For the week of April 7, 2007 / 19 Nisan 5767
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 33:12 - 34:26 &
Bemidbar / Numbers 28:19-25
Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:37 - 37:14
This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. (Ezekiel 37:12)
March 25 of this year was the 200th anniversary of the abolishing of the slave trade by Britain. It is good and right that many at this time are bringing to our attention the fact of modern slavery. This is similar to what we experience at Pesach (English: Passover), which begins this week (starting the evening of April 2). As we remember our own slavery in Egypt 3500 years ago, we are called to not only appreciate our freedom, but are also challenged to have compassion for those who still remain in bondage today.
Bondage takes several forms. This is not to detract from the need to confront the evils of modern slavery in the world today. Far from it. For perhaps if we take the reality of the general bondage of the human race more seriously, we will find that we will be able to more effectively deal with the issue of modern slavery. A closer look at the celebration of Pesach is instructive in this regard.
The Pesach celebration is not only a remembrance of our deliverance from Egypt. At the time when much of the symbolism of the traditional ceremonial meal (or "Seder" as it is called) was developed, the Jewish people were, yet again, in an oppressive situation; this time under the control of the Roman Empire. They understood that even though years before they had known deliverance at the hand of God and that since then God had rescued them over and over again from the oppression of various foreign powers, there was to be a much greater deliverance to come. Not only were they expecting God to remove the oppression of Rome, but that a greater change - a more profound rescue - a spiritual deliverance - was to come.
As we read at the start, the prophet Ezekiel, during the time of the Babylonian exile over five hundred years before the coming of Yeshua the Messiah, predicted that the return of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel was somehow connected to a greater spiritual experience. This experience was likened to being raised from the dead. God showed Ezekiel the true condition of his people. Not only were they cast out from their God-given home, but they were actually spiritually dead. But God, who delivered the nation from literal slavery years before would eventually deliver them from spiritual slavery. The Jewish people during the days of the Roman Empire rightly expected God to fulfill Ezekiel's words. They also rightly understood that their deliverance from spiritual slavery would only come about by the hand of the Messiah - something that many Jewish people of that day did experience just as many more Jews and non-Jews since then have also experienced.
It is death and everything that goes with it (sickness, injury, oppression, depression, relational dysfunction, etc.) that continues to hold people in its grip. Slavery is but a symptom of the bondage that affects us all. This bondage is not an illusion or a state of mind, though it affects our states of mind as it does every other area of our life. This is the human predicament. And it is this predicament from which God through Yeshua has determined to free us.
At Pesach we encounter the reality of the God who delivers his people - a reality we may all experience today. But in order to experience that reality, we must be willing to acknowledge our own modern day bondage. It is when we are able to admit that we truly are in bondage, that we are in a place where God can rescue us. And once we experience that rescue, we are in the place where God can, through us, rescue others from whatever their bondage might be.
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