Passover / Pesach 5758
For the week of April 11, 1998
15 Nisan 5758

Freedom from Bondage - Part 1

Therefore, say to the Israelites: "I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment"
(Exodus 6:6)

The story of Passover is about the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. In order to grasp the greatness of Israel's deliverance, we first need to understand their bondage.

Egypt had originally been the land of Israel's salvation. About 400 years earlier, there was an intense famine throughout that whole region. Through very complicated circumstances God preserved Jacob and his clan. Jacob's son Joseph had become second to Pharaoh and was able to bring his whole family to settle there.

We do not know how long the good times for the Israelites lasted, but eventually things turned sour. A Pharaoh came to power who had no regard for Joseph's descendants. By that time the people of Israel had become very numerous and Pharaoh was concerned that should conflict arise, Israel would side with Egypt's enemies. So he began to oppress them.

First he imposed upon them forced labour. We read,

They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields; in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly (Exodus/Shemot 1:14).

The Israelites were used ruthlessly. There lives were under the oppressive control of the Egyptians and there was nothing they could do to find relief from their sufferings.

Yet this was not sufficient for Pharaoh. He eventually decreed that all Hebrew male babies should be thrown into the Nile river. Notice how instead of just killing the Israelites off, he was out to slowly destroy them, all the while getting out of them as much production as possible.

It was into this situation that God sent Moses. It was from this horrible existence that God delivered Israel.

There is much that is disturbing about this story. We can ask why did not God do something about it earlier? Why did this have to last so long? Why did it have to happen in the first place?

These are intriguing and disturbing questions. And yet more important than our philosophical analysis of the situation is the realization that this kind of bondage is illustrative of much of human existence.

Human bondage comes in many forms. Sometimes it is just like that of the Israelites - political and ethnic oppression. But to truly understand this story each one of us must recognize that we all experience bondage.

If we could realize what we were created to be and the kind of freedom that God had in mind for us - and indeed still does! - we would be overwhelmed by our oppression just like the Israelites long ago.

We were designed to live on this earth as God's representatives. Created in the image of God we were to live without shame, without guilt, unrestricted in our relationships with each other, with nature, and with God. Our work would be a joy and child bearing would be without pain. There would be no disease and no death.

But instead the human condition is rampant with disease and destruction, disappointment and despair. Injustice, inequality, and poverty abound. No matter how hard we try, we continually find that we are controlled by our most base desires. Addictions deceive us promising us pleasure, but dragging us further and further under their control.

We fight this predicament in many ways. Others just try to cope, thinking that if they could only get through today then maybe they will make it through tomorrow also.

But this is not what we are here for. This is not God's intention for us. The story of Passover testifies to that.

There is freedom from our bondage.

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