Monday, October 18, 2010

Returning to Egypt

In Deuteronomy 28, Moses warns Israel that if they do not keep covenant with Yahweh, He will bring the curses of the covenant upon them.

These curses include at least three explicit reference to Egypt (28:27, 60, 68), but a closer reading suggests that many if not most of the curses are implicit references to life in Egypt.

If Israel disobeys, their kneading bowls will be cursed (Dt. 28:5), like the Egyptian kneading bowls swarming with frogs (Ex. 7:28).

If Israel disobeys, they will be cursed in the fruit of their own bodies, the produce of the land, the increase of their cattle and the offspring of the flocks (Dt. 28:18), like the Egyptians whose produce was struck by hail and locusts (Ex. 9:25, 10:14-15), and the firstborn of man and beast struck by the Destroyer (12:29-30).

If Israel disobeys, the "plague" will cling to Israel until God has consumed them from the land (Dt. 28:21), much like Egypt was struck with "plagues" (e.g. Ex. 5:3, 9:3, 15).

If Israel disobeys, the heavens of their heads will be cursed and rain will come down on the land like powder and dust until everything is destroyed (Dt. 28:24), just as Yahweh turned the rain into large hail stones that came down upon the land and destroyed crops and killed animals and men (Ex. 9:23-25).

If Israel disobeys, their carcasses will be food for the beasts of the earth (Dt. 28:26), just as the carcasses of Egyptian firstborn became food for the dogs (Ex. 11:5-7).

If Israel disobeys, Yahweh will strike them with the boils of Egypt (Dt. 28:27), just as (surprise!) God struck Egypt with boils (Ex. 9:8-12).

If Israel disobeys, they will stumble like blind men and at noonday, they will grope around in deep darkness (Dt. 28:28-29), just as the Egyptians were struck with a deep darkness which could be felt (Ex. 10:21ff).

If Israel disobeys, severe boils will cover their bodies and locusts will eat up their crops (Dt. 28:35, 38, 42), just as Yahweh struck Egypt with boils and locusts covered the earth and consumed their crops (Ex. 9:8ff, 10:4ff).

If Israel disobeys, aliens will rise higher and higher above them (Dt. 28:43), just as the Hebrews became prominent in Egypt and Moses became a great man in all the land (Ex. 11:3).

If Israel disobeys, Yahweh will send all these curses on Israel, "signs and wonders," until they are destroyed (Dt. 28:45-46), just as Yahweh performed His "signs and wonders" against Egypt until they were destroyed (Ex. 7:3).

Finally, the entire curse-warning is summarized by the threat that if they do not keep covenant Yahweh will bring upon them "extraordinary plagues - great and prolonged plagues... He will bring back on you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you..." (Dt. 28:59-60) All of this will culminate in Yahweh sending Israel back to Egypt in ships: "And the Lord will take you back to Egypt in ships... And there you shall be offered for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but no one will buy you" (Dt. 28:68).

It is not merely that one of the curses of the covenant is reminiscent of Egypt, rather many of the curses are reminiscent of Egypt, and all of them mean Egypt. Breaking covenant with Yahweh is synonymous with going back to Egypt. Yahweh has so identified Himself with the Exodus event, bringing Israel out of Egypt, that to reject Yahweh and to break covenant with Him is by definition a rejection of the Exodus and a return to Egypt. And if Israel "returns to Egypt" by breaking covenant with the God who delivered them from Egypt, they are sure to find themselves under attack, pursued by the same God of the Exodus.

Yahweh God is so identified with the Exodus that He remains committed to the division between Egyptian and Israelite. And those who live like Egyptians will die like Egyptians.

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