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Passover: The Exodus That Could Have Been
Video 5 of 5
As we saw, the Pharaoh in Joseph’s day thought that he had a right to Joseph’s loyalty, after all, Joseph had been like a son to him! When Joseph asked permission to leave Egypt because of something he needed to do for his father Jacob, Joseph’s Pharaoh had acted heroically in a way. He recognized that Joseph’s primary allegiance rightfully belonged to Jacob over him – that, when all is said and done, Jacob was the deeper father here, with a more primary claim on Joseph’s service.
But Pharaoh actually did something even more heroic than that. He didn’t just allow Joseph to leave, quietly and unobtrusively. He sent an honor guard of chariots and horsemen to accompany him. He wanted to be part of the procession. Why? Because he recognized, at the end of the day, that Jacob was not just the father of Joseph, but a kind of national father, for Egypt, as well – and that Jacob’s wishes to be buried in Canaan couldn’t be allowed to diminish his status in Egypt’s eyes. If Father wants to be buried in Canaan, we will not take that as a snub, and turn our backs on him. We will honor those wishes. We will be part of the parade too.
Now, in a deep way, the Pharaoh in the days of Moses was confronted with an almost precisely analogous series of choices.
As we’ve seen, the original, benevolent Pharaoh in the times of Joseph had treated Joseph like an adoptive son. Ever since then, the vestiges of that relationship had lingered. To some extent, the Egyptian throne continued to look upon the Israelites as its child, but that relationship had decayed. It was as if the loving surrogate father had become an evil and abusive caricature of his former self. He demanded the loyalty of his ‘child,’ but extended none of the love a father would give to one of his own. The Egyptian throne abused its child and enslaved it, and brutally inured itself to the child’s cries for mercy.
Then, one day, Moses came to Pharaoh with news for him. The child Pharaoh thinks is his, has another father as well. A deeper father than Pharaoh. A Heavenly father. This father in Heaven wants His child to go into the desert for a few days to serve Him. It’s the first step in redeeming that child.
When Moses came with this request, Moses’ Pharaoh should have rightfully looked to Joseph’s Pharaoh, for a lesson as to how to deal with that situation. With precedent in hand, he ought to have acted heroically. He ought to have recognized that Israel’s primary allegiance rightfully belonged to a deeper father, to Heavenly Father.
As a matter of fact, the Pharaoh of Moses’ day should have gone even further. He, like Joseph’s Pharaoh, should have recognized that Father in Heaven wasn’t just a father of Israel, He was a universal Father, a father even of Egypt. Thus, Pharaoh shouldn’t have just “allowed” the Israelites to go into the desert for a few days to honor their Heavenly Father, quietly and unobtrusively. He should have sent an honor guard of chariots and horsemen to accompany the departing Israelites. After all, it was Egypt’s father, too! At the end of the day, Moses’ Pharaoh should have made the same calculation Joseph’s Pharaoh did: Father’s wishes to take the Israelites to Canaan, they can’t be allowed to diminish the reverence we Egyptians give to Father in Heaven. If Father wants to do this, we’re not take that as a snub, and turn our backs on him. We will honor His wishes. We will be part of the parade.
Moses’ Pharaoh could have done that, but he didn’t. In the end, the Pharaoh of Moses’ day was not able to muster the honesty, the humility, the courage necessary to recognize that there was a deeper Master than he, with all the implications that would flow from that.
So, when Israel finally did leave Egypt, they would leave all alone. There would be no Egyptian multitudes escorting them out joyously, with pomp and circumstance. There would be no Egyptian horsemen and chariots, gloriously accompanying Israel all the way to water’s edge. There would be no Canaanite throngs exclaiming about the wonder of it all.
Except that there would be. The Master of the Universe would see to it that there would be.
In his blindness, Pharaoh thought the chariots and archers were there to pursue his escaping slaves. But that wasn’t really their purpose; God would appropriate those chariots and archers for His Own purposes. One way or the other, Egypt’s finest would escort Israel, like before, to water’s edge. One way or the other, as it was in days of old, Father shall once again ‘ be honored through Pharaoh and all his army.’ If Pharaoh wouldn’t be forthcoming in providing that honor, it would be taken from him.
So, centuries after they first made their appearance, the chariots and horsemen of Egypt would indeed show up again. They would come to provide honor for God. But now we understand - it’s not their deaths that would provide honor, as we had assumed before, but their accompaniment of Israel that would do this. It was as if God looked out at the scene, at Israel departing Egypt, all alone, and said: Something is missing in this picture. The first time around, there was a great military escort to honor Father. What happened to MY honor guard?
And so God would see to it that the honor guard came:
וַאֲנִי, הִנְנִי מְחַזֵּק אֶת-לֵב מִצְרַיִם, וְיָבֹאוּ, אַחֲרֵיהֶם; וְאִכָּבְדָה בְּפַרְעֹה וּבְכָל-חֵילוֹ, בְּרִכְבּוֹ וּבְפָרָשָׁיו
And as for Me, I shall hereby strengthen the heart of Egypt, so that they shall chase after you. For I shall be honored through Pharaoh and all his army; through his chariots and through his archers (Exodus 14:17).
And not only that, the Canaanite throngs would be back, too. Centuries before, they had exclaimed in amazement at the honor Egypt had given to a universal Father. Now, they would exclaim in trepidation about the honor that Father had taken, brazenly, from a recalcitrant Egypt:
שָׁמְעוּ עַמִּים, יִרְגָּזוּן...נָמֹגוּ, כֹּל יֹשְׁבֵי כְנָעַן
The nations heard [what happened to Egypt]; the inhabitants of Canaan shrank away in fear (Exodus 15:14-15).
Those are the words of song Israel would sing at the sea, after their Egyptian pursuers are vanquished. So one way or the other, those Canaanites, they’d be back. They’d look upon Egypt and be amazed – only, this time, they wouldn’t see Egypt’s joyous celebration of Father, as they had in Joseph’s days; instead, tragically, they would see Egypt’s destruction.
The ideal plan was for Egypt to participate in the Exodus as a real player on the grand stage of history. The plan was that they and the Israelites, like long ago, they would form a single, joyous camp, enthusiastically partnering in paying homage to Father. Go back to the burial scene:
וַיַּעַל עִמּוֹ, גַּם-רֶכֶב גַּם-פָּרָשִׁים; וַיְהִי הַמַּחֲנֶה, כָּבֵד מְאֹד
And there went up with him, chariots and archers; and the camp was very great (Genesis 50:9).
Look at that verse. In Jacob’s Burial procession, to all eyes, there had been but a single camp; the Israelites and Egyptians were united in a single purpose. That was the way it was supposed to be again, in the days of Israel’s Exodus. The tragedy of the Exodus as it actually came to pass was that there was no longer one camp, but two. Look at this verse:
וַיָּבֹא בֵּין מַחֲנֵה מִצְרַיִם, וּבֵין מַחֲנֵה יִשְׂרָאֵל
And [the Divine Cloud] came between the Camp of Egypt and the Camp of Israel (Exodus 14:20).
The Egyptians had chosen to pursue the Israelites with malice, instead of with joy. And so, there needed to be two camps, with the Divine Cloud between them, instead of one camp, with the Divine Cloud among them. And therein lies the tragedy brought about through Pharaoh’s recalcitrance.
Which brings us to consider the future.
The parallels between the Jacob’s Burial story and the Exodus story seem to suggest, as we’ve seen, that there was a more ideal way for the Exodus to have played out. There was an Exodus that Might Have Been, as it were – an Exodus in which Jew and gentile would have left Egypt in a shared procession, all in one joyous camp, an Exodus in which freed slaves would be accompanied by an honor guard of former oppressors, all joining together in a procession to honor Father.
But if the Exodus That Might Have Been did not actually occur, why does it matter to us? Generally, historians do not spend all that much time debating what could have happened but didn’t. Why should we?
The answer is: Because we aren’t historians.
Judaism has always insisted that the Torah wasn’t written to merely be a history book. Instead, the Torah is meant to be a guidebook. Sometimes the Torah guides by telling us laws. Sometimes it guides by telling us stories about our past. The stories are relevant not just because they once happened. They are relevant because, like law, they can help shape us into our best possible selves.
The Exodus That Might Have Been is hinted to in the Torah because it guides us. It teaches us that the Exodus was not just about freeing slaves, or just about a nation that happened to gain independence through divine intervention. It was, actually, about something else, too. It was about a procession designed to honor the Father in Heaven - a joint procession.
Just like the burial procession of Jacob, the Exodus, in its perfect form, was supposed to be a procession including multitudes. In the end, the Exodus from Egypt brought us only part of the way to that vision. Because the procession that departed Egypt was a shadow of what it might have been. We were the only ones who embarked on that journey. What of all the others?
It will be the destiny of Jew and Gentile to one day realize the promise of that journey as it should have taken place: to march side by side and proclaim in unison the Oneness of a Father that we all share.
The prophets of Israel would speak often of that destiny. If we read the words of those prophets, we can’t help but hear in their words the longing to complete the Exodus’ unfinished journey:
נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, מְקַבֵּץ נִדְחֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: עוֹד אֲקַבֵּץ עָלָיו, לְנִקְבָּצָיו.
Thus says YHVH, who gathers in all the dispersed people of Israel: ‘I will gather still others to God, beside those of [Israel] that are gathered!’ (ibid., 56:8).
Isaiah speaks of a time when God will ‘gather in’ to the Land of Canaan all the dispersed people of Israel, but when He does so, He will gather others, too. They’ll all come in a grand procession:
וּבְנֵי הַנֵּכָר, הַנִּלְוִים עַל-יְהוָה לְשָׁרְתוֹ, וּלְאַהֲבָה אֶת-שֵׁם יְהוָה… וַהֲבִיאוֹתִים אֶל-הַר קָדְשִׁי, וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים בְּבֵית תְּפִלָּתִי
Also the Gentiles, that join themselves to accompany YHVH, to serve Him, and to love the name of YHVH… I will bring them all to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer (ibid., 56:7).
The last time there was a procession like this, the Israelites had traveled all alone. Egyptians had pursued them, but had not joined them. And therefore, separation was the order of the day: Israel needed to be separated by the Divine Cloud from those that pursued them. But in the procession of the future, separation shall be a thing of the past:
וְאַל-יֹאמַר בֶּן-הַנֵּכָר, הַנִּלְוָה אֶל-יְהוָה לֵאמֹר, הַבְדֵּל יַבְדִּילַנִי יְהוָה, מֵעַל עַמּוֹ
Let not the child of a Gentile, who wishes to accompany [those who are] with YHVH, say: 'YHVH has surely separated me from His people'... (Isaiah 56:3).
So once again, there would be a great procession, one overwhelmingly large camp, devoted to the honor of Father. It would be a journey that would redeem the missed opportunities of Israel’s very first journey, the Exodus. The journey taken at the end of days is going to mirror the journey that should have been taken at the original Passover, at the beginning of days for Israel, at Israel’s birth. This time, in the future, all nations would join together, to honor the Father of All.
May we speedily see the day.
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