At least, that is what I would have said. I’ve been reading Exodus lately, and trying to think of the story from outside my this-is-of-course-what-happened-I’ve-known-it-all-my-life position. It is rather a strange one.
First, there were all these slaves in Egypt. Somehow or other the slaves’ ancestor had been responsible for making Egypt great, back in the time of the Seven Years’ Famine. And now Egypt had really become great and glorious, built on the backs of the sturdy slave labor which had grown up in the land. News of Egypt’s prosperity spread far and wide, and the kings round about wished that they had been the possessors of such slaves.
But then things changed, and all of the news from Egypt was calamity — they lacked water, suffered under hail and locusts and sickness and bugs. Rumors were likely confused and even stranger than the reality: There’s some new leader in the slave camp, he can make snakes and frogs appear out of nowhere. He ate some of Egypt’s magicians …
The news was that the slaves had gotten a God. Nations round about were astonished as this God killed Egypt’s first-born, led Israel out, and drowned the entire Egyptian army. They trembled; surely this mass of slaves was out for world dominion; surely this God could wipe out all of the nations. Had Israel shown up in Canaan immediately, the Canaanites would have scurried away without any fight.
But Israel did not go to Canaan. Instead, this strange nation of Yahweh-followers went out and wandered in the wilderness. In the wilderness! Where there was nothing to eat and nothing to drink. And, instead of perishing like any ordinary mass of lunatics, they prospered. They, who by the might of their God might have inhabited all the palaces of Palestine, trudged about toting tents in the wake of a pillar of cloud, following a detailed law code, and killing sheep. Strange? Well, yes.
It’s likely people came to forget how the Israelites had gotten there. The occasional thundering from the wilderness became less terrifying, and children grew up believing that just as Canaanites dwelt in Canaan and grew grapes, so did Israelites dwell in the wilderness and grow manna. This became the established order for the Israelites, too …
And so, if it were commonplace to follow a cloud and have your bread falling out of heaven, you would not be likely to realize how very much your God is involved in making that happen. But, if the manna were to stop, if the cloud disappeared — well, then you would likely be very frightened, and you would be eager to hear any word of direction from your God, for how could you do anything yourself?
And, if you were one of the nations watching the “mixed multitude” of Israel emerge from the wilderness after their forty-years’ ramble, you would, quite possibly, have forgotten all of the wonders that took them into the wilderness; you would laugh at the idea of these strange nomads conquering your cities. You would — woe betide you! — laugh at the idea of their God.
©2009 by Stacy Nott