Egypt & Exodus and Desert Wanderings tells of how the Israelites were slaves for generations after the time of the Patriarchs, and then liberated by God through Moses. They are then led into the desert where God teaches them to trust him, which takes them another forty years. A new generation has to learn to walk in faith.
Egypt and Exodus
The Egypt and Exodus period picks up the story of Scripture in the second book of the Bible, Exodus. In this period, God’s covenant family will continue to increase from a couple (Adam and Eve) to a family (Noah) to a tribe (Abraham) to a nation (Moses and Israel).
The Exodus narrative is one of the most dramatic stories of the Bible. While Hollywood movies focus on Israel’s freedom from Egypt and slavery, that part of the narrative, surprisingly, comprises less than half of the text of Exodus. The remaining narrative is concerned with what God is setting his people free for. It is precisely this question of “free for what?” that this post sets out to explore through this expedition into the heart of the Exodus story.
The Exodus story can be divided into four main acts. The first is the call of Moses. God miraculously watches over one baby boy, ensuring that he is drawn out of the waters Pharaoh used to kill the male children of Israel. Moses is raised and educated in Pharaoh’s court, but it is only when he flees Egypt that God reveals his true mission.
The second act recalls the signs and wonders God uses to deliver his people from slavery and reveals the deepest goal of the exodus: that Israel (and Egypt) will come to know and serve the Lord in worship.
The third act brings the climax of the story: the covenant between God and his people made at Mount Sinai. But Israel’s experience of God’s presence will not be limited to the mountaintop, as God gives directions so that he may dwell in her midst.
The Exodus story comes to a close in act four, but not exactly with the happy ending that might be expected. While Moses is on the mountain of God, the Israelites turn their hearts away from God, and their apostasy nearly costs Israel her existence. But here, once again, God reveals the depths of his merciful love.
The Desert Wanderings
The next chapter of Israel’s story is a short, one-generation period of about forty years recounted in the Book of Numbers. On the surface, Numbers is the dramatic story of runaway slaves crossing a hostile wilderness, but the deeper drama is found in Israel’s struggle to keep from reverting to their former Egyptian way of life and to accept their new identity as the Lord’s holy people.
Framing Israel’s wilderness wandering are two censuses, numbering those men able to go into battle in preparation for the conquest of the Promised Land (Nm 1, 26). These two numberings mark two distinct generations of God’s people. The first generation, who were freed from Egypt, are prepared for war and led across the desert, but at the crucial moment their fear causes them to despair of taking the land, which reignites a desire to return to Egypt and results in rebellion and failure to enter the Promised Land. The second generation endures a stumbling and yet persevering journey that, despite their sin, crosses the threshold of promise and enters the land that the first generation rejected.
Numbers’ narrative of these two generations unfolds in three acts. In the first act, Israel is encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. Delayed by the disastrous worship of the golden calf, Israel is put in a holding pattern so as to receive further instructions about liturgy and life as God’s people, instructions aimed at safeguarding Israel against pagan idolatry.
The second act recounts the journey from Sinai to the Promised Land, a journey that proves dangerous indeed, with hunger, thirst, hostile beasts, marauding tribes, and Israel’s own fear and pride.
The third act begins when a second generation of Israelites arrives at the edge of the Promised Land. On the plains of Moab, Moses gives additional instructions and the covenant constitution that will govern Israel in their new homeland and define their destiny for many generations to come.
In addition to being a great story, Numbers includes lessons for those who recall it. St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians to pay close attention to Israel’s wilderness story, for its lessons are perennial and echo in the life of anyone who is loosed from allegiance to this world so as to begin the exciting—yet at times disconcerting—journey of walking with God.
Let us Pray
Dear heavenly Father,
You freed your people from slavery in Egypt so they could worship you: Free me from sin so I can serve and worship. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
For Further Reading
The Bible in a Week continues tomorrow with Conquest & Judges and The Royal Kingdom.
This post is taken from Walking with God: A Journey through the Bible by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins.
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