Let us take a quick look back – the book of GENESIS described the beginning of Creation, the account of Adam and Eve and their exile from the Garden of Eden and the Presence of God. The biblical narrative then followed the generations, through until Noah. Then, from Abraham and Sarah, the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs were predominant. Genesis records God’s dealings with individuals and a family. Now, in EXODUS, a larger shift takes place and we read about God’s dealings with a people; a nation.
The book begins with the description of the slavery of the people of Israel. The family of Jacob has multiplied exceedingly during their exile in Egypt and have grown to be a people. We realize that this, in fact, is the reason they were enslaved. A new Pharaoh, who had not known Joseph and Jacob, pronounced, “Behold, the people of Israel are too numerous and strong for us!” (1:9) He feared their growth and strength and the oppression and subjugation began.
The account then proceeds with God’s intervention in effecting their salvation from the bitter bondage through His mighty outstretched arm and great miracles.
The one who now steps into the spotlight of this great biblical narrative is Moses; whom God calls to lead His people out of Egypt.
What is the ultimate purpose of the Exodus? Is it simply to set the slaves free to go their own way and do as they please? No, we are told in chapter 4, verse 22:
Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.”
And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped. (4: 31)
In chapter 6, verses 6-8, we find seven “I wills” promised by God. The number seven in Scripture always carries the meaning of completion and perfection. God says:
I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them,
and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.
I will take you to be My people,
and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
I will give it to you for a possession.
I am the Lord.’”
WHY THE DELIVERANCE?
What is the reason we may deduce for the deliverance of HIs people?
The purpose is Relationship on two levels. One between a King-Redeemer and His people and the other between a Loving Father and His children.
The slaves, who only knew a Ruler as a cruel tyrant, now needed to learn the reality of God as a just, faithful King. Even further, to know Him as a Father and come to understand and to experience His love. In this spacious and generous love they would come to find peace, healing, and rest; and, in addition, the truth that His children do not need to struggle to earn His love, nor fear to lose it, for nothing can separate us from His love.
Our hearts were created for love, to receive it and to give it; to respond to His abundant and unconditional love with hearts filled with love, and worship. Worship is simply loving Him back – as totally and completely as we can! It’s from hearts of gratitude and love for Him that all true acts of goodness flow.
Verse 3, in chapter 19, tells us: “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself.”
God doesn’t only set us free from whatever bondage we were in, He wants us to soar like eagles – to reach spiritual heights far above the level of the world and not to stay waddling around on the ground like turkeys! That’s one of the reasons that He tells us, in effect,
“Always remember Yetziat Mitzraim – the Exodus from Egypt, that once you were slaves and weighed down in bondage but now you are set free to soar like an eagle!”
THE WILDERNESS AND MORE MIRACLES
With God’s great miracles, the Israelites are redeemed and the long journey through the wilderness begins. In a deeper spiritual sense, it is a search for Truth and the way back from the universal exile to the Garden and God’s Presence. It is a return to the place of intimate relationship where one can walk and talk with Him again – and also to learn and grow into the fulness of who He created each one to be.
The physical contrast between the wilderness and the Garden of Eden is stark.
The Garden of Eden was a beautiful setting for [man] this beloved creation of God. It was a place traversed by flowing, sparkling waters and filled with lush foliage and flora of dazzling color – pleasing to all the senses. …Man and beast lived in tranquil unity and the Spirit of God permeated the entire expanse. It was ideal. It was paradise.
The desert wilderness…appears as the very antithesis of the Garden of Eden. All its elements seem in opposition to man.It is desolate, seemingly empty and barren of life. The desert in which the Israelites find themselves is described as , “a great and terrifying wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions, and thirsty ground where there was no water. (Deuteronomy 8:15)
~ A Taste of Torah, Keren Hannah Pryor, 165
And yet, the wilderness is the place of Revelation where God chooses to give the revelation of Himself and His Kingdom; and there, too, He presents His gift to them of His Word – His Torah, or the teachings of how to live in His Kingdom.
We saw in Genesis how God met with Adam and Eve – a couple, two individuals, in the Garden; then how He met and spoke with individuals, for example: Cain, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Rebecca, Jacob. Now, for the first time, He is coming down to meet with a whole people – the people He has chosen to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” It is another new beginning; stemming from the lowest place a person can sink – a slave with no recognized personal identity and no right to speak and act for oneself. The precious gift of “free will,” specifically given by God to human beings, had been removed by man.
Now, the Israelites have been set free but we learn that the transition and transformation from an oppressed and enslaved people to a holy, kingdom of priests serving a loving God is not instantaneous, nor is it smooth – there is a lot of murmuring and complaining! However, with God’s help, it is sure and progressive, which is a great encouragement to each of us on our own spiritual journey.
The two major themes found in Exodus: REDEMPTION and REVELATION.
By His great salvation and redemption of the Israelites out of Egypt, God proved He was the Master of the world and could accomplish anything, even outside HIs own established, natural order. The people of Israel were too weak and helpless to stand up and fight for themselves. Pharaoh, in similar manner to the great Caesars and dictatorial rulers throughout history, exalted himself as a god. To stand against the pride and arrogance of Pharaoh, God chose Moses, who is described as “…the most humble man who ever lived.”
It was a battle of wills between Pharaoh and God, and God demonstrated His power to effect salvation through the supernatural miracles of the plagues and the parting of the Reed Sea. However, in the continuing story of the Exodus, God wanted to convey to His people that true Redemption is not about what He can do. Miracles don’t last! For example, consider the manna in the wilderness. This was an amazing miracle – bread falling from the sky to feed you every day. As time went on, however, it was taken for granted and some people even complained that it was boring!
God offers Salvation as a free and miraculous gift but, as the Israelites needed to learn, full Redemption is not passive. It requires our participation and effort – our working with God in the context of a personal and intimate relationship with Him. And, even if the situation is not resolved immediately, you know you are progressing towards it and, with His help, you can persevere and keep going. We can apply this concept on a personal level, and even on a national level, but God’s Full and Final Redemption will happen on a universal level. The overarching idea to grasp and understand is that our loving relationship with Him, and our partnering with God in the work He is doing, are both needed for the unfolding of His plan of Redemption.
God did not miraculously clear the promised land of the enemies and then supernaturally transport the people of Israel from Egypt to the Land and plant them there. No! They had to learn of Him, grow in His ways, outgrow their slave mentality and, in faith and faithfulness, press on towards the goal themselves. That’s how full Redemption comes. We do our part with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and then God does His part. Even in Egypt, the Israelites needed to act in obedience to God’s instructions through Moses. They had to choose a lamb, slaughter it, and dab its blood on their doorposts. Then, on a specific night, they had to cook and eat it and be prepared to travel. They didn’t understand why, or know how God was going to do it, but they acted and then, in accord, He acted.
The world is in chaos right now. People are being enslaved by confusion, hatred and violence. And also by worldly excess on one hand, and extreme poverty on the other. God’s people should be crying and interceding – crying out in prayer to God for Israel and for His purposes and plan of Redemption to go forward. There can be no order and balance and true harmony without God’s peace and Presence. Baruch HaShem – Bless His Name, we still see evidence of it where Truth and Love are in operation. We can rejoice in knowing that He loves us and strengthens us to keep caring and growing and building and allowing the light of His Truth – of His Word, to shine and break through where there is darkness in the world.
The important element God was providing HIs people with at Sinai was VISION.
A vision of Himself – not as a hard, unforgiving judge but as a faithful, loving Father.
A vision for themselves – not as slaves, bound, helpless, worthless, but as beloved children, holy partners with God in His Kingdom.
A vision of the Land He promised – that, although now distant and difficult to inhabit, would one day become again the Garden of Eden.
When we receive and understand this vision from God as two-fold – initially for our personal lives and also as a vision for His wider Kingdom and universal purposes – then this vision becomes our spirit’s home and we can grow in every way, spiritually and physically, in peace and joy.
Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keeps God’s law,
happy is he. (Proverbs 29:18)
Without the greater vision of God our spiritual “homes” can become limiting prisons of negative thoughts and frustrated emotions. We end up, as the Israelites often did – losing faith, not trusting God with gratitude, but simply murmuring and complaining.
When faced with the inevitable challenges and disappointments of life, we can ask ourselves the tough questions, for example “Why is it so hard?” “Why am I not there yet?” “Why don’t I understand God’s ways?” We can find an answer at Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush!
God says to him: “FIRST remove your sandals (na’alaim in Hebrew) from your feet (reglaiim).”
The Hebrew words can also be read: First remove the na’alim (locks) from your regalim (habits).
Unlock yourself from the negative habits that chain you down and limit you. Then you can walk in My ways and worship me more fully.
Our Abba Father tells us: “You were created to be beautiful, in a beautiful setting, enjoying great beauty!” But, because this is a broken world that needs tikkun – repair, we are not seeing the fullness of that yet. Thankfully, by His grace, we do get tastes and glimpses of that beauty; however, we need to keep the central vision alive in our souls and know that the full and final Redemption will come to pass at its appointed time. Messiah will appear in Jerusalem as Mashiach ben David to establish and rule as King over the Father’s Kingdom.
We need to keep the eternal perspective, the bird’s eye view, of Redemption and hold onto the vision of the World to Come – Olam HaBa. At the same time, however, to quote Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest:
“We look for visions and …the thunder of God’s power, and all the time He is in the commonplace things and people around us!”
It is our “hands on” task on this earth, to participate in tikkun olam – the healing of the world, in every little thing that our Father gives into our hands to do. The whole world is in exile from the Garden of God and our constant aim and effort must be working with Him towards the full and final Redemption. The way to do that is always in the everyday little things done in love for His glory.
~ Keren Hannah
Artwork: Yoram Raanan, Israel