Saturday

08 November 2014

“At the end of four hundred and thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt.” (v. 41)


Background

It does not take much imagination to see beneath this passage a modest story of escape. Opportunistic slaves in Goshen (north-east Egypt), mainly Hebrews, made a quick getaway, under cover of darkness, when a deadly plague was stalking Egypt. Carefully avoiding the heavily-guarded coast road into Gaza (Exodus 13:17), they slipped across the marshy lands of the Nile delta, and in a day or so reached Succoth, the gateway to the Sinai Peninsula and the desert.

In the frequent retelling of this exploit, exaggerations have been woven into the story. That is not unusual. Now as many as 600,000 men (in verse 41 they are in military formation!), plus families and livestock, escape from bondage. In addition, a general deadly plague has become a targeted attack on the firstborn of every Egyptian family, and similarly with the livestock (verse 29).

From the vantage point of Israel's later faith, the (amplified) story has a clear point: The LORD is Israel's powerful Protector and Saviour. God watches over the people ("keeps vigil", v. 42) and brings the whole people safely into an era of freedom. The mighty Pharaoh capitulates before God's power (verses 31-32), thus ending 430 years of life in Egypt - most of it in slavery.

The detail of this settled theological conviction was hotly debated for centuries to come. Was God battling against a demon-destroyer to protect the Hebrews when the firstborn were being killed; or using such a demon as an agent against Egypt (verse 23); or did God initiate and achieve everything with sovereign power? (That debate is given a sharp focus in Isaiah 63:9). Again: how is a God of love compatible with a deadly attack on the Egyptians? How can the God of Israel, so partisan, be the one and only God of all creation? But these difficult questions never distracted Israel from their core faith: by God's grace they were liberated and made God's people.


To Ponder

  • In Christian proclamation, Jesus is the Saviour of the world. How do you understand the positive content of that conviction for yourself?
  • In what sense, in day-to-day living, is God our Protector?


Bible notes author: The Revd David Deeks

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