Exodus 6:6 New American Bible (Revised Edition)
6 Therefore, say to the Israelites: I am the Lord. I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and will deliver you from their slavery. I will redeem you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
Passover and the Holy Triduum are upon us. For me, this is a great season to understand the roots of Christianity in Judaism. Crucial to the Seder Meal of Pesach (Passover), which recalls the rescue of the Israelites from their Pharaonic oppressor is the reading of the Haggadah. This text is led by the oldest person at the table, but all are involved, especially the young because the reading of the Haggadah fulfills a mitzvah (good work) that the elderly are supposed to pass on to the young ones the story of God’s deliverance of his people.
Pertinent to the context is what God tells Moses to relay the Israelites in captivity, which is found in Exodus 6:6-7. Their response, however, is a deaf ear. They are mired in too many problems to take the message seriously. God then enjoins Moses to tell Pharaoh to let the people go free. Moses’ response is perfect: If the people do not listen to me, Pharoah will certainly not listen to me! And Moses is correct, so proof of God’s ultimate power will be demonstrated in the ten plagues to follow and the eventual path (exodus) to freedom.
I have been reflecting on the three promises God relays through Moses to his feeling-disinherited people. These promises are in line 6 of chapter 6 of the Book of Exodus. These promises are life-giving to Jew and Christian alike. Catholics, and I suppose other mainstream Christians, recount this pattern of promise in the seven readings from the Old Testament, a sort of elongated Haggadah or telling of the story of redemption.
Therefore, say to the Israelites (Exodus 6:6):
- I am the Lord. I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians
- and will deliver you from their slavery.
- I will redeem you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.
- In this case, we focus on those burdens which are not self-imposed, but only by other people. These burdens constitute a denial of human dignity which is divinely safeguarded by a promise. What are these burdens? Unjust imprisonment; human trafficking; child labor; unjust wages; blackmail, etc. Even while in these states, God knows human dignity, for having created us from nothing, God sees himself in us, however indistinct we may be. His oversight guarantees our freedom, despite contradictory realities.
- Important in this promise is the implied future. God will deliver. Here, we recognize the sense of movement both in celestial and terrestrial terms. Oddly though, divine stability or perfect peace is juxtaposed against earthly instability, if not constant chaos. Celestial movement therefore is redundant in the heavens and only viable or life-giving when active in creation. To be delivered then is a constancy, an opportunity to be free in mind and in body. True deliverance then is implied in a time and a place to come and thereafter forever.
- Redemption is worked in physicality. Just as the second promise indicates that heaven does not need movement because it exists on its own divine terms, redemption is constituted in the physical world by physicality, that is in our world that is constantly in need of the vigor of redemption. This is God’s physical movement in the world by the use of physical things such as a righteous one, Abraham, for example or Elijah, a person who will announce the fulfillment of redemption. Humans struggle to comprehend the spiritual/physical duality of redemption. We tend to accept that which we can observe and overlook the animating divine force at work and visible in the sensate world. God must know this human fragility and his promise to redeem therefore in a way that human senses and human intelligence can both ascertain and comprehend.
Happy Passover and in the words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us one and all!”