The transition from Genesis to Exodus involves a significant jump in time, as the people of Israel grow from Jacob's immediate descendants into a vast population who are then enslaved by their Egyptian hosts. This jump leads us then into the seminal event of the Hebrew Bible. The escape from Egypt, and the book telling the tale, both take their name from a Greek word whose roots mean "the road out." This road is clearly understood to be brought about by God directing human history for the liberation of God's people, and thus the story expands upon the developing pictures of God we have received over the course of Genesis. This week we focus on the events leading up to the Exodus itself: the call of Moses to be Israel's leader and God's agent for change; God giving his name to Moses; the showdown with Pharaoh in the plagues; and finally the Passover. We'll get to the actual escape next week.
Questions to ponder while reading:
- Moses' story seems to point to a person of destiny, chosen by God as an infant – yet he is afraid of public speaking, and, shockingly, a murderer and fugitive. Is this just an echo of our problems with the character of Jacob, or do the twists and turns of Moses' life add something important to the story?
- Remember that the Hebrew name of God, "Yahweh," is translated in the NRSV Bible as "LORD" - but in the burning bush story it's translated as "I AM WHO I AM." The Hebrew word is a version of the verb "to be," hence the effort to to give it a deeper connotation here. Why does it matter that God has a Hebrew name other than "God"? How will knowing that name help Moses?
- While the plagues themselves are quite bizarre, stranger still is the fact that each time one succeeds in convincing Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, God 'hardens Pharaoh's heart.' Remembering that the Egyptians considered Pharaoh to be divine, what sense can we make of this contest of wills, or is it meant to be understood as no real contest at all?
- The Passover holiday commemorates this marvelous act of liberation by God – yet the liberation includes the slaughter of Egyptian children in the final plague. How do we reconcile a God who hears and acts on the cries of distress of his people and the degree of violence and vengefulness such actions entail?