Friday, March 22, 2013

Exodus 10:1-12:50


After 430 years in Egypt, many of those years spent as slave laborers, the descendants of Israel are finally liberated. But first, there are two more plagues to afflict their Egyptian captors.

In Genesis 10, Moses warns the Egyptians that they will find themselves up to their oxters* in locusts. Pharaoh's advisers remind the king that Egypt, because of the 7 previous plagues is in ruins. Once again the Lord hardens the Pharaoh's heart. Pharaoh seems to suspect that Moses is dissembling. If Pharaoh allows the Israelites to go into the wilderness they will run off and he will lose his slave labor force. The locusts eat any crops, supposedly the wheat and spelt, that survived the hail.

The penultimate plague is a palpable darkness that falls over Egypt. Pharaoh again tries to compromise with Moses offering to let the Israelites go, provided they leave their livestock. At this point negotiations break down entirely. Pharaoh tells Moses, "If I ever see you again you will die." Moses accepts that he will never again appear before Pharaoh.

Chapter 11 is a short one. First God reminds Moses to tell the Israelites to ask their Egyptian neighbors for gold when they leave the land. Then it continues the conversation between Moses and Pharaoh begun above. Moses warns that the Lord will kill every first born male in Egypt, even the cattle. Again the Lord hardens Pharaoh's heart.

Any concerns that I may have for the Egyptians are admittedly beside the point. This is the dramatic story of God's saving acts on behalf of the Israelites.

Chapter 12 tells about the Passover, both the original event and its annual commemoration. The Israelites slaughter lambs for a hastily eaten supper. The lambs blood is painted on the doorposts of their houses so that, when God's destroyer comes through Egypt, he will pass them over. When the firstborn sons in every Egyptian household are killed, the Egyptians beg the Israelites to leave. As promised the Egyptians give them gold and riches if they will only leave.

The events in this chapter are not entirely consistent, a sign, I surmise, that the text has been compiled from multiple sources.

The Passover is the central act of God's redemption on behalf of his chosen people. It occupies for the Jews, much the same religious niche that Easter does for Christians. Passover is both an annual celebration and a constant theme in Jewish life. It is worth noting that the Christian Eucharist is an adaptation of the Jewish seder, the Passover meal.

I met a rabbi once, a kind and brilliant man, whose theology was forged by the Shoah, the Nazi holocaust. He said, tearfully, that "God acted to save his chosen people once."** He believes that faithfulness includes holding God accountable. In the end he proclaims a message of hope.

For Christians, too, there is a single act of redemption. As I write these words I am in the midst of preparation for the services of Holy Week: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. This, for us, is a one time and unrepeated event. It is the basis for our relationship with God and  the basis of our hope. We, too, can say, "God acted to save us once."

*"Up to their oxters" is something my wee Scots granny used to say. Your oxters, if you're wondering, are your ears.

**Arguably the book of Esther tells of a second rescue. However God is never explicitly mentioned in that book. Beside that, I had no cause to argue with the rabbi.

Next: Exodus 13-15

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