February 24, 2012

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical readings: The beginning of Exodus

John F. FinkThe biblical readings in the Office of Readings that started on Thursday, the day after Ash Wednesday, and those for the days that follow are taken from the Book of Exodus. During the first 10 days, the readings are from Chapters 1-13, which tell us how the Israelites were delivered from slavery in Egypt.

If our biblical knowledge came only from the readings in the Office of Readings, we would have no idea how the Israelites came to be in Egypt. For that, we have to read the Book of Genesis and the Office of Readings has only one reading from that book—for the feast of the birth of Mary on Sept. 8.

I suggest, though, that before reading Exodus, you read the story of Joseph in Genesis (Gn 37-50). It is a magnificent story of divine Providence, with every event laying the groundwork for the next, culminating in Jacob and his family moving to Egypt.

Exodus begins where Genesis left off. Seventy people moved to Egypt, but after 430 years they had become “so numerous and strong that the land was filled with them” (Ex 1:7). Pharaoh enslaved them, and “they had to build for Pharaoh the supply cities of Pithom and Raamses” (Ex 1:11). Pharaoh Ramesses II (1290-1223 B.C.) built those cities.

We then get the story of Moses, a Hebrew who was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter. When he was grown, he visited his kinsmen and saw an Egyptian strike a Hebrew. Moses killed the Egyptian and then had to escape. He fled from Egypt to Midian, east of the Red Sea. He married there and had two children.

“A long time passed, during which the king of Egypt died” (Ex 2:23). Then God revealed himself to Moses out of a burning bush that was not consumed. This is an important moment because God reveals his name, “I am who am” or “I AM” (Ex 3:14). In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus uses these words to tell us that he is God.

God tells Moses that he wants him to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Wow! What an assignment. Return to Egypt where he is wanted for murder? To lead people who don’t trust him? Moses has five objections before he finally agrees to go with his brother, Aaron, to demand that the new Pharaoh let the people go.

Then, of course, we have Pharaoh’s refusal. He takes revenge by making the Hebrews work harder, which makes the Hebrews angry with Moses and Aaron. It is then that God sends 10 plagues upon the Egyptians—water turned into blood, frogs, gnats, flies, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness and the death of the first-born.

Chapter 12 tells us about the Passover ritual that the Hebrews performed so that the Lord would pass over their homes when he killed every first-born in the land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh ordered the Hebrews to leave.

Chapter 13 tells us that God ordered the Israelites to consecrate to him every first-born to commemorate the fact that God redeemed the Israelites by killing every first-born of the Egyptians. †

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