“Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.”

Exodus 5:1

Monday, 20 July 2020

Exodus 5:1-4

And so the great escape plan is hatched. Make no mistake – there is no plan to return. And Pharaoh knows it. 

The Book of Exodus is the book of freedom, an account of how God liberates the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and brings them to the Promised Land. We shall see over the next few days an account of freedom in all its complexity. Freedom is never simple, never easy, never without its cost.

From the start, here, we see that the pursuit of freedom may rest on deception, on a lie. It is interesting to note here and later in the text that the lie does not fool Pharaoh. So why do Moses and Aaron perpetuate the myth?

I think it is to help Pharaoh save face. If he concedes eventually, as he does after the great plagues that beset Egypt, to allow the myth of a festival in the wilderness to continue will give him plausible deniability as the Israelites escape. “They were dishonourable! I honoured my word!” he can say to the Egyptians. 

Perhaps what we see Moses and Aaron doing is the first recorded instance of offering an enemy an option to back down with honour. (Of course, Pharaoh ultimately does not take it; more of that tomorrow). Freedom is possible without the humiliation of former oppressors, the suggestion being that this can rebuild broken relations in future.

Loving God,

Guide us, as we strive for freedom, to seek it with honour, To seek it with a view to ultimate reconciliation.


Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for spotlight.africa. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.

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