Leaving Egypt Behind
When I was a kid, growing up in Christian schools where we read and studied the Bible a lot, I was often puzzled by the stories of the Israelites from the Old Testament book of Exodus.
What puzzled me was how often these people, who had been freed from 400 years of generational slavery in Egypt, would complain to their leader Moses repeatedly about how they wanted to go back there.
They would say, "Did you bring us out here into the wilderness to die? We'd be better off in Egypt. At least we had something to eat there!"
It never made sense to me when I was young. Why would people who had been set free from servitude want to go back to it? What would make someone choose slavery over freedom, even if the freedom they achieved proved to have difficulties.
Over time, I've come to understand those stories differently. I've also lived a bit since then and have my own experiences to call upon as I find meaning in the text.
And I've found some good guides that help me interpret those stories with an eye to their universality. One of those guides is Estelle Frankel, whose book The Wisdom of Not-Knowing contains this bit of wisdom:
Though in actuality they were oppressed and enslaved by the Egyptians, the Israelites looked back on their time in Egypt with nostalgia because they could not bear the uncertainty they faced as a free people. Freedom is, ultimately, uncertain and unpredictable. One of the first lessons we all must learn in order to be free is how to “bear” uncertainty and trust in the unknown.
The truth within those stories is that most of us struggle against the uncertainty of freedom from our attachments, memories, regrets, addictions, compulsions, mistakes, and everything else that keeps us from being truly free.
We might long for freedom, but often on the brink of it, we pull back, longing for Egypt, because the unknown wilderness before us seems to be foreboding and impassible.
In those moments, we need to learn that the God who desired our freedom will make a way in the wilderness. This God will part rivers and seas if need be as long as we are willing to keep walking.
When we are willing to "bear the uncertainty and trust in the unknown," we not only find our way forward, we can discover who we really are and what joys that freedom can bring if only we'll let the memory of Egypt go.
May we have the strength and the hope to keep moving toward freedom. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.