Liberated by Law

Beginnings and endings are important. We are familiar with the beginning of the book of Exodus and, of course, we are most familiar with the incidents that fill the first 20 chapters: the thrilling story of baby Moses, his boat ride and rescue, his flight to the desert as a young man, his encounter with God at the burning bush, and the subsequent deliverance of the people and their meeting God at Mount Sinai. But our interest usually peaks around chapter 20 with the Ten Commandments.

In Hebrew the name of the book is Shemoth, literally "names"—from its beginning line, "These are the names." The book begins in continuity with what has gone before, the family narratives of Genesis. As in the Genesis accounts, so in Exodus we begin with a people few in number. They are a pastoral people who live at the margins of the more settled and urban people.

The book does not end with chapter 20 and the Ten Words—which, in fact, is just the halfway point. In chapter 40, the book of Names ends with cloud and fire filling the completed tabernacle. Indeed, the glory of God so filled the sanctuary that even Moses could not enter it. The cloud and fire also served as guides for the people on their journey. When it moved, they moved. When it stayed, they stayed.

Exodus as a whole traces the journey of Israel from being a small band of shepherds settled among foreigners who despised them to being a people among whom God dwelled and who God would lead on their journey to a new place. It recounts the story of a marginal group who became enslaved but who by miracle became free to follow God. These two journeys are intertwined—the journey to peoplehood was also the journey to becoming God's people. The journey from slavery to liberation was also the journey from serving human taskmasters to serving God as their Lord. Freedom from human domination meant freedom for God's presence and God's leading.

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