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Exodus and freedom

A tennis player at the French Open had the words, “Mother,” “Champion,” “Queen,” and “Goddess” written on her attire. She was certainly a mother and a champion but the last two probably belong in the category of if you have to tell people you are, then you probably aren’t. The “Queen” and “Goddess” didn’t make it to the second week on the tournament. She was beaten by a player who is ranked number 35 in the world.

I suppose it’s true that most of us to some degree are not about freedom as much as we are about what we perceive to be freedom. Maybe it’s the freedom to proclaim and pretend you are something you aren’t. Or perhaps it’s the freedom to frame an issue the way we want to (i.e., people who advocate abortion calling themselves “pro-life”). And more and more, it seems to be the freedom to act self-righteous, insensitive and crude toward anyone who believes something different. I had a friend who is Romanian and lived under Soviet rule tell me that the problem in America is “we have too much freedom.” I think he is on to something because he recognized that some of our “freedoms” aren’t very liberating.

It’s easy to look at the book of Exodus and celebrate the freedom God gives Israel from the bondage of Pharaoh. Indeed, this liberation is often used to speak of our deliverance through Christ (1 Corinthians 10:1-4; 1 Peter 1:18ff and lots of other texts). Too many times though, that’s the only liberation we see because that’s what we perceive as freedom.

But Exodus doesn’t stop here. There liberation continues as Israel is given the Ten Commandments and the other laws that are part of the covenant God makes with them. That’s a little bit of a rub for many of us because the idea of being liberated through law is hard to get our head around. We tend to think that not having any law is freedom. We’re not alone in this, after all, Adam and Eve only had one command and they were sure freedom wasn’t found in following it! And with Moses still up on the mountain getting the law from God the Israelites are sure the third commandment is too restrictive to be thought of as liberating. And for all of our sophistication and enlightenment, our freedoms really don’t fare much better, do they? The suicide rate has increased almost 30 percent since 1999. The rate for children between 10 and 17 has increased 70 percent in the last decade. The average lifespan for Americans has gone down the last three years primarily due to suicide and drug overdose. That doesn’t sound much like freedom, does it? Our sexual freedom has brought us to the place that the majority of children born to women under thirty as born into single parent families to cite just one consequence. The psalmist said, “I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts” (Psalm 119:45). God’s law brings more than what we perceive to be freedom, it gives us the real thing.

Finally, Exodus ends with the liberation that comes from worship. There is absolutely nothing more liberating that losing ourselves in the glory of God. Let’s face it, when we get brutally honest our problem is us—and specifically the fact that we have the tendency to put ourselves at the center rather than God. Worship changes all of that (except when we want to “ooh” and “ahh” at our worship rather than our God). From the beginning of the book, worshiping Yahweh is central. God tells Moses at the burning bush, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain” (3:12). Over and over, Pharaoh is told by Moses to let Israel go so they might worship Yahweh (4:23, 7:16, 8:1,20, 9:1, 10:3,7-8,11,24,26, 12:31). Worship, whether public or private, is learning to live on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.

And we will never experience greater freedom.

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