January 19 2011: We concluded our flying trip through Genesis and Exodus with a seder-style observance. We learned that the seder represents a feast of freedom in which the Jewish people celebrate leaving the bondage of Egypt, and look towards the time when no people anywhere are enslaved. This helped us pull together our studies in Genesis and Exodus.
Last week we reviewed the patriarchal history of chapters 12-50 of Genesis. We noted the banishment of Abraham’s son Ishmael and discussed the traditional view that this was the origin of the Muslim-Arab peoples. Genesis ends with the 12 sons of Jacob settling in Egypt, under the protection of their once banished brother Joseph. Joseph’s favor with the king assured a secure place for the wandering Hebrew people–who multiplied and prospered in Egypt.
In Exodus we turn the page on that history and fast forward 400 years. There has been a change in power and the new dynasty knows nothing of Joseph, and feels threatened by the burgeoning Hebrew population…too prosperous, too numerous. Their presence on the Egyptian frontier was considered a security risk. So then the Hebrew people are essentially enslaved and become a cog in the wheel of the ambitious city and monument building in which the Seti I Dynasty (1308-1290 BC) engaged. Forced labor gangs were now the order of the day.
We reviewed the early story of Moses, his rescue and life in the pharoah’s palace, and as a young adult his killing of a cruel Egyptian overseer. He flees to Midian and meets his wife Zipporah. He encounters God at the Burning Bush in chapter 3 and this sets off a round of stories where Moses is sent with messages for pharoah and reports back to God with unsatisfactory results. Eventually the plagues are visited upon the Egyptian people, and the rest as we say, is history. At that point, in chapter 12 we pick up the story where the Hebrew people are ready to flee when the tenth plague…the killing of the firstborn…has been been commanded by God.
We adapted a seder service to help us understand the power of this story for the Jewish people and why it is crucial to remember, re-create, and re-live the event year after year in their Passover observance. We lit candles and went through the seder service elements. Several of us noted how disturbing is the picture of God ordering the slaughter of the innocents. We have no answer for this, although it is certainly a compelling proof of the favor the Hebrew people found with God. It remains one of those unanswerable questions in one of our founding faith stories. At our next class we move into the New Testament so that our confirmands can have as much exposure to scripture as possible before we conclude in May. It is to be hoped that our studies together will be for them a beginning of a lifetime exploration of God’s holy word.