Mon, 28 April 2008
Despite the popularity of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, modern Christians tend not to study the Book of Exodus. Its name taken from the Hebrew for "the way out," this second book of the Bible speaks of the quintessential human desire to depart from misery and begin rejoicing. The well-known tale of Moses' birth and the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt only account for a third of the book; the other two-thirds cover the wanderings in the desert.
Thematically, Mt. Sinai (sometimes referred to as Mt. Horeb) represents two things in Exodus: covenant and its specification, the Law. Prayerful study into the depths of these themes reveals that we will be bound to slavery unless we follow God's commands, internalizing them and making them our own. In addition, one sees that modern Christians can unite themselves spiritually with the Israelites in a pilgrimage out of secular bondage into a new life in God.
God makes a covenant with his people in a wonder that exceeds Fatima in its magnitude and in the number of witnesses. If the Ten Commandments typify the covenant and the law, the crossing of the Red Sea symbolizes God's moment of deliverance from the hands of their oppressors. As Paul later explains, this latter event is a prefigurement of baptism via the cloud [baptism in the Holy Spirit] and the sea [water baptism] (cf. 1 Cor 10:2).
The final sixteen chapters focus on tabernacle worship and contain many Catholic themes. This portable tent is the dwelling place of the Lord, situated in the midst of the people, a veritable Emmanuel principle. So specific are the provisions of worship that the people begin to acquire a great reverence for God. Fundamental to the proper worship of God, reverence is intensely personal; we, too, must "Take off [our] shoes" and present ourselves to the Lord in spirit and in truth (Ex 3:5).
A brief study of Egyptian history will place Exodus in its proper context. Not long before the birth of Moses, the native Egyptians finally expelled their long-hated foreign rulers, the Semitic Hyksos that are sometimes called "the Shepherd Kings." Xenophobia quickly set in and the Pharaohs began to attack and enslave foreign populations within Egypt. Forgetting the merits that the Semite Joseph had once gained in their courts, they rounded up all the remaining Semites (of Hebrews, the forerunners of the nation of Israel) and enslaved them, even exerting population control by slaughtering male newborns.
In order that Moses might not join the ranks of the slain newborns, his parents send him down the Nile in a papyrus-and-bitumen basket. Providentially, the Pharaoh's daughter finds him floating, embraces him into her family and gives him access to all the wisdom of Egypt. The up-and-coming prince's love for his people lead him to strike and kill a man in their defense. Immediately fleeing to the land of Midian, he spends 40 years in the wilderness growing in discipline by years of searching for God.
While tending his flock one day, Moses catches sight of a bush burning on Mt. Horeb that is not consumed by the flames. This event is a powerful Christophany wherein God manifests himself in another form. God speaks "So indeed the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them. Come now! I will send you to Pharaoh to lead my people, the Israelites out of Egypt" (Ex 3:9-10). Moses slowly accepts this commission and becomes the leader of Israel.