The back story to Passover is a mysterious one. Yet it seems strangely, even portentously relevant today. Exodus 1 recounts that after Jacob and his sons died in Egypt, the Israelites “became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them.” (v.7) The rabbis teach the ancient Hebrews experienced supernatural fruitfulness and multiplication.
But then “a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt” (v.8). The first known instance of anti-Semitism followed. Exodus 1 records the first expression of humankind’s endless hatred of the Jewish people. The biblical text never suggests the Israelites did anything wrong, or in any way sought to harm Egypt. All they did was prosper by the blessing of YHVH. Nevertheless, listen to the words of an Egyptian pharaoh feeling threatened by them for no apparent reason:
• “the Israelites have become much too numerous for us …
• we must deal shrewdly with them or they will grow even more numerous …
• they will join our enemies and fight against us.” (v.9-10)
The pharaoh’s “shrewd dealing” took the form of harsh slavery. However, the more the Hebrews were abused and overworked, the more they multiplied. Finally, as a last resort, Egypt launched a genocidal campaign against them. Every male newborn Hebrew was drowned — until God intervened and delivered His people through very deep waters. (Because God curses those who curse Israel, the Egyptian male army drowned in the Red Sea. The Egyptians who joined with Israel in their exodus, He blessed.)
The back story to Passover helps us stand firm against the present rise of global anti-Semitism. A world leader 3,500 years ago came to power who did not know about Joseph. It seems the history of this leader’s nation was not especially important to him. As a result, he lacked an historical context with which to judge events taking place in his day. Without this context, the pharaoh elevated his subjective emotional perceptions of what was right or wrong to the level of objective truth.
History shows that when nations dismiss objective fact and moral truth to accommodate fear, anti-Semitism often results. The Jewish nation is targeted as a scapegoat for the ills of society. Those ills are usually due, however, to disobedience to God. Sadly, this phenomenon is occurring in much of the world today. As a result, many do not know about “Joseph” and his God. They do not know historical and moral truth about Israel; they do not know Christian history; they do not know YHVH. We’ve a responsibility to reach and teach them, in love.
The traditional Passover liturgy urges us to engage with the ancient exodus as if it were our own. From one generation to the next, we’ll pass down the story of Joseph and his God. Then, by His grace, we will continue throughout the year to teach others the ways of YHVH. His deliverance is coming! Together with you, Light of Zion is committed to completing the task to which we’ve been called. May all Israel soon be saved!