Judaism chapter V : Exodus.
Like Abraham, the Bible’s first truly complex and flawed hero, Moses was a herder and thinker. He thought a lot about his people who were in bondage. The more he thought, the more he became convinced that it was wrong that he be free while his people were enslaved.
He left his wife and children - temporarily - and headed to Egypt, to whatever is the opposite of a triumphant return. His brother Aaron accompanied him.
Somehow, they got an audience with the King (a.k.a. Pharaoh) and demanded the Hebrews be released from slavery.
“Let my people go!”
This demand was not received with joy or acquiescence, despite Moses assuring the Pharaoh that the true Lord God of the Hebrews was backing them.
Pharaoh took great delight in listing off the Egyptian gods and reminding Moses of how puny his one god was in comparison to their many.
The situation escalated, and there were various demonstrations of power, some involving blood and rivers, and others involving frogs and flies and hail and darkness -
These were known as the Plagues.
There were nine of them, and they were all either gross, or annoying, or terrifying, or sad, or all of these things, but then there was one more.
And it was a tragic one. Remember the historical context of Moses’s birth?
The Hebrew boys being killed? The last plague is what we refer to as ‘coming full circle.’
Or I like to call it ‘bookending.’ It’s one of my favorite narrative devices ever,
and pretty much all the best stories involve some use of it.
And still Pharaoh refused to budge.
So the final Plague came down to this: the death of the firstborn.
Tragic. Absolutely tragic.
But finally, the Pharaoh bent.
The Hebrews, prepared to exodus, left.
Left for the Promised Land. Canaan.
Canaan, according to my buddy at Wikipedia, is “present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel.”
But the Egyptian drama wasn’t over. Sometimes powerful leaders change their minds, and sometimes this is a good thing. Other times, it is not a good thing. Pharaoh changed his mind about letting them go, and sent his army to bring their freed slaves back.
And thus ensued great terror as the Hebrews’ emotions continued to see-saw. Initial exultation at escaping from bondage turned to terror as they found themselves trapped between the the approaching army and the Red Sea. In the book of Exodus, which coincidentally is about their exodus, we find one of the great cinematic descriptions of deus ex machina in history
Sidenote: deus ex machina is a storytelling device invented by the Greeks and later stolen by everyone else (this happened a lot), that means literally “god from a machine.” But the interesting part is its figurative meaning, which is basically the idea that if a character in a story is trapped and something terrible is about to happen, then the author can quickly write a solution to rescue them. “God pulling the strings.”
The story in Exodus of the Hebrews escaping from the Egyptian army is one of the greatest examples of deus ex machina. In this case, deus ex machina is literal and figurative. They are literally rescued by God parting the waters, letting them through, and then drowning the Egyptian army as they attempted to follow. Awesome story. I don’t want to express happiness at others’ misfortunate - the Germans would call this schadenfreude - but it’s hard to not be clapping in giddiness at the karmic coolness of the Egyptians slave masters coming what they had coming to them.
But those foot soldiers had wives and children too. Yeah. Sad. There’s a lot of stories in the Old Testament that sound really happy, and then you think from the perspective of some of the more tragic figures, and it gets a little sad.
So the Hebrews are out of Egypt, and free from the Egyptians. Home free?
Nope. Again, Exodus (the 2nd book of the Torah) describes the grumbling people wandering through the desert for forty years, and frequently reminiscing about the good old days of slavery. A key moment is at Mt. Sinai, where Moses hikes up for 40 days and comes down with The Ten Commandments of Jehovah, which he brings back to the people, who are waxing nostalgic for the old Egyptian idols.
Moses delivers these to the people, and here’s the thing: most of them weren’t necessarily new. Other civilizations had a lot of the same ideas about. Don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t like, stuff like that. But there were two commandments that were different than anything they had known before:
As slaves, the Hebrews had worked seven days a week, every day of the year. And now here was a commandment, the Fourth one, telling them to rest every seventh day. This was a new concept. Don’t work. Rest on this day. Once a week.
The First Commandment said: you shouldn’t have any other gods before me. I added the italics and underlining. Why is this so different? It’s not saying specifically here that Jehovah is the only god. It’s saying that the children of Israel should swear allegiance to no god but Jehovah. It was an agreement. A serious agreement called a covenant between Jehovah and the Israelites. They would be His chosen people, and He would be their only God.
So they got some of this stuff worked out and kept heading north toward Jordan, and beyond that, Canaan. A.k.a. The Promised Land.
Flawed hero, Plagues, Promised Land, Canaan, Red Sea, deus ex machina, the number 40, Mt. Sinai, Ten Commandments, covenant
This is an introduction to a ten-unit survey of Judaism - its history, peoples, beliefs and impact on the world today.
Education for most ages and for all curious people.
Written by Joseph Ivan Long with curiosity, humbleness, and a big grin.