Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Real Exodus, Real Freedom

Reading the original Exodus story has all kinds of implications for the coming of the Gospel in Jesus. When we read the Exodus story as a purely physical bondage, a bunch of Hebrews got held up by the Egyptian thug, Pharaoh, in a dark alley, and God came and laid the smack down and delivered His people. Then, when Jesus comes on the scene and starts acting like Moses and the gospel writers are weaving Exodus imagery through their narratives, we say something like: "O that's neat imagery!" And we think Jesus was doing something highly metaphorical, a "spiritual" version of the Exodus. He's *like* Moses, we say.

But if Israelite culture was shot through with idolatry, compromises with Egyptian culture, then the situation that emerges is far more complicated and far more similar to all the other exodus events in Scripture. If the original Exodus was an extraction of God's people out of relationships, social customs and forms, cultural norms, economic forces, etc., then the only thing partially metaphorical about Christ's Exodus event is the geographical movement. Jesus is not literally leading a new Israel out of the land of Egypt into the land of Canaan.

Again, if Egyptian slavery was something more complex than we often imagine, then the Exodus is something more complex and deeper than we frequently imagine. What emerges is something suggesting that the geographical concerns of the first Exodus are actually the metaphor. Leaving Egypt and going through the wilderness to the land of Canaan is actually the metaphor for the real leaving and cleaving which must take place in the hearts of the Israelites. And in that sense, the first Exodus was a failure because that Israel never really left Egypt. The rest of Israelite history bears this out with Yahweh repeatedly trying to convince Israel to leave Egypt behind. Thus, when Jesus comes to strike the final blow to Egypt/Pharaoh in His death and resurrection, He comes to bring the real exodus, and therefore real freedom.

The Israelites are neck deep in slavery to Egyptian movies, Egyptian politics, Egyptian economics, Egyptian poetry, Egyptian colleges, Egyptian health care, all the Egyptian gods, and Yahweh has come to set them free, despite their protests to the contrary. And when we describe the liberation of Israel in such terms, it becomes far more clear why Christ came as the Greater Moses to free His new Israel from every Egypt, all the gods, all the plagues, every manifestation of sin and death. The real Exodus always was about beginning life over again, forming a new community in Israel, a new calendar, a new economy, a new family, a new culture, new patterns of worship, etc. And the Christian Church is that new Israel, that new way of being human, that new way of being community, a new way of doing politics and economics and art.

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