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Exodus 14:19-31

Exodus 14:19-31

Background to the Book of Exodus:
Historical Situation: (History within the text)
The Book of Exodus tells how God took pity on the Israelites, the means chosen to liberate them from the Egyptians, and their consequent journeys in the wilderness. The story begins after the Israelites have been in Egypt for several generations and a new Pharaoh comes to the throne who is threatened by the number of foreigners (Israelites) in the land and takes hard measures to subdue them and stop them multiplying. We read of the call of Moses by God, the confrontations with the Pharaoh and his wise men, the subsequent release and flight of the Israelites. The pivotal event was revelation of God to Moses and God giving the Law to the people via Moses. (Put picture in here with link). The covenant set up here is conditional on the people keeping their promises (Exodus 19:5-8) - note the word "if" they do ... "then" you shall be my people.

After the initial laws in Exodus 20-23 we read the story of the wooden ark in which the tablets of stone (which have the Law written on them) are to be housed and carried. Great detail is given about this Ark in Exodus 25-27 before going into further detail about the priests who will serve and the manner of the sacrifices. We read of the people's rebellion and Aaron's role in building a golden calf to worship. Moses returns once more from one of his mountain trips and castigates the people for their unfaithfulness. The Book of Exodus finishes with a further account of the building of the ark which sounds rather repetitious of the first one. Within the Book we are given the origins of such Festivals as Passover and Unleavened Bread.

Some people have tried to find evidence within the Egyptian chronicles that the Israelites were present in Egypt in this period but the lack of written material from that era limits any discoveries. What has been found in general terms is that foreigners did serve in Egyptian households, there were building programmes using 'apiru' and foreigners did attain high service in important households (Johnstone:17-27). Rather than trying to prove historical fact as in the old Western idea of 'facts', it is better to understand the Book of Exodus as 'historiography', that is, the remembered history of the Israelite people which is crucial to their identity as the people of God.
Literary Comments
The Book of Exodus is a mixture of very early oral material which has come from different traditions and been joined together in the one book. The events are pivotal to their faith and as we have four gospels telling us about Jesus Christ so the Jews have different memories of the same events. We have four different gospels, but in Exodus the traditions are all mixed in the same book which makes it difficult reading sometimes. For example, in Exodus 19 Moses goes up and down the mountain several times and one isn't sure if he is up or down.

Some people have tried to identify some of the traditions within the Book: a tradition that uses the name of Yahweh called 'J', another called 'E', the tradition written by the Priests called 'P' and the very easily identified "D' tradition mainly found in the Book of Deuteronomy. It makes sense that different communities as in the NT had different memories and emphases which had become important to them and so when the Scriptures are committed to writing there is a desire to incorporate the diverse memories of people and their experience of God within their lives.
PURPOSE of the Book of Exodus:
To tell the story of how God raised up a leader, Moses, to release the Israelites from Egypt who lead them through the wilderness where they received the Law from God via Moses. This Law showed them how to stay in relationship with God and with each other. It gives detailed instructions for building the Ark in which the Tablets will be housed. In the Book of Exodus we have demonstrated the unfaithful behaviours of the people and God's willingness to renew the covenant. The actions of the people's apostasy and God's willingness to renew the covenant is repeated many times in the history of the people.

Context of Exodus 14:19-31
Last week's lectionary reading (Exod 12:1-14) is followed by another ritual which the Israelites are commanded to keep, that is, the Feast of Unleavened Bread. There is a second account of the Passover and the act of Yahweh which sound horrendous to us (Exod 12:29) and has to be understood in the world view of that time. It is not the way we believe God acts. The story continues with the flight from Egypt chased by the Pharaoh who had changed his mind once more because God has hardened his heart (Exod 14:5ff). The people have the first of their complaints to Moses because they think they will die in the wilderness and it would have been better to stay in Egypt. Moses speaks with Yahweh who basically says get on with it. We are told this whole episode will give glory to God because it shows the power of Yahweh over the Egyptian gods. The lectionary set for today takes us through the event after which there is a long hymn of praise (Exod 15:1-18) followed by Miriam's song of praise. She is described as Aaron's brother and a prophetess. As the Israelites journeyed into the wilderness they came across a spring of bitter water and once more complained against Moses. Once more God answered their complaints (Exod 15:25). An interesting law suddenly gets put in at this point which decrees that if they are obedient to God they will suffer none of the diseases which God laid on the Egyptians. They arrived at an oasis named Elim and camp there.

Insights/Message of Exodus 14:19-31
The divine acts of protection provided by God are named in vv.19-20 before Moses carries out the instructions given by God. The angel which has not been present since the burning bush now moves with them as does the pillar of cloud. The next two units, vv21-25 and 26-29 tell the story of first, the Israelites path through the Red Sea and second, the Egyptians foray and disaster in the Red Sea. The final verses, vv.30-31 declare that it was God who saved Israel and in seeing believed in God and Moses. The has been many discussions about the geographic position of the Red Sea and how it happened. I think these discussions are attempting to discuss an issue which is of no concern to the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures - whether it is historically true. The writers of the Hebrew Scriptures are intent on telling the story of God's relationship with Israel and how it developed and grew, within the realms of history, but not bound by the categories of Enlightenment views of history. I talk about "historiography" which is the telling of particular events by groups of people which are of vital importance to their identity and ongoing life. In the case of Israel the focus is always on God and those events which mark the growing relationship. So it is unimportant about the precise location of the Red Sea or how it happened. What is crucial is for the people to know that God brought them out of Egypt and so began their journey to nationhood. As Fretheim says, "it is witness to the power of Yahweh and a consequent summons to faith" (Fretheim:796).

The arrival of the Israelites at the Red Sea is part of the divine purpose with both the angel of God and the pillar of cloud instrumental on their journey. It was important that the two groups (Israelites and Egyptians) did not arrive at the same time. Then when it was morning the parting of the Red Sea occurred which involved three groups: God, Moses and the natural forces of creation. God is both creator and redeemer in the events that follow. We note at this point the confession of the Egyptians who recognise that God is more powerful than their gods (Exod 15:25). Finally, the purpose of Moses' and Aaron's experience with Pharaoh and his courtiers, which was to demonstrate that Yahweh is more powerful than any of their magicians, has been recognized. This is the climax of Exod 3-14, that no matter how powerful are one's enemies Yahweh is even more powerful. In our own time it is often in the time case of crisis that people call out to God to save them. The recognition that perhaps there is a divine being who is more powerful than mere humans. The final verses are a very profound theological creed: God saves, the people see and they believe. This is a major tenet of the Jewish faith that God's promises which began with Abraham in Gen 12:3 are gradually coming to fruition and this event is crucial in the forming of them as a nation on the way to the promised land. It is true for us all that our seeing/experience is that which enables us to have and grow in faith. No matter whether we have grown up in the church all our lives there comes a point when a person has to see/experience for themselves the saving acts of god in Jesus Christ and claim their own faith. The final sentence of this week's Lectionary reading states that, "They believed in the Lord" (Exod 14:31:b)

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 18:21-35: there are no direct allusions or quotes in these sections from the Old Testament.

Resources/Worship for Exodus 14:19-31


The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Exodus (Johnstone).

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

*Brueggemann, Walter. "The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections". In The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.
Childs, Brevard S. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, [1974].
Coats, George W. The Moses Tradition. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
Durham, John I. Exodus. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
*Fretheim, Terrence E. Exodus. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1991.
Gowan, Donald E. Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.
*Johnstone, W. Exodus. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.
Moberly, R. W. L. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982.
Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11

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