Au In the beginning was the Word
I have seen my people’s oppression
opresion1. The faith’s experience implies a personal and collective liberation process. It is de experience of exodus. The Word of God is neither a drogue nor the people’s opium. On the contrary, it denounces the oppression and it opens a way of liberation into history. Exodus, which means exit, signals Israel’s birth as God´s people. The people experience what it is to go along with their God. It is God himself who opens the way. His footprints are abundant, although they can go by unnoticed: “By the sea your way was going, by the immense waters your path, and your footsteps were not discovered´2 (Sal 77).
2. It is an immense epic poem. When Moses is born, the Israelites are under a tough oppression: “Foremen were placed to crush them under hard works, and in this manner they built pharaoh’s barn cities” (Ex 1, 11). Besides, the pharaoh (perhaps Ramses II, 1290 – 1224 b. C) gave a brutal order against the people’s growth: “Any born boy will be thrown to the river” (1, 22). Left at the Nile’s border, Moses was saved by the pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him as a son, saying: “From the water I took him out” (2, 10). The image shows Ramses II taking a foreign enemy by the hair (Atlas of the Bible).
3. The circumstances took Moses to forget his roots and to become a man of the dominant pharaoh establishment. But Moses, “by now a grown man, wanted to meet his fellow Hebrews and he noticed how heavily they were burdened (Ex 2, 11). In a tomb excavated in the Kings´ Valley (Thebes) an old painting shows the construction works promoted by a high dignitary. The works are forced labour. “The stick is in my hand, says a foreman, as it is written down in the hieroglyphic writing, don’t be lazy!” One day Moses killed an Egyptian who was striking a Hebrew. Moses then flew: “he went to live in the land of Madian” (Ex 2, 15). Sitting down near a well, he met priest Jetrho daughters, who went to water their father’s sheep. Some shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses went to their help. Jetrho offered him to work like a shepherd and he gave him his daughter Zipporah in marriage. (Ex 2, 21).
4. Moses led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the Mountain of God. (Ex 3,1). Over there he had the faith experience that changes his life: “He saw a bush that was on fire without burning up” (Ex 3, 2). That served him like a signal, like its own interior fire, like God´s word that he was listening: “I have seen the humiliation of my people in Egypt and I herd their cry when they are cruelly treated by their taskmasters. I know their suffering. I have come down to free them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a beautiful spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt (3, 7-10). It is a prophetic experience: “Then came the prophet Elijah like a fire, his words a burning torch” (Eclo 48, 1). When Elijah peregrinates to God´s mountain (1 R 19, 8), he carries fire in his heart: “I am burning with jealous love for Yahweh, because the Israelites have forsaken your covenant” (19, 14). It is the Jeremiah experience: “His word in my heart is like a fire” (Jr 20, 9).
5. Before the mission he is tasked with, Moses defends himself: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the people of Israel out of Egypt?” The Lord answers: “I will be with you and this will be the sign that I have sent you. When you gave brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” And also: “You will say to the Israelites: YAHWEH, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me. That will be my name forever, and by this name they shall call upon me for all generations to come.” (Ex 3, 12 – 15). There have been many speculations about God´s name. The whole thing is simpler. What is really on stake is the ordinary covenant’s formula: the Lord is with his people.
menefta6. The liberation from Egypt and the Red sea crossing are events that do not appear in the Egyptian documents of that time. The first mention of Israel appears on a black basalt trail that commemorates pharaoh Menefta´s (1220 b. C.) war campaign. “All evils sack Caná”, “Israel is devastated, its seed does not exist anymore”. Nevertheless, the exodus is commemorated from generation to generation and it becomes Israel’s faith confession: “We were slaves and the Lord liberated us with strong hand” (Dt 6, 21). The Lord said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to move forward. And you raise your staff and stretch your hand over the sea and divide it so that the Israelites go dry foot through the sea” (14, 15 – 16). In the figure, Menefta´s trail (Bible Atlas)
7. Under Moses guidance they go through the exact place in the exact time. When Napoleon entered with his army into the Red Sea end, partially dry due to the ebb tide, the high tide caught them and the last sections of the army had to walk with the water up to their armpits. Tide height difference in the Suez Gulf (now there is the channel) reached to 2.10 meters. It is possible that the Israelites escaped through there in the most opportune moment. They have camped “between Migdol and the sea” (14, 2). Migdol means tower, fortification; it is the Egyptian watching fortification. A dense cloud made fleeing easier. A strong East wind, blowing during the night, dried the seabed, which came out in sight. The Egyptian chariots advanced with much difficulty: “At daybreak the sea returned to its place, so that the Egyptians, trying to flee, confronted the waters” (14, 20-27).
8. To reach the Land of Promise (Canaan, Palestine) the shortest way was the Philistine route, bordering the Mediterranean coast, but it also was the most watched way. The mines route, bordering the Red sea western coast, was the longest way, but the safest too. The Israelites take a roundabout: “God did not lead them through the land of the Philistines, although it was shorter, for God thought that the people might lose heart if they were faced with the prospect of a battle and would return to Egypt. God therefore led the people through a roundabout by the Red Sea dessert way” (13, 17-18). The pharaoh had said about the Israelites: “They have lost their way and the dessert closes their steps” (14, 3).
mapaexodo9. The exit from Egypt is the first step of a long way to Jordan river (Nm 33, 5 – 49; see Dt 1, 46). A caravan formed by many people with sheep and cows flocks cannot advance too fast (Ex 12, 38). They go through the dessert’s border, they camp where water is available, they come back to the nomad life. They take advantage of the zone resources: the quails and the hoarfrost (Ex 16, 13-15). When they do not find water they murmur against Moses: “Did you make us leave Egypt to have us to die out of thirst? That place was named Massah and Meribah because of the Israelites complain and because of having tempted God saying: Is Yahweh with us or not? (17, 1-7).
10. The third month after the exit from Egypt, they reach Sinai’s dessert and they camp in front of the mount (Ex 19, 2). There they celebrate the God´s covenant with his people: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Now, then, if you listen to me and keep my covenant, you shall be my very own possession among all nations.” The Israelites said: “We shall do all what the Lord has said” (19, 4-8). The people who God has liberated cannot be like the others. He, through Moses, receives the tables of the Law for his teaching.
11. The Decalogue is a fundamental cathequesis, guidance for life. It marks the limits out of which there is no covenant neither with God nor with men, it is the possibility to participate in God´s ways in his action in the world, it is the believer key of human adventure: “You shall not have other gods, you shall not take the name of God in vain, you shall keep saint the Sabbath, you shall honour your father and your mother, you shall not kill, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony against your neighbour, you shall not covet anything that is your neighbour’s” (20, 2 - 17). The glory of God´s presence is in the meeting tent. God is not there, but he comes to meet anyone who goes there to look for him: “Anyone willing to seek advice went to the meeting tent” (33, 7). In front of the golden calf, in front of Israel’s apostasy, Moses breaks the tables of the Law (32, 19), to remake them afterwards (34, 1)
12.  Jewish liturgy proclaims the present sense of the liberator exodus: “That who is oppressed, come to celebrate the Pasch”. In the Jewish frame of the Pasch, every one tells his story. And altogether they celebrate common Israel’s history. On a litany rhythm, whose chorus is “dayenou” (which means “it would have been enough”), they proclaim God´s liberation: “With how many favours he has fulfilled us! … I he had divided for us the sea without having us to cross it in a dry feet, that would had been enough… If he would had given us the Law without having us to go into Israel’s country, that would had been enough… If he would had us to go into Israel’s country without raising for us the Election House (the Temple), that would had been enough”.
13. John the Baptist is the claiming voice: “Into the dessert prepare Lord’s way” (Mt 3, 3). A new exodus is needed. What should be a land of freedom and of life is a land of oppression and of death. Even the temple corrupts its function and it is a part of an unjust and oppressor world. Jesus, with the Spirit’s strength, begins his mission in the Galilee of the gentiles, accomplishing the word of prophet Isaiah: “The people living in darkness have seen a big light” (Mt 4, 16). Where there is oppression, a liberation word exists, like that day, in Nazaret ´s synagogue (Lk 4, 18), like 500 years ago in Antonio de Montesinos´s sermon, like 50 years ago in de Council’s renovation.
14. With the Gospel the Decalogue is not only accomplished (5, 18), but also exceeded: You not only will have no other gods, but above all you will look for the kingdom of God and its justice (6,33), you not only will not take the name of God in vain, but not in any way (5,33-34), you not only will keep saint the Sabbath, but you will be fed by the bread of life (Jn 6,35-51), you not only will honour your father and your mother, but those who listen the word of God will be your family (Mk 3, 31-35), you not only will not kill, but you will love your enemy (Mt 5,43-46), you not only will not commit adultery, but you will be faithful with all your heart (Mt 5,27-30), you not only will not steal, but you will share your wealth (Lk 19,8-10), you not only will give false testimony against your neighbour, but you will exculpate and forgive (Mt 18, 21-22).
15. They were celebrating the feast of the tents. Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him and they go to a high mountain to pray. While he was praying, his face become brilliant like the sun and his clothing became dazzling white. The two great Israel figures, Moses and Elijah, appear in glory: “they talked with him about his departure that should take place in Jerusalem” (Lk 9, 31). “Jesus will be delivered into men’s hands” (Lk 9, 44). Peter offers to accomplish the feast of the tents. He was still talking, when a cloud covered them with its shadow. From the cloud a voice came out saying: “This is my loved Son, my Chosen one, listen to him.” The cloud, signal of God´s presence (Ex 24, 15), appears now over Jesus. The word announced by Moses is accomplished: “He will raise up a prophet like me, to whom you shall listen” (Dt 18, 15). It is Jesus´ baptism and mission confirmation (Mt 3, 17): “Listen to him”.
* For personal or group reflection:
- The living God opens a liberation way in history
- I took him out of the waters
- I have seen my people’s oppression
- That who is oppressed, come to celebrate the Passover
- The people liberated by God cannot live like the others
- Where there is oppression there is a word of liberation
- With the Gospel the Decalogue is not only accomplished, but also exceeded
- Listen to him
- Liberation processes personal, social, ecclesial
- A huge epic
- A way where there is not any; amidst oppression, amidst the sea, amidst the dessert, amidst the death.