Week 4, Exodus 1—2–“Moses”: Pharaoh and Ethnic Cleansing


Monday, March 20

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them” (Exodus 1:8-14).

It is important for us to call this what it is. Pharaoh’s fears, and the Egyptians’ dread, were not in any way realistic. There was no indication that the Israelites had any intention to side with Egypt’s enemies in a conflict. The Israelites posed no threat: indeed, Joseph—an Israelite!—had recently been Egypt’s savior (see Genesis 41). But this Pharaoh has no memory: he “did not know Joseph.” His cruelty and oppression toward an ethnic minority in his kingdom responds to an imaginary crisis: this is racism, pure and simple.

As I write this devotional, Dylann Roof has just been found guilty of murder in the shooting deaths of nine people [pictured above] attending a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. In his statement taken following this horrific crime, Mr. Roof said that he had to do this, in retaliation for black-on-white crime: another imaginary crisis, based on fake news from the internet rather than actual crime statistics.  Sadly, the escalation of hate crimes following our recent election—the Southern Poverty Law Center counted 1,094 reports of harassment and intimidation between November 9 and December 12, “more than the group would usually see over a six-month period”—demonstrates that many others who “feel threatened” by African-Americans, by Latinos and Latinas, by Arabs and Muslims, now feel empowered to express these feelings openly by their words and actions. We must have the courage to call this too what it is: racism pure and simple. We must oppose it wherever we encounter it, and let ethnic and religious minorities know that the church is with them.

Prayer: O God, forgive us for the times when, for the sake of our own security or convenience, we let lies about our sisters and brothers stand without refutation. Give us the courage to bear witness to the truth—to your truth—in whatever place we find ourselves. This we pray in the name of Jesus, who told us that the truth would make us free (John 8:32), Amen.


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