Exodus: A God Who Saves

I remember the day we studied this story of the Exodus in my seminary Old Testament class. My professor had Parkinson’s which meant he was not the most flamboyant lecturer, but he was a great storyteller. You just had to listen closely.

“Exodus starts with Abraham’s descendants being fruitful and multiplying in Egypt,” he said. “Things were going well until a new Pharaoh creeped into town like a snake in the grass. He didn’t know Abraham, nor Isaac, nor Jacob, nor Joseph, nor their children, nor their God. All Pharaoh knew was there were too many of these Hebrew immigrants around. They were starting to pose a threat, so first he enslaved them, then he tried to exterminate them.” 

We were rapt, like children hearing it for the first time. There was a hush in the room as he told the rest of the story, all the way through the parting of the waters, the miraculous way made to freedom, and the singing on the other shore about Pharaoh’s armies drowned in the sea…

Class was almost over, and I knew it, but I’m the annoying guy who sits in the back like he doesn’t care and then spends the whole class raising my hand, and monopolizing the conversation with my questions. 

“Professor,” I said, “What about those Egyptians?” 

“What do you mean?” he said, with a smile. 

“I mean, 10 miserable plagues, and then to be drowned in the sea, I don’t know if I can worship a God who would do that to anyone, even if they are the Egyptians.” 

And just then, a voice: “Don’t you do that, Drew.” 

It was my classmate, an African-American woman named Mahalia. “Don’t you do that. Don’t you try and take my God from me.” 

“I’m not,” I said. “I’m just not entirely comfortable with a story in which God does this kind of thing.” 

“Maybe it’s not your story,” she said. 

“You’ve never been a slave. You’ve never been oppressed. You’ve never known what it’s like to feel Pharoah’s foot on your neck, like one of these Hebrews, or what it’s like to be one of their descendants, or what it’s like to be an immigrant trying to make it only to be kept down for no reason but your race, or what it’s like to a slave, worked to the bone, beaten every day, only to be told this is the way God intends things to be. 

“This has never been your story; but try to imagine it anyway. Try to imagine it and then try to imagine what it would feel like to hear of a different kind of God, a God who is actually for you, and not against you. Imagine hearing of a God who hears the cries of the oppressed, and rescues the downtrodden. Imagine hearing of a God who doesn’t just offer empty promises, but actually brings down the mighty from their thrones, tramples down and washes away your oppressors, and gives your enemies what’s coming to them. 

“Can you imagine how good that news sounds? Can you imagine how revolutionary it is to hear that this God has a name, and has not just promised but proven to be mighty to save?

“It’s not your story, but it is mine, so please, don’t go meddling with it.” 

With that, as the kids say, I was “shook.”

I looked to my professor to see if he would rescue me, but he just leaned into the microphone and said, “Class dismissed.” 

It is hard to overestimate the centrality of this story to the rest of the Old Testament, to the Jewish people, and to oppressed peoples everywhere who hear their story told in these pages. (Passover) It is a revolutionary bit of theology to say that God is a God who identifies, indeed has a preference for, and promises to rescue the poor and lowly… But apart from the rest of the story it can leave the comparably rich and mighty seemingly left out of the story, or worse, drowning in sin and shame. 

Everyone exited class and went down to the refectory for dinner. I went down too and tried not to notice most of my classmates averting their eyes. I got my food and sat down at a table by myself. That’s when Mahalia came over to me and said “May I sit with you, brother?”

“Please do.” I said 

Then she took a big breath and said, “Look. I’m sorry if I came at you a little hard back there.” 

“It’s okay,” I said, “but seriously, do you think there’s any hope for the Pharaoh’s of the world?” 

She smiled and said, “only if there’s someone who can raise the dead.” 

Today is World Communion Sunday in which we remember that Christians all over the world are miraculously one people, united by Christ. Partaking in one bread, we become one body. But don’t miss the fact that in most of our communion liturgies we remember that on the night in which Christ gave himself up for us he was himself celebrating Passover, remembering this story. He said “when you eat this Passover meal, do so in remembrance of me. Indeed in the traditional words for communion we say Christ is our Passover. 

What Paul will later say about Jesus is that in him, for us and for our salvation, the same God that trampled down the Egyptian oppressor and freed the slaves, in the fullness of time, was made man, with not just a name, but a body. In him we are told God came down not only to free the oppressed, but even to lay down his life for the forgiveness of his oppressors. 

Some time near when Mahalia and I graduated, we talked again. I told her how thankful I was that we had been in that class together. She agreed and said something like “Drew, there is nothing on God’s green earth that could have made you and me become friends, no earthly reason that our stories would have been brought together except for this God who has the power to free captives, forgive their captors, and raise the dead.”

It had been foretold in the Old Testament, and is now proclaimed in the New, that in Christ the same God who passed over Israel has for us passed under the waters of death to rescue even those drowning in sin and shame. This is what the gospel of John calls an act of grace upon grace. 

First Peter puts it this way: once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people. Once we had not received mercy, but now, by grace, we have. Once we had no story, at least not one that ends well. Now we do, by the hand of a God who can part waters, and make even of sin and death a way to life. 

So, oppressed and oppressor, sinners and the sinned against, Gentile and Jew, slave and free, woman and man, behold your God. Behold the one in whom we become one bread, one body. Take, and eat the feast of freedom. Take and drink the wine of forgiveness. Remember the good news, Christ is our Passover. In him we have a God who is mighty to save. 

Thanks be to God.

Here’s a Children’s Song called “The Exodus Song” I wrote with my kids.

One comment

  1. Good sermon Drew. Kudos to Mahalia for speaking up so eloquently, to your Professor for knowing she addressed your “question” far more thoroughly and descriptively than he could, to you for feeling abashed but listening and hearing truth. I’d guess you weren’t the only one in that classroom who gained a new perspective. Whether Mahalia is totally real or a parable you devised, a professor teaching that lesson would be wise to have one or two “plants” in the classroom .. a Mahalia and someone playing your part for Mahalia to admonish .. Don’t you try and take my God away from me .. and point out the relevance in today’s world.
    BTW – The Exodus Song is excellent’ Copywrite it.

    Liked by 1 person

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