‘Were there not enough graves in Egypt …’, harassed and terrified
Hebrew slaves ask their would-be liberator as the empire’s strength
closes in on them like some mobile Berlin Wall, ‘… that you brought
us out into this desert to die?”
Memories of slavery are often quaint.
Retrospect from the anguish of freedom erects tidy picket fences where
there were none, red meat where one slurped gruel, tranquility where
in fact one knew more than anything else the oppressor’s whip.
The book of Exodus probes not only a people’s history but the
landscape of human experience, asking its reader not to look away
from the fickleness of heart that prefers the security of the ‘house
of slaves’ to wide open places where one must depend upon an unseen
God bent on achieving freedom for daughters and sons.
It is in point of fact a reasonable dilemma. There are perks to
slavery that are not to be scorned. Confidence about how things are,
the egalitarian ignominy of suffering, the freedom to concentrate on
the banal rather than to have one’s nose rubbed constantly in the
imperative of choosing life or death.
Slavery boasts its luxuries, conveniences that are in fact profoundly
attractive when the absence of light on the horizon has worn the soul
down to smallness.
Freedom in the hands of a demanding God is what would one day be
called ‘the road less traveled’. It is as frightening as making
bricks for watery soup.
We are not wise to sentimentalize this thing that the Hebrew Bible
calls ‘salvation’ or ‘liberation’. It is neither autonomy nor rest.
Israel’s own name insinuates that it involves a wrestling with God
who too often flees before dawn, leaving himself unnamed to the
exhausted wrestler and his limp.
One must wonder, or at least one ought to wonder, why the biblical
narrative insists that it is resolutely to be preferred. A hidden God, one speculates, has hidden wealth in liberation that is chiefly
to be discovered in trackless wastes and—sometimes—in homes that
others have built, vineyards that others have planted, rich gardens
left tilled by those who have abandoned them to newcomers.