The Exodus story is so rich with symbolism for us that I am thinking about it again this week. As with the Hebrews God is calling us out of our stuck places so that we can follow him more freely and willingly. Pharoah and Egypt represent hardness of heart, imprisonment of body and mind, the conditions that beat down the human spirit and the barriers that keep us from answering God’s call. Who is your inner Pharoah? What is Egypt, the land you are trying to break free of, to you?
Who is the Hebrew—the one who is enslaved—in you? What in you desires to break free of the prison? And who is the Moses in you who sees the possibility of breaking free, who will lead you out of this prison?
The Exodus story appears in literature outside of the Bible, for example in Hannah Hurnard’s allegory, Hind’s Feet in High Places, where Much Afraid tells her relatives that she’s going to follow the Shepherd into the mountains. They go bananas with negative predictions of what will happen to her. When we try to break out of a proscribed way of thinking either in our families or social group or even nation, often there is this same kind of fallout. It is hard enough to discover what is true to ourselves and to God, but to break free of what binds us, to remain true to ourselves and to our call is a very difficult task—at first.
After we leave the old ways we do find ourselves in no-man’s land, a wilderness, for a seemingly long while. There we can regret, as the Hebrews did, leaving the familiar for something untried and wish to return to the horrible conditions. In Much Afraid’s case the Shepherd gave her traveling companions, Sorrow and Suffering, when she was hoping for Peace and Joy.
We need this time between our current way of being, that was probably imposed on us when we were children by our families or culture, and a new way of being true to ourselves, to what God calls us, to a new way of living. In the wilderness we are not even sure what that new way is or how to do it. New rules are handed down which apply to the new way of being. We have to adopt them.
It takes time to let go of the old, familiar ways and to find new more integral ways of being. It took the Hebrews forty years—read that as a long time–to make the transition between Egypt and the Promised Land. A whole generation(the ones who remembered the old so clearly and longingly) had to die off before they were ready to enter the new land. Interestingly, Moses was able to lead them out of Egypt, but he still represented the old ways. It was not for him to go into the Promised Land; he died on the near side of the Jordan River. At the border of the new territory, another, younger leader, Joshua, who is well versed in what is needed in the new land, took over from Moses
The new land, Canaan, has to be conquered, it is not just handed to us. There are old kings who occupy that land, too. We have to stake out our own claim, make it our own in order to occupy it and to thrive in the new territory. We have to work hard to make this land ours.
In Hurnard’s book Much Afraid, after having traveled with Sorrow and Suffering for so long, is at last in the high places. On her journey she has traveled down through deserts as often as she has climbed the mountains. When she reaches the High Places she gets a new name, Grace and Glory, and new companions, Joy and Peace.
There is nothing in the exodus story that tells us it will be easy to leave the old behind or to make the transition to our true selves or to cross over to the promised land. There we still have to work hard to establish ourselves, even with God leading us.
But, and it’s a big BUT! The journey to freedom to be who we were created to be and to follow our God wherever he leads us is worth it! It’s the land of milk and honey! The Promised Land! The true ground of our being! Having established ourselves on an authentic path, we are free to follow wherever it leads. That is the promise of the Exodus story.