have to think back to the Gotcha headline of the Falklands War, the aftermath of 9/11 or the death of Osama bin Laden. We relive the patterns that seem to have been bred into humanity of aggression and retribution.

The triumph over oppression must feel marvellous and it's hard not to celebrate even over the death of the oppressor. That's where the examples Ghandi or of Nelson Mandela seem to run counter to our usual human reactions and sets them apart.

And Jesus died on a cross rather than instigating revolution. But there was a revolution, in the end, I think.

To Ponder

  • Is vengeance ever justified? Why?
  • Is there any way in which you can see yourself being caught up in the cry to wreak vengeance on another person?
  • In the 21st century to what extent is it right to sing patriotic hymns?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew is a Methodist supernumerary presbyter, Honorary Research Fellow at Luther King House, Manchester, and author. He has written over 1,300 hymns.