As part of our new summer series Little People, Big God, we are embarking upon a journey through the book of Exodus, taking 12 sermons to cover the first 20 chapters.
Exodus is perhaps a more contentious book in Christian theology than we may realise. To see why, let’s remind ourselves of the process of Biblical interpretation.
The Interpreter’s Task
The task of any interpreter is to understand what a text meant when it was first written and received by its original audience, and from that to build a bridge to the present, taking principles from the text to apply, asking what it means for today.
Understanding what a text meant relies (by the Holy Spirit’s help) on comprehending the author’s intention, his language and idioms and the historical situation in which the book was written. This, believe it or not, is the easy (or easier) part!
Asking what a text means for us – different in culture and time to the original audience – requires us to take principles from the text and find areas of our world in which they resonate.
Yet, to state the obvious, the world we live in is diverse – culturally, racially, linguistically, politically. This is why, in applying a book like Exodus, we will end up with different emphases in its application (not so much interpretation) depending on who’s applying it and to what culture.
In the WASP-dominated West (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), the Exodus of Israel from Egypt is usually recontextualised as our own freedom from the slavery of sin.
Our approach is a spiritual one, based on NT texts such as Romans 1-8, Galatians 3-5 and Hebrews 3, as we recognise that Christ, a greater-than-Moses, leads us into freedom from sin through the waters – not the Sea of Reeds but baptism (1 Peter 3 v 18-22) but just like Israel by means of the blood of the lamb.
More Than Just Spiritual?
However, imagine you’re a Coptic Christian in Egypt, fearful of yet another church bombing, or a Syrian Christian, caught between President Assad, rebel fighters and the so-called Islamic State.
Their recontextualisation of the Exodus story, for their situation, would not simply be liberation from spiritual slavery, but freedom from slavery of all forms – physical, social, political and economic, emphasizing Jesus’ reading of Isaiah in Luke 4 v 18-19.
Indeed, that Jesus came to ‘preach good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and…to release the oppressed’ is almost a summary of the Exodus story.
Yet since in the West we do not generally identify ourselves as ‘the poor’ or ‘the oppressed’, such a reading may seem foreign to us, thinking as we do only about our own context in applying the Bible.
Situation-specific application in other cultures has justifiably spawned liberation theology in South America and Black theology in Africa and the Caribbean, seeing as it does Egypt’s slavery as modern colonialism in all its forms.
In recognising the different ways in which Exodus can be recontextualised today, we are challenged in our evangelism towards an integrative model that does not only emphasize the spiritual.
That is, a balanced, biblical theology of mission should take account of the same broad totality of concern that God has.
Therefore the mission of God should be, on one hand, seeing people saved from bondage to sin and death. Yet at the same time, expressing itself in care for those under all forms of oppression, a fight for justice which reflects the very character of God.
So as we study Exodus over the coming weeks, we are challenged to recognise God’s heart for alleviating suffering: temporal and eternal. Accordingly, join me in making Cambray a place where we are concerned about the physical as well as the spiritual needs of those around us.
With every blessing,