Exodus, ‘The great liberation’,
Commentaries on verses from the Book of Exodus
Year 1, Week 15, Monday Glenroy 1977
But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labour. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them. Exodus 1:12-14
The success of the Hebrews leads to their misfortune. The Egyptians are jealous. They first try to weary the Jews with hard labour and, when this makes them even more fruitful, to liquidate them.
This is an excellent image of our human condition. For we are born into sin not of our doing. We are oppressed and weakened by virtue of some mysterious power that exceeds our understanding. How much of life is labour, slavery to the elements, slavery to ignorance! Human life is prevented from flowering: The capacities of the human heart are wasted! And to all this there is bad-conscience, for in our plight we make wrong choices. to ills physical and mental we add ills spiritual.
Even if we make some progress, the oppression becomes worse. Good seems to breed its opposite. Yet evil in turn sharpens good and heightens it. So that there is a constant dialectic of good and evil. How shall we find peace, freedom, fullness?
“But the more they were crushed the more they increased and men came to dread the sons of Israel.” Exodus 1:12
The Egyptians had hoped to destroy the Israelites by imposing heavy burdens. But the Israelites thrived under this hardship.
In these few words, the Sacred Text has shown one of the essential laws of nature and grace. Just as the body will grow in strength by the burdens put upon it, so too the mind and the will are developed by what seems to defy them. Indeed, the human spirit is brought to its flowering by the experience of evil.
The Israelites increase in numbers because they are children of the promise. They are in good health with a vigour that is from above. A healthy body thrives on hard work. The tribes, healthy with grace, cannot but increase when tested.
Those who wish to increase in grace must face evil, just as those who wish to develop a faculty must sharpen it by its contrary. While evil cannot be justified it can be put to good purpose. Indeed, the Son of God, wishing to achieve the sanctification of the human race had to experience evil even at the centre of his spirit. The Son descended to earth, voluntarily, to take on the burden of the cross.
The vigorous person seeks challenges; the Israelites are given burdens; the Man of Strength chooses them.
Year 1, Week 15, Tuesday Glenroy 1977
When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh. Exodus 2:15
Moses flees. Though the circumstances of his birth are remarkable and his upbringing was excellent, yet he flees. He has sympathy for his countrymen and a sense of justice, but he has no strength. When danger is upon him he flees, abandons his people and makes a new life for himself in Midian.
The workings of grace are never far. The image of God is not destroyed in our hearts, but it is weak and its promptings are a velleity.
Like Moses we see injustice and are moved with pity, but we are ineffective. We flee and eke out an existence elsewhere, away from the problem, away from our fellows, alone, in the desert of existence.
We are powerless to help and our lives, so full of promise, pursue their empty course.
Who shall free us?
At this point, in this pain and poverty of soul, the Word of God bursts in.
Year 1, Week 15, Wednesday Glenroy 1977
He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. … So, come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” Exodus 3:6, 10-12
God had appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God speaks to Moses from the heart of the burning bush, at which he is struck with fear, with awe and trembling. He cannot bear the sight; he hides from God, he hides God, with a veil.
God appears in the present day but always in continuity with the past. his appearing to us is new but his appearing to mankind is constant. What I knew from hearsay I know
now from experience. They knew God, I know what they knew, and I become equal in dignity to them. I am honoured.
Yet I fear. The experience of God is wonderful and frightening. His presence overwhelms my self-awareness, and I am reduced to an object. In self-protection I blot
out my mind, and withdraw. Yet, weakened, reduced, brought to naught in my spirit, I am touched to the depths of my spirit.
If the first effect of the presence of God is to destroy, the second is to empower, to raise. I receive a task, a commission.
For Moses it was to face Pharaoh. He to whom God has appeared can easily face Pharaoh. He who fled in fear of Pharaoh and was pursued by God, now returns to organize the flight of the people.
Moses pleads his weakness, but God declares the ultimate source of his strength: – not his intelligence or standing, but ‘I shall be with you’.
And for each of us, the task is alike: to free the people. Those whom God touches are free and can continue to live only by freeing others. We are weak, but no matter, God is strong and the power of God is with us.
Year 1, Week 15, Thursday Glenroy 1975
But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3.13-14.
Moses was concerned about the fate of his people even before God appeared to him. He had killed an Egyptian so concerned was he about his countrymen. But he was unable to act in any effective way by this method. He had to flee Egypt and escape into the wastes of Midian.
Only after God had revealed himself in the burning bush as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as ‘I am who I am’ – only then could Moses find in himself the strength and the freedom to embark on his mission.
We go out into our own desert of Midian and there we surrender to God and all that he is. And then we become free. And, made free, we free. When God has made us free, we make others free.
“God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14
Moses has asked for the name of God. Is he ‘God’, ‘Lord’, ‘Father’, ‘El Shaddai’, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’, ‘Adonai’? In whose name, by whose authority will Moses speak to the people.
The answer comes back resoundingly: the one who speaks to Moses cannot be limited by any name, any concept, any category. He is beyond all names, the Reality greater than all reality, the most personal of all persons. If a title must be given, let it be ‘I am’. And the reply comes to Moses: ‘I am ‘I am’”; “Sum ‘Qui sum’”.
The creator gods of the ancient world, with all their ways and means of creating, give way to the Creator God of the Jews who simply says “Let it be”. So too the different appellations and descriptions of the gods, their animal forms and their theophanies pale before the One who simply says ‘I am’.
All others beside him are unreal. All with him become real.
Here we pierce through to the deepest insights. As Moses was the greatest prophet, the greatest leader, the greatest law-giver of the Old Testament, so too the name he hears from the One is the greatest. And as Jesus supersedes Moses in every respect, so too the names he hears from God are greater. If God is ‘I am’, so too Jesus is ‘I am’ because he has heard most perfectly that divine title ‘I am’. And we who hear the word of Jesus, also say ‘I am’, ‘We are’. And our statement resounds throughout the universe: ‘Come
to us, because we are; come to us and you will be’. ‘We are’ and therefore ‘You are’. The final word that comes into the world is ‘be’; because the first word that ever was is ‘I am’.
‘I am’. ‘Be!’
“‘I am’ has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14
God cannot be named because he exceeds every title and description. Yet, of all the titles none exceeds the sentence-name ‘I am’. Nothing better describes his essence, unless it be the acclamation ‘Father’!
In the garden Jesus uses this name of himself. When he declares ‘I am’, the soldiers fall to the ground, unable to look of God. Jesus can say ‘I am’ because he is of one nature with the Father.
We can make the next step. For we are, by baptism, united with Jesus. What he is, by possessing the divine nature, that we become, by sharing Jesus’ nature.
Yet we become eternal. We too become “I am’. We are called by God’s name for God has called us to himself. Therefore ‘We are’. To the same extent, though by a different title, ‘We are’. We are now eternal and the events of life are a passing parade. Death cannot touch us for we are. Permanent, solid, able to endure all things, constant, faithful, committed, we are and we make to be. Our being is not for ourselves only but is for the becoming of those who are destined to be. We are must fully when we make others to be. Then we deserve that other title – but which we can never fully share – of ‘Father’.
Year 1, Week 15, Friday Glenroy 1975
“The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”Exodus 12:13
We stand amazed when someone sacrifices themselves in love for us. It seems beyond human comprehension that someone should die for us. We are struck in wonder and at once we know that God is present. For such love is possible only when possessed of the divine. Human love is capable of so much generosity because God is there, and we know God in it as the One who loves.
That is why children are always so struck by a mother’s love. They know their mother’s and, however obscurely, know God in it. They retain the fondest memory of their mothers as that first time when human love revealed the face of God.
Today’s reading recounts the saving of the People by blood. The story, with all its imperfections, finds its fulfilment in the self-sacrifice of Christ and finds its re-enactment in the acts of self-sacrifice of men and women throughout the ages.
Words are weak. Actions speak louder, so that all who, despite the obscurity of their lives, sacrifice themselves proclaim God more powerfully than the most gifted preacher. The man of character, the woman of devotion, the old person with wisdom and the young with generosity of heart – these, without speaking, show God to the world and save the world. The revelation of God shields from danger and opens the door onto eternal life.
Therefore, let us rejoice and proclaim high festival whenever we see the self-sacrifice and generosity of others. Let us rejoice and be glad, eternally.
“They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. … The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” Exodus 12:7, 13.
The Lord, in all his mystery and namelessness, has appeared to Moses. The People, therefore, must slaughter the spotless lamb, putting its blood on the door-posts of their homes, cooking its flesh, eating every part of it, leaving nothing unconsumed.
This is because the appearance of the Nameless reduces us to nothing. When the Nameless appears, we lose our name. When the Mighty appears, we lose our strength. When the Glory comes, we are slaughtered: every part of us is taken, consumed in the fire of his power, eaten up.
What joy, to be undone, reduced, possessed, taken over by the One who exceeds all! What love is lavished, that He should be concerned about us! What glory is given, for we are transformed. Everyone who is touched by God becomes godly.
“It must be an animal without blemish, a male, one year old.” Exodus 12:5
Details are given about the animal. It must be perfect in every way, tender in flesh for eating, without blemish and delighting the eye with its freshness of youth. The very physicality of the animal is to be the means of salvation.
So too with the body of Christ. He is perfect in every way, and all the perfections of humanity are to be found in him who elevates the physicality of flesh to its highest state by the power of his divinity.
So too for the Body of Christ. It must be without fault. Indeed, even the physicality of the Church will become perfect under the influence of grace, healed of every blemish. When resurrected, it will be perfect in physic and perfect in grace, a spiritual body for the salvation of the world.
Year 1, Week 15, Saturday Glenroy 1975
“The time that the Israelites had lived in Egypt was four hundred thirty years. At the end of four hundred thirty years, on that very day, all the companies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. That was for the Lord a night of vigil, to bring them out of the land of Egypt. That same night is a vigil to be kept for the Lord by all the Israelites throughout their generations.” Exodus 12:40-42
There are privileged moments in the life of nations and individuals, when the actions of God are apparent. A seemingly fortuitous set of circumstances combine together, like the notes in music, and the One becomes manifestly, blindingly present.
Such a moment in Israel, the greatest such moment in the history of the Jews, is the escape from Egypt.
These moments are treasured, reflected upon and relived. Liturgies and rituals are composed, to recreate in the present the sublime moment of the past.
We try to rediscover that privileged moment. This is the human quest. Where shall it be found? It can be found in Christ’s death, but his glorious death is a type of that final moment of transition between time and eternity, from bound existence to utter freedom, disregarding death, we penetrate beyond the veil, out of time into eternity. Such is the human quest, the religious quest.
Year 1, Week 16, Monday Glenroy 1975
“Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so, I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.” Exodus 14:17
God is the chief agent. He makes Pharaoh stubborn just as he gives victory to his People.
God is the source of all, both success and suffering. He imposes suffering so that, from it, he can achieve greater good: “I will win glory.” Suffering becomes intolerable if it is not understood. The good result lessens the sharpness of the surgeon’s knife. The pains of childbirth are made more bearable by the knowledge that a child is being born. The agony of the crucifixion is taken on when the hope of glory is in sight.
Thus, God is the cause of suffering. We can accept this if in this way he brings about good. Of only one thing God is not the cause: sin and all that derives from it.
If we allow God as the source only of what we call good, then we reduce him to our level. Only after allowing him as the source of all except sin can we see him as he really is, as the powerful one, the source of our hope, the ruler who brings all things to the conclusion which he desires: he will win glory for himself and for us too.
“The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” Exodus 14:14
The Israelites have escaped from Egypt. They have left the advantages of Egypt for an uncertain future. However, the Egyptians give chase and are ready to destroy the little band. At this Moses cries out: “The Lord will do the fighting for you, you have only to keep still.”
What a demand this is: to keep calm in the face of death! To trust in someone as unknown as the Promised Land, more uncertain than the future.
Yet it all lies there. For when we have made a break with old habits and old concepts, when we chase the future dimly seen – that land of one body and one spirit – when we follow the silent calling out of our Egypt into our promised reality, then all the past comes in chase of us. Departure is easy at first; escape is difficult, for our past seeks to destroy us.
Then we doubt: is this the right thing to do? Am I following truth or illusion; is it the Creator or the spirit of self-destruction that is calling me? And to us the word of Moses comes: ‘be still, God will do the fighting for you’. Then we can pursue our journey, into the desert.
Year 1, Week 16, Tuesday Glenroy 1977
“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord”.Exodus 15:1
The Lord has conquered the Egyptians. The very waters that saved the Israelites have overwhelmed the Egyptians, and the former brutal masters lie dead on the shore.
Those who are free from past methods and forms, wishes and desires, from things that dominated and gave fleeting pleasures cannot but sing a new song.
This song is the Spirit: for freedom is an unleashing. In place of old masters, a new impetus is given; in place of old pleasures a new joy is felt. The Spirit manifests in breath, in a song resounding throughout creation, transforming it, redefining it. The Spirit is a song made to God, given to him, so that God is revealed in song, is made into song.
Year 1, Week 16, Wednesday Glenroy 1977
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. … “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’” Exodus 16:2-3, 12.
The Israelites are fed in the desert. The flesh-pots of Egypt give way to the delicacy of quail and manna. These are a gift from God, more truly gift than the food of Egypt because more of God.
Yet they have had to suffer hardship. They have wandered in the desert, they have been without food. Only when they are totally bereft and ready to die, does this delicate food come to them.
This passage refers to the blessedness that comes to those who have left all and followed the obscure paths of God. They will journey for a while in the desert, but once they have reached the depths of despair, then the quails and the manna appear. A new spirit, a new body are given. Feeding on spirit and body they become spirit/body. With that success they come to know God: ‘for in our flesh we shall see God’. Joy fills the heart, strength comes, an energy, an exhilaration, a determination which knows no limits.
Year 1, Week 16, Thursday Glenroy 1977
“On the third day, when morning came, there were peals of thunder and flashes of lightning and a dense cloud upon the mountain and a very long blast of the horn and all the people who were in the camp trembled.” Exodus 19:16
God appears in thunder and earthquake, in lightning and in cloud. The people who had to leave the land of Egypt before they could be fed with quails and manna must now be struck in soul and psyche before they can receive the truth. The phenomena on Sinai overwhelm the people and they tremble, for it is the end of things and the beginning of things.
On Mount Calvary there is the cloud and the darkening, the earthquake and the death. Jesus is struck in the heart, in his spirit and body too. For it is the end of things and the beginning of grace.
Each of us has our Sinai, our Calvary; each of us has our third day. The coming of God so different from our ordinary lives must mean the bewilderment of our lives.
‘Come Lord, break in, break up my life, surround me with thunder and trembling, so that we may be one, I like unto you.’
Then it will be the end of passing things and the beginning of eternal things. How I long for those eternal things, how I long for the lightning and the cloud, for then I shall be.
Year 1, Week 16, Friday Glenroy 1975
“You shall not make yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything in heaven or on earth beneath or in the waters under the earth.”Exodus 20:4
Nothing can fully express God, no name describe him, even the most august. When we call him ‘great’ and ‘majestic’, we have only touched the seam of his robe. When we call him ‘love’, we only approximate. The final word we can say about God is silence.
And yet we know him. His mystery is revealed not in words or images, not only by his Son, but also by the Spirit who prays in groans beyond understanding. We know him but cannot conceive him. We are aware of him but cannot express him. The sigh, lastly the silence, is the closest we can come to his name, for he is ineffable. Yet we know him. This is the greatness of our religion: its essential mystery.
Year 1, Week 17, Tuesday Glenroy 1975
“If I have indeed won your favor, Lord, let my Lord come with us, I beg. True, they are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins, and adopt us as your heritage.” Exodus 34:9
The Spirit of God comes upon people for a variety of reasons that escape our understanding. Eventually a partial reason will be found in the juncture of circumstances, but in every case the Spirit is a gift freely given, whatever the imperfection and sin.
Thus, humans are caught between an awareness of the drive of the Spirit and the awareness of sin. To the extent that they follow purely the movements inspired by the Spirit, to that extent they are sinless. The one who finds every part moved by the Spirit, even from conception, is in every part sinless. This is the case of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Those who are inspired by God are bold indeed. They propose themselves. Thy do not propose themselves apart from the Spirit, but they propose that part which is moved by the Spirit. They do not propose just the Spirit but ‘the self-moved-by-the-Spirit’.
Thus, Moses prays that God will accept the people, headstrong though they are, accept them as himself. For they are one with God in those parts of them that are moved by the Spirit.
“He stayed there with Yahweh for forty days and forty nights, eating and drinking nothing.” Exodus 34:28
Moses stays for the sacred period of time. Indeed, every forty days and forty nights in the Biblical narrative signifies a manifestation of the Timeless One. Thus, all time is present to his Presence. All the delights of heaven and earth are found where he is found.
For that reason, Moses need not eat or drink. All is given to him by the presence of the One who holds all things in his hands.
So it will be at the resurrection. Being in the presence of God, indeed being in the presence of the Risen Incarnate, all goods are there. There is no need to eat and drink, because the Body and Blood of Christ is there; the Body and Blood not only of the individual Christ Jesus but also of the Whole Christ, the Church. We will be sustained in our spiritual bodies by the spiritual food we are to each other. The food of lovers is love. The food of the risen Church is the Risen Body.
So, we proclaim ourselves. Despite our reluctance, we proclaim ‘ourselves-moved by-the-Spirit’ as the object of faith. Thus, as Christ is the full object of faith in every part, we, in our purest part, are the objects of faith. And as Christ was put to death because of his proclamation, so too we will be refused for this proclamation. Yet we cannot shirk it at the risk of subtracting our entire selves from the Spirit and ceasing to be one with God, ceasing to be his heritage.
This complete obedience to the Spirit is required.
Year 1, Week 17, Wednesday Burwood 1983
“The sons of Israel would see the face of Moses radiant.” Exodus 34:35
Moses’ face is radiant, for he has been in the presence of the One who is light. He is transformed by what he sees. He is changed in mind and body. The radiance of the body is proof of the radiance of the mind. Because God has spoken Moses’ face shines.
The transformation of matter is from mass to light, from mass to purest energy. Yet even light is not the perfection of matter, although it is its highest form. The perfection of matter is the spirit, where the light of earth is one with the Light from Light, when light is inhabited by Light so that we have light from Light from Light. That is the perfection of matter.
For that reason, Moses’ face begins to be transformed into light. The transformation is complete when the Light of the World transforms our bodies into copies of his own glorious Light.
Year 1, Week 17, Thursday Glenroy 1975
“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Whenever the cloud was taken up from the tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on each stage of their journey; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, before the eyes of all the house of Israel at each stage of their journey. Exodus 40:34-38
The presence of God is expressed in terms of a cloud, for no image of God existed in Israel. And again, when Moses asks God for his name, the request is refused. Thus, there is ignorance surrounding the person and nature of God.
This very obscurity, however, reveals something about God, namely, that he transcends all that is human. He cannot be comprehended, and if he does reveal himself, the effect is blinding. He lives in light inaccessible.
And yet this mysterious One leads us, for when the cloud rises and moves from the tabernacle, the people follow it until they reach the Promised Land.
The lesson is clear. We are most powerfully and most accurately led by Someone we do not understand. Science makes us follow what we know, but such a bias is backward looking, for knowledge is always of things past. What is truly inventive is the pursuit, with uncertain halterings, of what is unknown. We are led by the Spirit – for the glory of God is the Spirit – through uncertain ways to the Promised Land.
Therefore, we follow the instinctual Spirit, the leading strings of faith. When things are darkest, the cloud will appear as fire, to guide us. When we are in death, the Spirit will lead us, by crooked lines, to that Promised Land which science can never give – to that presence