Exploring Exodus - Week 4 - Ex 12:31-42


Exploring Exodus Image

Get out!  The Exodus begins.  Ex 12:31-42[1]


Finally, the exodus begins.  After 430 years[2] the Hebrews begin the journey towards freedom, the journey towards the establishing of a covenant relationship with God, and the journey towards the promised land.


This is a momentous event.  The sequence of divinely appointed events that begins here will lead directly to the establishing of Israel as a nation, and the first stage of the fulfillment of the promise God made to Abraham. 


It might be helpful here to reflect on why this story and the events of the exodus are so important to Christians.  What does the exodus say about our own ‘calling out’ by God?  What are some of the important themes that we see in the exodus which also frame our understanding of our own experience of life with God?  We’ll pick up on a number of key themes later on…


Pharaoh wakes…


A cry goes up across Egypt.  The tenth and final mighty act is a terrible one, the first born in every family dies, both human and animal.  There is not a single family in Egypt untouched by the disaster, including Pharaoh himself. 


Pharaoh rises in the middle of the night to call Moses for an urgent audience.  Not that long ago Pharaoh did not know or acknowledge God, and treated God’s requests and threats with contempt.  But no longer. 


Reversing his previous order, that he was never to see Moses again, Pharaoh’s defeat is complete.  From stubbornly refusing to let the Hebrews go, he now pleads with Moses for them to leave.  Not just the Hebrew people, but their livestock too!  “Get up, get out, go on” says Pharaoh “Go worship the Lord as you said”. 


The exchange between Moses and Pharaoh ends with the ultimate capitulation of the Pharaoh who had claimed ignorance of Yahweh, and then sought to match his mighty acts, and then withdrew his promises as soon as they were made.  He asks for Yahweh’s blessing.  His resistance has gone, there is no need for further hardening of heart.  God has proved both his presence and his power, and Pharaoh asks simply that the terrible curse which God has placed on Egypt might be lifted. 


Not just Pharaoh…


It’s not just Pharaoh who wants the Hebrews out!  Every Egyptian family has been touched by death and also longs for the Hebrews to leave. 


Reflect:  Sometimes parts of the biblical narrative can be difficult to process and leave us with a great deal of questions.  Particularly parts of the story in which entire nations suffer for the sake of Israel.  A case in point is the plight of the Egyptians. 


Assuming that the exodus story is historically accurate, and there is nothing to suggest that it is not, we read of the death of every first born in the entire nation.  Every Egyptian family suffers the tragic death of a loved one.  Sometimes, perhaps because we are separated by so much history, we gloss over the reality of this suffering or glibly justify it as ‘a means to an end’, after all ‘God can do what he likes’.  Or perhaps we may be tempted to view the Egyptians simply as pawns in the great plan of God. 


But this is dangerous, and in actual fact an attitude akin to that of a suicide bomber who sees his victims as being expendable because ‘it is Gods will’. 


Reading passages such as this, where a great many suffer, seemingly for the sake of Israel should make us ask difficult questions:


Why was it that every family had to suffer such a terrible thing?  Was every family really equally responsible for the enslavement of the Hebrews?  Did every family really have to suffer?


Sometimes we can shy away from asking the difficult questions, and sometimes we can deliberately blind ourselves towards the more awkward bits of scripture…but we shouldn’t – to do so is to live in denial and to be less than honest with ourselves.


How do you feel about this?




Leaving in a hurry…


With Pharaoh having given the command to leave, Moses leads the Hebrews to do just that – they leave.  And they leave in a hurry.  All they need to do is scoop up the dough that has been laid out for the following days bread, pack up the boards and bowls on and in which it had been left, and they are ready to go. 


Yahweh has proved his presence is with his people, he has defeated Pharaoh and the Egyptian Gods, and he has freed his people.  The journey to the promised land actually begins…


Reflect:  What Yahweh did in Egypt he did for all Israel, in every generation.  And what he did for Israel he did for all those who he calls his people.  This is where the exodus story becomes our story.  The story of Gods presence being made known, of being rescued from slavery, of being called out to a promised land as a distinct people. 


This is why the exodus story is so foundational for both Israel and Christians. 


St Paul says that Christians are ‘ingrafted’ into Israel, we are by nature of our faith in Gods redeemer, those who have ‘become his people’, we are members if you like of the true Israel, and part of the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.  The story of the exodus describes our spiritual journey from slavery to freedom.  From captivity to the promised land.  And we like the Hebrews were rescued by the power and presence of almighty God. 


Does this help you to connect with the exodus story?  What does this mean for your life of faith and your understanding?



Who went?


The people who left Egypt were numerous.  The writer records some 600,000 able bodied (fighting) men.  There would have been many more Hebrew women and children.  It’s easy to miss but the exodus narrative also mentions a ‘mixed group’ or in older translations a ‘motley crew’ of other ethnic groups who left Egypt with the Hebrews in the exodus. 


Although this may appear insignificant and of minor importance, it is not.  It is important because it says something of the God who calls his people out, and it says something deeply prophetic about the true nature of his people.  In this tiny, seemingly incidental detail we learn that it is wrong to think that even at this early stage, God only called the Hebrews out to form his people. 


The people who left along with the Hebrews were numerous, they are described as a ‘motley crew’ and from this we learn that many of Gods people from the very earliest days were Israelites by theological conviction not by birth.  From the very start Yahweh made space within his people to include those who elected to come to him in response to the revelation of his presence, and yet who were not Hebrew by birth.  This ‘motley crew’ are you and I! 


Reflecting on the motley crew…any church can easily become a culturally homogenous community with certain attitudes, traditions and patterns of behaviour required for membership.  None of us want that to be the case, but it seems to just happen.   How do we feel when members of a ‘motley crew’ turn up and want to be part of our community, people who are ‘not like us’? Do we offer a conditional acceptance, requiring them to adopt our behavioural codes and cultural practices or do we ask only for theological conviction that Jesus Christ is Lord?  It seems that the sole criteria for leaving with the exodus group was theological conviction, the patterns and practices came later…Does that present a challenge to us in Ashtead?  If so how might we respond?



[1] For anyone interested in understanding the textual formulation of the book of Exodus, it’s composition and authorship:   This closing part of the opening section of the book of Exodus (up to Ch12:50) takes us up to the departure of Gods people.  It is the longest single narrative complex in the whole book which begins with the anticipation of Ch1 and the call of Moses in Ch3.  The section is largely a narrative history, drawing on a number of sources, which seeks to record and preserve the mighty acts of God and the eventual exodus for the later generations of Israel.  The narrative is interspersed with a good deal of liturgical material which details the cultic requirements for keeping the memory of the exodus alive within Israels religious life. 

Although it may appear to be a literary ‘hodge podge’ – a narrative onto which has been loaded a collection of ritual requirements – the theological structure is clear and well defined and a reminder that what Yahweh did for Israel in the exodus he did for Israel in every generation.

[2] It is unclear whether 430 years is the actual amount of time spent in slavery in Egypt or whether this is a symbolic number, the significance of which is lost to us.  Either way the important theological point is made that the Lords people begin the Exodus on the day of his choosing.

Simon Butler, 23/08/2011