Campaigning for social justice is fundamental to calling yourself a Christian. Which is why, amongst other things, I’m supporting Amnesty International’s call to ban goods made in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The most important book in the Old Testament, I would say, is without doubt Exodus. And here are four reasons why I believe we all should read it – especially if we care about social justice.
1. It contains some of the most wonderful stories ever told
In Exodus you will find the story of Moses in the bulrushes; Moses and the burning bush; the ten plagues of Egypt; the Passover; the parting of the Red Sea; the Ten Commandments; the golden calf; and the forty years that the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness – eating manna and quails.
If you don’t know these stories, or haven’t read them for a long time, then you are truly missing out. As they are beautifully written - with great literary skill and dramatic hyperbole.
You don’t need to get bogged down as to whether every detail of the stories actually happened. Just accept that this is how the stories were told by the Israelites and how they were handed down from generation to generation. And recognise why that was – for the truths that the stories contain and what they tell us about God.
That the Israelites were in slavery and God heard their cries and acted to save them. And this is what people of faith fundamentally understand about who God is.
2. It is the primal narrative of the Abrahamic faiths
In Genesis – the book before Exodus, God promises Abraham that he will be the father of a great nation and that God will remain faithful to him and to his descendants. In Exodus we see that promise coming to fulfilment.
The story is what I would call a primal narrative for three reasons.
First, in the sense that it is of the greatest importance. Secondly, in the sense that it is “originating” – it gives rise to the Judeo-Christian faith. Thirdly, in the sense that it is “archetypal” – being a foundational narrative about the perennial struggle between the ‘world of empire’ and the liberating will of God, between oppression and social justice.
3. It shows us who God is
As I’ve already said, Exodus shows us that God is the one who hears our cries when we are in trouble and acts to save us.
The story also shows us that God is the one who remains faithful to us come what may, despite our sinfulness.
Furthermore, it shows us that God is the one who challenges us to fight against systems of oppression and to seek justice and fairness for all. It shows us that God’s will and passion are for a world marked by freedom, social justice and ‘shalom’ – a rich Hebrew word meaning a mix of wellbeing, peace and wholeness.
4. It points to Christ
The parallels between the Exodus story and the salvation story of Christ are too numerous for me to go into here. But I suggest you read Exodus and then read John’s gospel, in the New Testament, and see how many you can find.
Exodus tells the story of how God, through Moses, takes the Israelites our of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. John tells the story of how God, in Jesus, takes the whole world out of the slavery of sin and gives us eternal life.
If you live in or near Chiswick you are very welcome to join me and a small group of friends who will be reading Exodus together on Tuesday mornings 9.30-11.00am over the next few weeks (starting on 1 May) – at the back of our church, St Michael’s in Elmwood Road, W4 3DY.
If that’s impossible, then read do read Exodus on your own or with friends. And see how powerfully God speaks in this book. How God is who and what stirs us up to care about the oppressed and forgotten in our world today.