If you are following the Old Testament track of this year’s daily reading plan, you have just left Genesis and entered Exodus. You have made it more than halfway through Exodus at this point, in fact.
Exodus is just about as iconic as Genesis, but it is iconic in a different way. Both books have made their mark on church consciousness as well as public consciousness, far more so than Judges or Kings have, but those marks are not the same.
When I hear Genesis, I think of a newly-created planet, a garden, an ark, a tower, and a family through whom the world will be saved. More than that, I think of a color. I see Genesis as being an attractive, life-giving green. That is obviously because of the creation and the original perfection of that creation depicted in the book.
But when I hear Exodus, I think of slaves and suffering, Pharaohs and pyramids (even though the pyramids were not what the slaves in Exodus were building), miracles and plagues, a sea split in two, and laws written on tablets. I see Exodus as being as dismal, deathly tan, a desert rather than a garden. This, of course, is because of the book starts in Egypt. I don’t know if Egypt was as tan or desert-like back then as it is today; it may have been green itself at that time. But that is how I think of it.
Those are powerful images to be sure, nearly as powerful as the images in Genesis. They are moving images, too; I can’t watch the final scene of Prince of Egypt without crying at the beauty of a newly-liberated Hebrew people led by a prototype of the Messiah.
But they are also hands-down harsher images. Exodus is just a hands-down harsher book.
Sequels Are Usually Harsher
That shouldn’t be a big surprise. Sequels tend to be harsher than their original work. Stories just seem to get harsher the longer they go on. For example, The Lord of the Rings is much harsher than The Hobbit. Not only so, but J.R.R. Tolkien considered writing a sequel to The Lord of the Rings was going in an even harsher direction. Tolkien could not change that direction, because it was logically where the story should go. The next story naturally became harsher than the one before it, and he didn’t want to write a harsher story, so he had to abandon it.
I can give you many more examples of this trend. If fact, I’d risk saying that this trend is always true except in the rare cases where a creator intentionally tones down the sequel to reach a younger audience.
Sequels are bigger. New and more characters come into the story. Different settings are brought in. The stakes get higher. And as a result, the stories get harsher.
Legalized, Systematized Violence
This is more than a trend in Exodus, though. The harsher nature of this book is not solely due to the fact that it is a continuation or that there are more characters and locations. Rather, the harsher nature of this book is due more to that seminal idea I call violence.
If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you are no stranger to my thoughts on violence. You know by now that I believe violence is one of the major themes of the Bible, that violence is in fact the essence of sin, what makes sin sinful.
From Genesis 3 on, we see violence entering and ruining our world. Violence was the reason for the Flood (Genesis 6:11). Violence was what Habakkuk complained to God about (Habakkuk 1:3). Violence was what Jesus taught against during His life (the path of peace we talked about last time) and what Jesus endured on the Cross.
But this violence becomes even worse in Exodus than it ever was before. The first recorded act of physical violence was Cain’s murdering of Abel in Genesis 4. But that act was random, and there were people who opposed it.
The violence in Exodus is different. It was not random but systematized. It was not opposed but accepted. It was, in fact, legal. It was Pharoah, the irreproachable law-maker of Egypt and most powerful man on the planet, who settled on one of the most grotesque acts of violence imaginable: infanticide, the killing of babies. He settled on that, made it legal, and carried it out systematically.
This is indeed how violence tends to go. It starts random and unopposed, but it works until it gets systematized and legal. It starts as the actions of single individuals and becomes the program of the state. Violence goes from bad to worse to as unbelievably evil as it can possibly be. That is what it always does. That’s why sequels are always harsher.
God Is Still God
That is bad news to be sure. But the good news of Exodus, the beautiful truth behind the tan and deadly desert that characterizes this book, is that God was able to handle this harsher, even worse violence. He was able to and He was willing to and He did.
Exodus 2:23-25 introduces this truth about God to us in this way:
God’s hearing and looking and remembering and being concerned are only the beginning of His response to this harsher violence. After doing all these things, God acts. He raises up a deliverer to oppose Pharaoh. He brings His people out of violence by the working of plagues that not only devastate Egypt but demoralize the violent people and debunk their gods. And He establishes a new law to oppose the law of violence.
Hope Behind The Harshness
So there was hope behind the harshness. There was glory which overcame the violence.
It is the same today. Like the homeless Hebrews, we today find ourselves facing not only random violence but systematic, legalized violence. But the God we love and look up to today is the same God who heard, looked, remembered, was concerned, and ultimately acted to end that violence back then. He has already broken violence by His Son’s victory on the Cross, and one day He will return to annihilate it even more thoroughly than He did in Egypt.
One day the lion will lie down with the lamb. One day harshness, no matter how great it grows, will be replaced by gentleness. One day Exodus’s tan will give way with Genesis’s green once more.