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Freedom and the Exodus

Freedom and the Exodus

SYNOPSIS: To celebrate Independence Day in America, we look at three ways the idea of freedom stemmed from the biblical Exodus Account. The Exodus produced freedom in ways that many would find surprising.

“And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubile unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. – Leviticus 25:10 (KJV)

How The Exodus Influenced America’s Independence

On July fourth, Americans celebrate their independence as a nation and the freedom that was won by a long struggle filled with sacrifices. When considering this event, a question arises; where did the inspiration and ideals of freedom, that the 13 colonies fought for, come from? Some may be surprised to learn that a major source was the biblical Exodus.

The account of the deliverance of the Israelites slaves out of Egypt, which was the most powerful nation on Earth at the time, is the quintessential story of freedom. The event was so momentous that repercussions from it traveled down through time, to affect our day. However, the examples and ideas of freedom go beyond the freeing of slaves in order to make a new nation. The link between the Exodus and America’s freedom comes in at least three different forms.

The Exodus Provided Personal And Political Freedom

The question of the nature of the faith of America’s founders is hotly debated, but one thing seems clear – you can’t understand the political and philosophical movements involved in America’s drive for independence and liberty, without reading the Bible. It was part of the cultural air breathed in the colonies at the time, and gave definition and content to the aspirations of the founders.

A past Thinker Update reported on a Bible produced for slaves that omitted parts of the Exodus account out of fear that it would inspire the slaves to revolt to achieve freedom. That update also gave examples of the impact Exodus had on founding fathers who viewed King George as a type of tyrant in the mold of Pharaoh who stood in the way of freedom. Ben Franklin even proposed that themiraculous Red Sea crossing be depicted on the national seal of America.

The Liberty Bell was commissioned in 1752 by the Pennsylvania Assembly for use in the State House. It was cast with words from the Bible’s Book of Leviticus 25:10: “Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof.” This was a command given to Moses while at Mount Sinai.

The Bell would become more famous when abolitionists adopted it as a symbol for their cause, giving it the name “Liberty Bell.” The full verse at the top of the article shows that the context of the inscription on the bell is the freeing of all slaves every jubilee (50th) year.

The new republic did not have the strength to overcome the powerful precedent of history by taking on the issue of chattel slavery. To do so would have torn it apart by pitting southern interests against those in the north. They would leave that to a future generation armed with the ideals set out in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The Exodus Provided The Idea Of Moral Freedom

Benjamin Netanyahu being interviewed by Tim Mahoney. (copyright 2007, Patterns of Evidence LLC)

As part of the filming for Patterns of Evidence: The Exodus, Tim Mahoney had the opportunity to interview two of Israel’s leaders, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Both gave their views on the Exodus and the origins of Israel.

Netanyahu shared the following thoughts on the freedom provided by God through Moses – that was more than just physical.

“Moses was the greatest revolutionary of all time. Remember that in antiquity there were grand empires that were based on one principle and that is slavery. And Moses challenged that twice. He challenged it by taking his people who were slaves in bondage in Egypt and freed them and took them to their Promised Land. But he also challenged it by providing a moral code for mankind that said it is not the king or the emperor that decides the law, there is a higher law…

“Now, these were absolutely revolutionary ideas. And, it’s the combination of the physical freedom; physically freeing the slaves from Egypt, but also ennobling them to a higher code of personal dignity, respect for your fellow man and personal freedom that was so at odds with the ancient world. And this shone a light and that light progressively expanded and reached larger and larger sections of humanity until it became the dominant code by which we live, or we at least aspire to live.”

In the biblical account, the first destination of the Israelites after they left Egypt was Mount Sinai, where they met with and received revelation from God. The law given to Moses at Sinai is sometimes viewed as a list of restrictions that were meant to keep the people from enjoying certain pleasures. But the Bible has a different perspective, portraying the keeping of the law as the path to protection and blessing. It frees people to live with each other in peace, allowing for the most enjoyment of the good things that have been provided.

“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” – Deuteronomy 10:12-13 (ESV)

This understanding of the benefits produced by morality and virtue was central to the vision of the founders in the American Revolution, and to the form of government they would construct. It would maximize the freedom for a culture that was shaped, in part, by the ideas of Exodus.

“[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”

“[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co.1854), Vol. IX, p. 401, 229)

“[O]nly a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” (Benjamin Franklin, The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Jared Sparks, editor (Boston: Tappan, Whittemore and Mason, 1840), Vol. X, p. 297)

The Exodus Provided Freedom From Fatalismm

Vishal Mangalwadi

Back in 2003, Tim Mahoney interviewed Vishal Mangalwadi, a Christian philosopher and author from India, for his ideas on the Exodus. When asked about the legacy of the Exodus, Mangalwadi brought up yet another way that the Exodus freed the thinking of people. He stated the following:

“Not many people realize that the Exodus story is the cornerstone, the foundation of the modern world. All ancient culture has had some sort of fatalism or determinism. They believed that history begins with a golden age, degenerates into silver, bronze, iron age and is destroyed. Which means that history is predetermined to go from bad to worse. The Hebrews experienced something radically different. They were slaves but their future was not predetermined to become worse. In fact, they can have a glorious future – slaves can move into a land flowing with milk and honey. The future can be better. Because God can make a difference, we can make a difference to history.

“Now this sets the Hebrews free, not necessarily from the slavery of Egypt but slavery of fatalism. Fatalism has been the most paralyzing force, idea, worldview in most of the ancient cultures. The cultures that are poor today are driven by fatalism, they are driven by [their idea of] destiny. But the story of Exodus is that God is free, He wants his children to be free – not ruled by the political and military might of dictators, not ruled by natural limitations of the Red Sea, or the Jordan. Not ruled by dry desert, but in the desert there can be water.

“The Exodus tells us that God is free, he can change history, and this confidence in progress, in a better future, in the freedom of God and therefore freedom of human beings, became the foundation of modern civilization. We can make a difference in the future because God is free and He wants us to be like Him – free. In fact, modern Western civilization was only the second civilization in history to be delivered from fatalism and that is a result of the story of Exodus.”

This belief in a better future became a motivating factor to America’s founders, giving them hope that their great sacrifices could be successful and bear fruit to be enjoyed for generations to come.

The theme of freedom in the Exodus account contains many facets, including physical, political, moral and philosophical. These ideals would reverberate around the world, helping to birth a new nation while at the same time helping to give it unprecedented liberty. They would also contribute to the optimism about the future that we benefit from today.

It still is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Happy Independence Day and Keep Thinking!

TOP PHOTO: The Liberty Bell with Independence Hall in the background.
(from Wikimedia Commons)

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