From Slavery to Freedom
By Don Ruhl
Why do we like stories about people going from bondage to freedom? We like before and after stories. We like to see someone’s transformation. We like to see the underdog win. The Book of Exodus shows the story of Israel before and after, going through a transformation, and they were the underdogs who won.
The Book of Exodus is the narration of Israel’s freedom from bondage. Exodus picks up where Genesis leaves off, although Exodus picks up the story many years later.
Genesis shows the family of Israel in loving harmony with itself and in peace with the Egyptians. Exodus shows Israel still in Egypt, but things began to change for Israel as the Egyptians forgot the blessing of Israel and began to see them as a possible curse (Exo 1.8–14).
When people read the exodus of Israel out of Egypt, they see oppression, exile, liberation, and a journey to something wonderful, and they identify with those themes. Peoples often make the story their own.
Michael Walzer, one of America’s leading political philosophers, has said of Exodus, it is a “classic narrative, with beginning, a middle, and an end: problem, struggle, resolution—Egypt, the wilderness, the Promised Land.”
Look at it this way:
- Beginning, Middle, End
- Problem, Struggle, Resolution
- Egypt, Wilderness, Promise Land
Rather than just a journey of adventure, Exodus shows the true story of a march toward a goal and the struggles of a people being transformed from slavery to freedom.
Many people have seen in Exodus their own story. America’s forefathers saw their new nation as God’s new Israel and used many biblical terms to refer to our land and nation, also seeing King George III as a British Pharaoh. America’s own slaves and those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi’s and communists saw their struggles in Exodus-like ways.
The narration of Israel’s release from bondage and subsequent struggle with freedom cannot be separated from the figure of Moses. We first see him as a helpless baby threatened with extinction, but his parents, following God’s directions, saved him by losing him, placing him in a basket and putting him in the river. Oddly enough the oppressor of the Israelites, Pharaoh and his family, saved Moses from the river and then used the mother of Moses to nurse him and bring him up for a short time before he lived in the household of Pharaoh as an Egyptian (Exo 2.1–10).
Then he killed an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite and when Moses knew that Pharaoh learned of what happened, Moses fled far away and started his own family.
The Burning Bush
After 40 years of living in Midian, God called Moses to deliver Israel out of Egypt, but God used a most unusual method of calling Moses, appearing in a burning bush, although the bush was not consumed (Exo 3.1–10).
Why do you think the Lord choose to reveal Himself to Moses this way? Does Deuteronomy 4.20 provide insight? “But the LORD has taken you and brought you out of the iron furnace, out of Egypt, to be His people, an inheritance, as you are this day” (Deu 4.20). Was there a connection between Israel being in a furnace and the Lord revealing Himself in fire?
We would expect that if God would use a plant to show Himself, He would use a redwood tree or something spectacular, but God can be anywhere, often in the places where we least expect Him. As one poet wrote,
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.”
(Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh)
What did she mean? All of creation testifies of God’s presence, but few even notice, the rest just use creation for their own purposes.
Israel did not have the experience of seeing the burning bush. Therefore, Moses knew that when he approached the Israelites, they would want some credentials and proof that he had arrived to deliver Israel. God gave Moses an answer that summed up God’s identity, saying, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exo 3.13–15).
God used a verb, not a noun, to depict Himself. Why did He do that? We cannot comprehend His substance or His essence, but we can see His actions or hear His words.