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The Exodus. This is the big climax (or is it?) of the story of the Exodus the Israelites are free. Chased out of Egypt, they pillage their former slave masters. They leave not just free, but masters of their own future. But quickly Pharaoh changes his mind, and the greatest army of earth sets off in pursuit of a ragtag bunch of slaves hobbling along with their cripple and lame, their livestock and unleavened bread. And just as quickly the Israelites change their mind about the nature and purpose of God. They seem to lose faith. Is this story just history, myth, good story or does it have something to say about the way that we live and an answer to our own metaphysical questions about the existence and activity of God?
Today’s passage (and the larger body of this text/story in Exodus 13:1-15:21) wrestles with several theological themes:
FEAR: The Israelites quickly become afraid that they’ve made the wrong choice, followed the wrong God, been duped by this Moses guy. Why does they lose faith so quickly? What has God has already done for them? How can they so easily forget that? How do we struggle with the same challenge of believing in God when we think that God is absent?
BELIEVING: What convinces the Israelites to trust God, to believe that YHWH is on their side? How are they to remember what happened? Why are they to remember it for the future? Have you experienced God’s deliverance in your life? When? How? What difference did it make for you then in that moment? What difference does it make today? Does God save us from every peril? Why? Why not? How does God’s past faithfulness – in our life – or in the life of others – keep us going, focused and faith-full?
GOD AS GOOD: Is God good or does God play favorites? Why is God so cruel to his enemies? Personally I wouldn’t wish what the Egyptians got on my worst enemies (or at least I’d like to think that). So how can we understand God as good in this story of deliverance and destruction?
A Talmudic saying “My Children Have Perished” is a rabbinical response to that question:
When the Egyptians drowned In the Red Sea, the angels rejoiced about the deliverance of the children of Israel. They gathered their voices and music to give praise to the Creator, the Rock of Israel, the Lord of the heavens and the Earth. God, he had tears in his eyes. The more the angels played, the more God cried.
Finally the angels asked God, “Why are you crying? Rejoice, the ennemies of Israel have perished!”
The God of compassion responded to the angels, “My children have perished. My children have perished. Why should I rejoice at the destruction of my children?”
Chapter 14 can be broken down into a chiasm, or sandwich structure. This is a literary construction commonly used in Hebraic literature, specifically the First Testament. It structures a story like a sandwich with layers and the principal part in the middle. Like a cheese sandwich has bread, condiments and in the very middle the cheese.
14:1-10 : Israel is trapped between the sea and the Egyptian Army
14:11-12: The children of Israel are mad at Moses for taking them out of Egypt
(compare 14:5 and 14:11) – the fear or question of Israel.
14:13-14: Moses responds that the LORD will deliver them from the Egyptians.
(compare 14:14 and 14:18 and 14:26) – the answer to the question.
14:15-31: Israel is delivered and freed from the trap.
What do you think is the main point or part of this story of the Exodus? Why?
Questions for wondering and exploring:
1. What troubles you and/or encourages you in this text? Why?
2. How do we live the story of the Exodus as individuals – or as a church community? How have we?
3. How do we celebrate and remember God’s faithfulness in our individual lives and in our community life together? How could that be different? Why?
4. Do you believe that God is still speaking, acting and redeeming in the world? Why? Why not?