Once I had explored the similarities between the journey in the desert and the modern-day landscape, a sense of serenity returned to my mind. It seemed I had found what I was supposed to find and thus brought this chapter to a close, both literally and figuratively. However, just as I was beginning to get on with my life once more the story came knocking again. “What is it this time?” I asked, feeling a bit frustrated at the persistence of it all. Still, that feeling had returned, and I knew there was more to unpack, more to discover, more to learn. So I set about looking at each and every individual aspect of the exodus, opening my eyes and mind to the parallels they may yet contain. And that’s when it happened, I began to see the full scope of the comparison.
The story of the exodus is fairly wide known, even within the more non-religious circles. Perhaps the part that is most familiar is that of the plagues sent by God to force the release of the Israelites from their bondage. These plagues included water turning to blood, frogs covering the land, locusts, boils, and even fiery hail (talk about climate change). As I began to contemplate these plagues, I realized that their details were unimportant. This wasn’t about drawing a line between each and every plague in the story to a modern-day counterpart, thus ‘proving’ any type of relationship. Instead, this was about understanding the essence of the plagues, and thus finding a pattern in our current state of affairs.
Simply put, the plagues of Egypt inflicted every basic form of suffering, including a lack of drinking water, food shortages, environmental instability and even the death of all firstborn sons. When you set aside the details and focus on the essence, these plagues begin to sound all too familiar. After all, climate change has seen the environment become increasingly unstable, leading to a greater number of earthquakes, hurricanes, and numerous other natural disasters. Furthermore, food shortages and even a shrinking supply of fresh water have become very real concerns in our current times, dominating the news to the point of becoming an accepted part of our experience. In this light, you could say that we have a fair amount in common with the average Egyptian during the time of the plagues.
But what about the firstborn sons? Although there is a pandemic raging across the globe as I write these words, this isn’t affecting the first born as such. This is a good place to address a common misconception that many have regarding this particular plague. The death of the firstborn didn’t mean there was an increase in infant mortality at the time. On the contrary. ‘Firstborn’ indicates the oldest child, not the youngest. Thus, many of those who died would have potentially been adults, not children. At the very least, they would have been teenagers and older.
Once you realize the actual age of those affected by that plague a modern-day equivalence certainly does arise. War. War is the modern-day plague that is killing the firstborn, and it is a plague that is on the rise. Entire regions of the planet have become destabilized by countless wars and conflicts of all shapes and sizes, making our current condition all the more relatable to that in the time of Moses. And so it is, the world of the exodus and our world are not so vastly dissimilar in terms of struggle and suffering.
The Clash of Cultures
As I began to see the similarities between the conditions of the plagues and the conditions of today, I started looking at every aspect of the story, wondering just how many more parallels there were to be found. The next one I uncovered was what I call ‘the clash of cultures’. According to the story, the entire race of Israel resided in Egypt, where they lived in bondage as servants and slaves to their Egyptian masters. At first glance, this may seem to be the point at which the parallels come to an end. However, this is where the essence and not the details is what truly matters. When you begin to consider the essence of being enslaved, that’s when the picture begins to take shape. That’s when you begin to see yet more similarities between the story and our current experience.
Although actual, physical slavery itself has been abolished in most parts of the world for well over a century now, there are other, more subtle forms that are very much alive and well today. Perhaps ‘slavery’ is a bit of a strong term to use at first, so let’s dial it back a bit and go with ‘oppression’. Equal rights movements can be found in almost every ‘free country’ to this day, begging the question ‘just how free are these countries?’ From equal rights for women to equal rights for the LGBTQ community, there is an ever-growing outcry against the bigotry and oppression that continues to ‘plague’ countless people the world over. And let’s not forget the plight of ethnic minorities who continue to struggle for equality and inclusion in a world that is supposed to be just and fair.
Even now, the ink is still drying on the legislation that grants legal status to gay and lesbian marriage. But that position remains tenuous at best in some places, revealing the fine line we continue to walk between freedom and oppression. And let’s not forget about a woman’s right to choose when it comes to her own body. Or the gerrymandering that takes place to oppress the votes of minorities or fringe groups who may disrupt the balance of power in a particular voting district. All in all, it seems that a fair number of people have a case for feeling ‘enslaved’ by a culture that is archaic at best, and downright prejudice at worst. But this oppression doesn’t just affect differences of gender, sexual orientation, or race. It affects values and beliefs as well.
A good example of this can be seen when paying your taxes. Despite the fact that I was born and raised in a tradition that embraces war, bigotry, and moral superiority, I have evolved into a person who embraces a different set of values. Unfortunately, my values are ignored when it comes to how my tax money is spent. Although I despise war and the needless violence inflicted on innocent people all around the world, my tax money is still used to pay for the bombs, planes, and bullets that end the life I have come to embrace as sacred. Equally frustrating, my tax money is spent on bailing out the rich when working class people like me continue to suffer and struggle. But what choice do I have?
Sure, the knee-jerk response is to vote for the person who best represents my values. Unfortunately, one thing that has become increasingly clear over time is that no candidate ever represents my values. Perhaps that’s why recent elections have been characterized by voting for the ‘lesser of evils’. At any rate, no candidate has ever changed how my hard-earned money is spent, nor have they ever given me a greater say in the policies that are enacted. In the end, we are all slaves of the dominant culture. And that culture is what we are trying to break free of. It is the Egypt we are trying to escape.