Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.”Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.”
The Exodus story is a classic narrative, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. There is a problem, a struggle, and a resolution; or, there is Egypt, the Wilderness, and the Promised Land. The Apostle Paul says that we are to read the Exodus story as a “type” of our own spiritual journey. He says that the things which “happened to them serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us” (I Corinthians 10:11). In these daily devotionals we are immersing ourselves into the Exodus story so that we might better live into God’s story of redemption and grace.
It is significant for our understanding of the Exodus to know that in the Biblical text the word for “Egypt” is Mitzraim, which means “double straits”. Thus, Egypt is a place of straitjacket existence, hemmed in by difficulty and trouble. Today’s text is only one of several that speak of life in Egypt as oppressive, ruthless, and harsh. Other texts portray Egypt as a “house of slavery” (Exodus 13:3, 14; 20:3). To live in Egypt is also to be without any future, as the Egyptians are beginning to practice male infanticide on the Israelites. We could say that Egypt is the human condition of being in “double straits”: bondage without any hope of a future.
But there is a way out! The Exodus! The word Exodus (Greek: exodus), means, literally, “a departure”, or, “a way out”. Jesus said: “I am the way (odos), the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus’ first disciples called themselves followers of “the Way” (Acts 22:4). In Jesus, our Passover Lamb, God provides “a way out” of the hopeless, troubled straits of Egypt. Jesus will take us to the Promised Land!
- Take some time to prayerfully reflect on the Apostle Paul’s description of Christ taking us from bondage to new life:
You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:1-6)
- Reflect on the words of the late Russian Orthodox churchman Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh:
Like the Jews in Egypt we have spent our lives as slaves; we are not yet in our souls, in our wills, in our selves, real free men… So the first situation with which Exodus begins, and we begin, is the discovery of slavery and that it cannot be resolved by rebellion or flight” (Living Prayer).