Monday 10 November 2014

Bible Book:

“But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground.” (v. 16)

Exodus 14:5-31 Monday 10 November 2014


Thanks to 20th-century films we hardly need to ask about thecontext of this passage. There is a problem in this, however, thatof familiarity. We need to step back into our time to get things inperspective. Britain of the Victorian era had dominated the globeas an imperial power, but two world wars served to underline thefragility of that and other empires. Then in more recent years thevulnerability of the United States has been underlined by eventswhich continue to have a global significance.

Returning to the passage, the dominant nation was Egypt. Herewas a centre of power and wealth, of culture and society that wecan only imagine. It is rare, if not unheard of, for imperial powerto be maintained by benevolence. The Egyptians relied on slaves toenable their society to function. But sooner or later such systemsare challenged. People are knocked back into place or they become athreat. Moses was leading such a people. Of course, when you areoppressed you can begin to regard it as the norm - freedom can feelthreatening. And so, on leaving Egypt, the people quarrelled. Thenthey saw that they were being chased. And we are in the midst ofthe passage.

Then the miraculous happens - "lift up your staff, and stretchout your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites maygo into the sea on dry ground", says God to Moses. And the peoplepass through the sea safe and the pursuing army is drowned.

I want to see this as an historical story of escape. Whatbothers me is the fate of the pursuing Egyptians and theattribution of the whole event to God's action. History has to betold after the event and interpretation has to take place. How nearthe narrative is to the event we do not know. What is clear is thatthe Exodus story has been, perhaps, the most significant in Jewishhistory and has been adopted by oppressed people ever since. It hashad immense power for all ages, far outliving the originalevent.

To Ponder

  • How does it affect your faith if an event is not truehistorically, but conveys a truth that helps us to live betterlives, or gives us hope where we had none?
  • What might nations today learn by pondering thisstory? 
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