OT Lectionary

For those who want a change from the Gospel

Easter 2 – Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21

‘Sing to the Lord,
    for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea.’ (Ex 15:21)

We’re probably used to this verse, to the point where we might even have lost the shock value of its complete political incorrectness. The complex story of the escape of the Israelites from Egypt and the destruction of Pharaoh’s army, told in chapter 14, goes beyond being a goodies vs baddies story. The language and the imagery used in the Hebrew text make it clear that this is not just an escape story: it’s actually about the struggle between creation and chaos. Back in Genesis 1 God begins his creation by confronting darkness and chaos, dividing the water (a potent symbol of chaos, as you will have seen if you have been an a dark beach during a night-time storm). The first man and woman are told to be fruitful, and are given meaningful work to do, working in harmony with what call ‘creation’. The writers of this story make it clear that what they want us to see in this story is a new creation, which is necessary because of the oppressive and chaotic reign of Pharaoh. The Israelites are indeed multiplying, but seeing that as a threat Pharaoh tries to limit their fruitfulness by killing their babies. Meaningful and enjoyable work is replaced by back-breaking slave labour. Pharaoh is asked nicely to stop it and let the people go, but in the end the only thing which will force his hand and break his hard-heated will is a series of events in which God uses the things he has originally created for destruction, and ultimately death. Finally the last barrier, the water of the Red Sea, is divided in two, with dry land appearing. But then it flows back, and the entire Egyptian army is wiped out.

There is an old rabbinic tradition which has angels around God’s throne wanting to sing songs of praise before their Lord, but being rebuked as God says “My handiwork [the Egyptians] are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before me?”[1] What about loving your enemies? But the fact is that sometimes the only way for some people to receive freedom from oppression is for some other people to die. Oppressive empires are not disembodied entities, they are people selling their souls to evil, and refusing to act justly or mercifully. If you were to ask the people of the Ukraine how they would feel about the possibility of Vladimir Putin’s demise, I suspect there might be a few tambourines coming out. I doubt whether holocaust survivors shed too many tears after Hitler’s death in 1945. So when God worked his salvation for his people, it had to happen through the demise of other people, just as later the return from exile came because of the death of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and the defeat of his oppressive nation by the Persians. Only as an evil empire is undone can a new age dawn. The Exodus really is a new creation, with nature itself working both destructively and creatively in the formation of a new people of God, the fulfilment of his promises to Abraham hundreds of years earlier.

Much Christian thought and indeed liturgy draws on the events of Ex 14 and 15 and sees in Jesus, and particularly in the Easter story, a new creation.

‘Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us: so let us celebrate the feast’,

begin the Easter Anthems. The baptism liturgy contains links between the water of the Red Sea and that in the font or baptistry, and some more of Paul’s writings remind us that like the Israelites we have been saved through water. But, as we would expect, Jesus’ working of the new creation has some important differences. It is not some cruel dictator who has to die in order that people can be free and recreated. It is Jesus himself, the sinless Son of God, and then, secondarily, it is us ourselves who have to die to sin so that we can be born anew to God. The Easter Anthems continue:

‘See yourselves therefore as dead to sin:  and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord.’

Our old sinful nature, the bit of us which rejects God and his rights over us as our Creator, has to be drowned so that we can rise to new life. Shed no tears for the old you: the new creation is here, won by Jesus on the cross. And pray for the eventual destruction of all that is evil and all those who unrepentantly pursue it.

[1] b. Sanhedrin 39b

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