24 November 2009
I was on my way to the seminary when I was stuck in a traffic jam.
Apparently, there was a vigil at the Boy Scout Rotonda in Timog Quezon City, people mostly ‘lefties’ that I’ve known in my past life at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines are congregating in the area with their flickering candles in a ceremony of solemn luminosity that spells out the word: ‘justice’ in the brick-layered pavement of the rotonda.
Little did I know that what I saw as an obstruction on the way to ATS was a reaction to what is now known as the bloody Maguindanao, massacre. Unaware of the significance of the vigil I proceeded to class –and then as if by divine intervention our class of the Book of Exodus endowed our study with this staggering message: God heard, God remembered, God saw, God knew.
God heard. To hear is to delineate sounds and make sense of them. It was in the midst of being a people away from their land that the descendants of Jacob cried out in anguish and God heard Israel’s groaning.
God remembered. In the midst of oppression and slavery God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To state that God remembers is to underscore the reality of God’s divine sense of obligation to a prior commitment.
God saw. To see is to have a peripheral view of something or better yet someone –in this case that someone is His people here we see God turning His face so as to glimpse at the sight of the Israelites under forced labor in Egypt. Here we see God move toward His people with compassion.
God knew. To say: “God knew” is to proclaim God’s solidarity with the plight of His people. A startling contrast to what the ancient Greeks believed about God, as a “perfect being,” who is impassable, and incapable of experiencing suffering and pain. Here Scripture testifies that ancient Hebrews however knew a far different God, a personal God who shares an experience with His people.
It was in this motif of bondage and oppression that God revealed Himself, to Moses in the burning bush and affirmed that indeed he saw His people and moved towards them in kindness and resolved to liberate them from bondage in Egypt. God hearing and knowing of the plight of his people exercised His sovereignty and power over the Egyptian empire and its pantheon of gods that eventually led to Israel’s victory over empire –their liberation.
In the liberation of the Israelites we find that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not a god that exercised mere benevolence which wished His people well from afar. Lastly here we see that God works through and within history to accomplish His will of liberating His people.
To speak of liberation here is not merely to speak of God working through and within history to free the Israelites from Egypt. Here we find that the goal of exodus is not simply liberation but carrying out God’s covenant and its stipulations at Sinai. Note here that liberation’s goal is not freedom in itself but freedom to worship and dwell in the presence of the God who freed Israel. Here then is the whole difference of the Biblical account to the cinematic of the Exodus –the story does not end with the crossing of the Red Sea!
The book’s end does not come upon the defeat of Pharaoh or with the revelation of the Law, but with the advent of God’s glory in the midst of the Israelites. The Exodus narrative shows the movement from the apparent absence of God in times of bondage to His liberating presence in the victory over oppression to His full presence among His people.
In the simplest of terms Exodus reminds us that our cries for justice is not in vain because God hears, God remembers, God sees and God knows. This truth serves beacon of hope and commitment for all of us who are treading the costly path of following God. This is a call for us Christians to put across a message of solidarity among the oppressed and those who’ve been deprived of justice. It is a call to be involved in history.
In the late 1950s during a time of political and social upheaval brought about by the Red Scare, the beginning of the Vietnam War and the rise of the Civil Rights Movement among African-Americans, the activist/theologian Robert McAfee Brown wrote:
“The Biblical emphasis on the importance of history stresses this. History is where God works; He is concerned about what happens here. He has placed us in history and given us work to do also right here and now.”1
Discovering the liberation motif of the Book of Exodus at the time of the ‘Maguindanao, massacre’ reminds me of the call to be involved in the affairs of society where history unfolds. In a world ridden with injustice and strife the story of Exodus is a startling call to action for men and women of faith to bring to life the God of the oppressed who enters into human history to dispel the forces of repression and death.
1 Brown, Robert McAfee. The Bible Speaks To You (WJK. 2001) p. 290