Exodus: Freedom From, To, and For

This blog post is going to be looking at the book of Exodus as a whole.  This post will be discussing one of the main movements within the book itself.  Let’s dig in!

Most of us know that the book of Exodus is about freedom in some sense.  If I were to ask you to briefly describe what the book is about, I would bet it’d be an answer along the lines of: “In the beginning of the book, the Israelites are slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt and the rest of the story is about how God frees His people from slavery and they leave Egpyt with their leader named Moses.”  All in all, that’s not a bad summary; it’s pretty true to the text!…if you were describing the first 1/3 of the book.  Exodus 1-15 is about that, but the book has 40 chapters!  So, what does the rest of the book talk about?

The story of Exodus is not just about freedom from something or someone.  It is also about freedom to someone and freedom for something.  At the beginning of the book, the Israelites are working for Pharaoh—Egypt’s King—as his slaves.  The Hebrew word used for this work/service is “avodah.”  Immediately, this work is qualified as “harsh” and then repeated to emphasize it’s severity. 

The Egyptians compelled the sons of Israel to labor rigorously; and they made their lives bitter with hard labor [avodah] in mortar and bricks and at all kinds of labor [avodah] in the field, all their labors [avodah] which they rigorously imposed on them.” Ex. 1:13-14

Throughout the opening chapters of Exodus, this word “avodah” is repeated a lot and it often includes “making” (the Hebrew word “asah”) things for Pharaoh.  Then, as most people know, God intervenes and saves the Israelites from this bondage.  So yes, God saves His people from the harsh slavery to Pharaoh.  But, let’s not stop there.  This freedom is not just from Pharaoh, but also to someone else.

“Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. 7Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” Ex. 6:6-7

What is this text saying?  God’s saving of Israel is not just about freedom from Pharaoh and the Egyptians, but freedom to YHWH.  That’s what the whole middle section of Exodus is about!  After God saves Israel from serving Pharaoh, they covenant with Him at Sinai.  They will serve YHWH not Pharaoh, nor any other king, nor any other god.

Zoom forward to the end of the book and what’s going on?  Israel is still working (avodah) and making (asah) things, but it’s no longer severe and harsh because the object of their service has changed.  Israel is no longer serving an evil King who treats them harshly, but Yahweh—a good King—who treats them graciously.  In fact, what the Israelites are making (asah) is a home for their King—a temple—so that He may intimately dwell among them!  So their freedom from Pharaoh, and their freedom to YHWH, means that they are now free to serve God.  Now, this awesome news is not just for Israel, but also for the world!  God is all about saving the world and ultimately, Israel’s freedom is for serving God and serving the world.

The question that is implicitly asked throughout the story of Exodus is, “Who will Israel serve?”  Pharaoh or God.  There is no such thing as autonomous freedom; freedom is not independence from everything.  Everyone serves someone.  Whether it’s yourself, your own desires and wants, pleasing others, or bowing to cultural norms; everyone serves someone.  This isn’t the problem.  The problem lies in who or what you’re serving.  This is what Paul talks about in Romans 6,

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21 Therefore what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. 22 But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 6:20-23

True freedom is about knowing and serving God.

In conclusion, the story of Exodus is not just about freedom from something. And neither is the Gospel.  Jesus hasn’t only saved you from something, but saved you to Himself and for service to Him and the world.

“32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33 They answered Jesus, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:32-36

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