The Exodus Revisited
Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” Exodus 3:7-8
This is the story of the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. It is revisited in seemingly every telling of their history. Pharaoh made them slaves because he feared their growing numbers. Moses was sent to deliver them out of Egypt, but Pharaoh was uncooperative. God sent a series of plagues upon the people of Egypt until Pharaoh relented, agreeing to let the people go in return for ending the plagues. As they were making their way out of Egypt, however, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his army after them. Trapped between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army, God parted the waters of the sea to allow the Israelites safe passage through. Pharaoh’s army followed and drowned when God released the waters back into the sea after the people arrived safely on the other shore. Once out of the grasp of Pharaoh, the people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, waiting for their promised entry into the land known today as Israel.
We can read stories in the Bible literally – in this case as a historical reading – or we can seek for an allegorical understanding. I will follow the latter course for this reflection because I believe the story has much to tell us about ourselves, regardless of its historical accuracy. More specifically, I believe the story of the exodus is our story.
Those familiar with the story’s details will recall that the Israelites’ joy of being freed from their oppression in Egypt was short-lived. Life in the wilderness was hard. They expected to be released into the Promised Land quickly, but it took 40 years. In Biblical terminology, that is one generation, meaning the majority of those finally entering the Promised Land had little or no recollection of their years in slavery. More than once, the people felt that returning to bondage in Egypt would be better than wandering aimlessly in the wilderness, waiting on the timing of a God they feared had abandoned them.
There is a story written by St. John of the Cross, a 16th Century Spanish mystic, titled The Dark Night of the Soul. Its simplified premise is that those sincerely seeking union with God will come to a time when they can glimpse what an awakened life would be like, but they are not there, yet. In fact, they are trapped between their old life, to which they cannot return, and the new life they have yet to attain. They find themselves in a no-man’s land that John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul. There is no way out of the dark night except by going through it, trusting in God’s timing and provision.
We all go through various dark nights in our lives, from getting through a difficult week of final exams to finishing an uncomfortable course of treatment for a medical condition. We can see the goal, but we are not there, yet. Dark nights may last for days, weeks, or years. For the Israelites, it lasted a generation.
Many of us, as we pass from the first to the second half of our lives, notice that much of what we worked so hard to attain in our earlier life loses its luster. The image of ourselves that we struggled to build now seems shallow, transitory, and insufficient. The stuff we so desired to accumulate becomes a burden. As we transition into our mature years, many of us long to be unbound from the binds we once so ardently sought. We can visualize a “Promised Land” out there, but we are not there, yet. Like the Israelites wandering through the wilderness, we grow restless and impatient with the current state of our lives, but we feel powerless to change it.
Who and what will we be when most of what we have treasured is left behind? As we age, we seek eternal treasures and shun the non-essentials of earth. Relationships grow in importance. The transition is difficult and can leave us adrift in a wilderness of our own creation. The story of the exodus assures us there is a Promised Land out there, and we will reach it one day – not on our timeline, however, but on God’s.
This is the 17th in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.
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