After the plagues, Pharaoh decides to let Moses take the Israelites out into the wilderness to make sacrifices to God. I found it interesting that Moses was still pretending they planned to return – he at no point told Pharaoh they were leaving for good. Does this mean dishonesty is okay in some situations? Not sure, certainly Moses gave canny answers to people, he was a good politician.
Pretty soon after leaving Egypt, God tells the people they need to celebrate the Passover every year – a festival with special food and rituals, to remind them that God saved them. Sometimes I think Christians today have forgotten the importance of rituals – especially in non-conformist denominations. Other religions are better at this. We are physical beings, we need to do physical things to help us remember. I guess that’s why times like Christmas and Easter are so important, and the sacraments (communion, baptism). I think ‘occasions’ are important. We try to celebrate them in our family, to recognise things like exams, birthdays, graduations, (my book launch!) with family meals. Also important to make spiritual ‘occasions’ I think.
Then we get to the part about the people following a pillar of cloud and fire, the parting of the Red Sea and the drowning of the Egyptians. Now, several years ago, I watched a documentary on BBC, which was examining the physical evidence of the events of Exodus. It was very interesting, but I can’t remember most of it now. One thing they said was they thought the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds, not the Red Sea (which is possible, if you look at the Hebrew words). They made quite a strong case for the miracles being a result of volcanic activity in the area. If you read the descriptions while thinking about volcanoes, this does seem likely. Movement of the earth’s plates could cause a tidal wave, which would (I understand – I’m not a geographer) first draw the water back, so the Israelites could cross the sea, and then cause a tidal wave which fits with the Egyptians seeing the wall of water that’s described, and being swamped. The Exodus account implies all this happened at night, which would be completely terrifying.
The pillar of cloud/fire also fits with the stuff that’s expelled from a volcano, and certainly the later descriptions of Moses up the mountain are incredibly similar to the terrifying experience of being on an erupting volcano.
The journalists tried to plot the route of the Israelites, assuming they had crossed the Sea of Reeds, and they decided the mountain that most people today think was Sinai was wrong, and it was one in Saudi Arabia – for which they couldn’t get permission to test for historical eruptions. So, what do you think? As I said in a previous blog, I believe God made the world with all its natural phenomena, so it seems logical to me that he would use those. It doesn’t, for me, make it any less miraculous. In fact, if ancient people are describing so accurately what they encounter when a volcano erupts, surely we should also give credence when they describe hearing God speak directly to them.
When God sends the manna for the people to eat, we get another reminder of the law to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. Interesting to note that the Sabbath was “given to” them – it was a gift. Although Christians keep Sunday rather then Saturday, it seems to be important that for one day we rest, think about God. I have read that in the early days of communism in the old Soviet Union, they tried to introduce longer weeks, but they found that productivity actually decreased. Not sure if that’s true, but there does seem to be some evidence that we are physically designed to need to rest every 7 days. So you might as well enjoy it!
There was lots of moaning from the Israelites. Just 3 days after they watched the Egyptians destroyed, they started to complain. Every time things got a bit tough, they complained. They also tended to blame Moses, even though they surely recognised that he was simply relaying messages from God. Always easy to blame the leader when things go wrong….
One of my favourite parts is when Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law arrives. Moses welcomes him and tells him what’s been happening. Jethro is not a Jew, he doesn’t even believe in the same God (he was a priest of another religion.) Yet Moses doesn’t tell him he’s wrong, he doesn’t even try to persuade him, he simply tells what God has done for him. He then listens. He takes advice from the priest of another religion. This is so rare today, we are so determined to convince people that our way is best, everything else is wrong, that we don’t even listen to good advice when we hear it. There is a time to learn from other people, even if they believe different things to us. It goes well with the verse in Matthew which says, “…be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves..” Sometimes Christians today forget the shrewd bit.
On the subject of permissible dishonesty, I once asked the same question of a pastor after a sermon on the two Hebrew midwives in Exodus 1, who also lied to Pharaoh and were rewarded by God. He went all round the houses in his answer but it boiled down to “Yes, sometimes its ok to lie.” Not sure how this squares with the ninth commandment!
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