By Jessie Best Chambers
Lectionary reading for 3/4/2022: Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Exodus 6:1-13; Acts 7:35-42
Selected passage for reflection: Exodus 6:1-13 (New Living Translation)
Exodus 6:1-13 (New Living Translation)
6 Then the Lord told Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh. When he feels the force of my strong hand, he will let the people go. In fact, he will force them to leave his land!”
2 And God said to Moses, “I am Yahweh—‘the Lord.’ 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob as El-Shaddai—‘God Almighty’—but I did not reveal my name, Yahweh, to them. 4 And I reaffirmed my covenant with them. Under its terms, I promised to give them the land of Canaan, where they were living as foreigners. 5 You can be sure that I have heard the groans of the people of Israel, who are now slaves to the Egyptians. And I am well aware of my covenant with them.
6 “Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. 7 I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. 8 I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’”
9 So Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.
10 Then the Lord said to Moses, 11 “Go back to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and tell him to let the people of Israel leave his country.”
12 “But Lord!” Moses objected. “My own people won’t listen to me anymore. How can I expect Pharaoh to listen? I’m such a clumsy speaker!”
13 But the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them orders for the Israelites and for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The Lord commanded Moses and Aaron to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt.
Exodus is essentially the story of liberation from oppression and the forging of a new identity. In Exodus, God promises to rescue the Hebrew people (aka the Israelites) from slavery in Egypt and deliver them to a new home where they can live in freedom. In this passage, we see that their oppression has become so brutal and they are so discouraged that they don’t even want to listen to Moses’ message about God’s promise. Moses is scared to go back and deliver this message again and who could blame him? He’s already seen God show up in some amazing ways, but he’s up against a huge empire that doesn’t care whether or not his people live or die. But he doesn’t have to go alone. He has Aaron by his side and God’s promises echoing in his ears which enables him to muster up the courage to do what God has asked him. And later in the book we see God’s promise come to fruition.
I love the book of Exodus. In part because despite all the crazy miracles, it is so full of human emotions - fear, doubt, despair, anger, but most of all hope. Remembering this story is a call to hope and is used as a tool for hope throughout Israel’s history. When we remember the ways that God has moved to rescue and care for us in the past, it helps us to hope that God will do the same in the future and gives us something to cling to in our present despair.
The book of Exodus also says something very powerful about who God is. This story of freedom from oppression becomes a key aspect not only of Israel’s identity but of God’s. How do you know what God is like? God is the one who will rescue you from slavery. That is what God does. Which is why this story has long been a source of hope for oppressed people.
When we try to apply this story to our own context, we need to have an honest conversation about whether or not we should be identifying with the oppressed or the oppressor. I suspect that if you, like me, have the luxury to choose who you identify with then you’re likely part of the latter group. Sure, most of us are not Pharaoh - we don’t wield that kind of power and hopefully don’t display that level of callousness for others. But we might be more like one of the Egyptians than the Hebrews - not an active character with lines in this story, but benefitting from an unjust system whether or not they choose to see it.
When I think about what happens next in this book, I can’t help but wonder if the Egyptians might have chosen a different path and been partners with God and the Hebrews in their liberation. We might have missed out on some amazing images like the parting of the Red Sea, but I think the story would be no less powerful.
If you find yourself identifying with the oppressed Hebrews this morning, let this story give you hope. God hears you. God sees you. And God will deliver you from your oppressors so you can live free and with dignity.
If you’re worried you might have more in common with the oppressors, let’s lean into that uncomfortable feeling. Let’s try to be better listeners, better learners, and to speak up for those who are being oppressed around us.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(From the Book of Common Prayer)
About the Author
Jessie Best Chambers lives and works in Richmond, Virginia. Originally from North Carolina, she did her undergraduate work at Appalachian State University before obtaining a master’s in Theological Studies from North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. In her free time, you can usually find her taking a walk with her husband or reading a murder mystery. Jessie loves the outdoors, the Old Testament, and tacos.