A way out. A departure.
If you had to pick the most important story in the New Testament there’s really only one place to go, it’s the Sunday school answer, Jesus… the cross. But what if you asked the same question about the Old Testament? What would you pick then? Creation, the fall of mankind, the flood, the promises to Abram or the Battles of King David? Maybe it’s an unfair question to ask. But high up on the list of answers, certainly for anyone claiming Israeli nationality, would be the account of the Exodus, the story of when God, via plagues and parting seas, miraculously saved his people from the might of the Egyptians. A story of escape, of rescue… this is the story they cling to most dearly. This connection was established when God instructed them on how to live out their freedoms just before they entered the Promised Land. Before God gives them the 10 commandments, the rules set in stone to live by. He relays a message to them.
I am the LORD your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery… you shall have no other Gods before me… you shall not make idols etc. (Deuteronomy 5:6)
The commands for their life are directly linked to God saving them in Egypt. God established a story in their history that was to shape their lives in the future. When Jewish people celebrate Passover, as they sit round the table eating their lamb stew they recall the days when God saved them but also share stories of how he continues to shape them now.
A long film, book or other work portraying heroic deeds and adventures or covering an extended period of time
This is a big story, an epic. Retold so often in the form of a movie because of its scale and ambition. It’s huge and tells a huge story that resonates through all of life. A story of nations, world powers, heroes, miracles, mass evacuation not to mention its colossal themes of suffering, survival and hope. Sometimes stories are meant to be big. The modern method for Bible reading is to divide it up into chunks. There were no verses and chapters in the original text, we’ve added them to help us break it down, a solid idea… we can remember where we are up to but it does mean we form the habit of reading bits in isolation and expect to find all the meaning of the story there.
Tom Wright suggests it would be more helpful to think of the Bible as a big movie or a symphony that is better understood when you experience the full sweep of the story. You don’t turn up to the proms and listen to a few bars of Beethoven’s 5th then walk out and come back next week to get the next bit. You’re supposed to soak up the whole thing, experiencing all the highs and lows, light and shade, base drums and soft strings. The full sweep.
In Exodus there are times when you drop into the story and the circumstance is dark, the outlook bleak and not just for a few bars either but for long sections. For example the Hebrew people are slaves for 400 years. Generation upon generation beaten up and down trodden, just because their populace might pose a threat to Egypt further down the line. For the Hebrew slaves of Moses day the last ray of light was doused 400 ago. The wandering we read about in the desert was no wrong turn on a country road either, 40 years of wrong turns is one long nightmare.
But this story is not just a long drag through the pits of life, the lows are low but the highs are high. Here the underdogs, the butchered and beaten up become the victors. It must have taken a while to come down from the high of walking out on your tormentors whilst carrying off with their possessions not to mention the wonder of seeing the sea part and being able to walk through it. That will cause you not to sleep for a few days. But the lesson is, well, one of the lessons is, God is there through it all. And not just there, he’s purposeful in all of this, he’s glorified in all of this.
This is his good plan and it is being worked out. Some of the people in this story will have been so bowled over by the miracles they would probably not be able to think about anything else their whole life. Others in the tale never get to experience the good times, children of slaves birthing more slaves, there doesn’t seem to be any light at the end of that tunnel. Yet all these people play a part in God being known to mankind through this story.
Unable to move or escape as a result of obstruction
It’s a common experience in life to feel trapped. Without any visible prison walls, steel chains or even obvious oppressors. Our experience of life can still feel like we’re unfairly confined. We feel trapped. Whether relationships, careers, stages and circumstances of life or just our own issues that come round. Sometimes we just feel trapped. Exodus reminds us of something we often forget in the middle of life;
Our temporary circumstances are not evidence that God has gone or forgotten his promises. They still stand and his plan is still at work.
But in the sweep of this big story we might be in a moment where the softer strings are playing or the shade covers more of the view than we would like. It’s now we need to remember the full sweep of the story God is telling. He is faithful. He will keep his promises.
One of the things Jesus chose to do just before he was taken to be crucified was remind his disciples and as such us today of the purpose of this story. He told them to go and prepare a room to remember the Passover. Slay a lamb and cook it so we can remember the night God made a miraculous way of escape for his people… for us. Then in the middle of the meal he took some bread and a cup of wine and asked them to remember something else. Something new, yet intrinsically connected to the Passover story. Something to remind all peoples, for all time that no matter how dark a corner of life you find yourself in, or how trapped you have become. There is a way out for people who call out to him.
When he did this, their story became our story, their lessons our lessons and their miraculous saviour became our miraculous saviour. Come and join us or listen online as we work through what kind of people this makes us.
Ash Gibson, Assistant Pastor, Christchurch Xscape