I T’S A PLOT DEVICE whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence. This plot twist is called deus ex machina (DAY-əs ex-MA(H)K-in-ə). English: “god from the machine.” Its function can be to resolve an otherwise irresolvable plot situation. It is often used in fairy tales or fantasy.
■ Cinderella’s fairy godmother comes and solves all of her problems by magically creating a dress, coach, and servants so that Cinderella can go to the ball.
■ Gandalf seems to return from the dead just when Frodo needs him so that he can survive and continue his journey with the ring.
This character is almost “divine,” and the way that the problem is solved could be called “divine intervention.”
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OUR READING TODAY is a great example of divine intervention. The freed slaves are facing the Red Sea. The Egyptian army is approaching from behind. They have nowhere to go. No way to save themselves.
Then, like an unexpected plot twist in a fantasy novel, Moses holds up his wooden staff, the waters part, the Hebrews scurry across the dry sea bottom while the Egyptian chariots rush in after them.
The slaves reach the other side. Then the waters flow back together. The army is gone. The slaves are now truly free from bondage.
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WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE between deus ex machina and this dramatic plot twist in Exodus? This is indeed divine intervention. The people will remember this event as we have already referenced in our call to worship and in our prayer of confession.
Even today, God’s saving intervention is celebrated. This history is remembered and shared from one generation to the next. I’m sure the Egyptians remember that history differently, if at all.
If you know the story, God sent 10 plagues on the Egyptian people. Pharaoh finally allows the Hebrew slaves to go free. Then Pharaoh changes his mind and sends his army to capture and return the runaway slaves. After all, their departure will cause economic ruin in Egypt. But God has one last miracle to perform. The Lord places the Hebrews in a predicament from which only divine intervention can save them.
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THROUGH ALL OF THIS, God is creating a new identity for Israel, one that is distinct from the slave identity imposed on them by Egypt.
From this moment on, the people are being recreated, reshaped, redefined. It is a declaration that Hebrew lives matter. But more than that.
Remember, Jesus says the poor, hungry, grieving, hated, and rejected are blessed. This demonstration of great power reveals God is more than the god of one nation. God is God of the whole universe.
God has power over national tyrants and their weapons of war waged against the poor, defenseless, and hurting.
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WHAT IS A TYRANT? A ruler who acts without concern for checks and balances. A ruler who uses power oppressively and absolutely.
Pharaoh is a tyrant.
The American colonials saw the British king and parliament as tyrants. Their rallying cry, “Taxation without representation is tyranny.” To protest against tax laws, the colonists organized a boycott against British goods. The British ultimately caved to the outlaw protests in the streets and removed all taxes on English goods coming into the colonies, except for the tax on tea.
On Dec. 16, 1773 a group of Americans dressed as Indians, boarded the ships belonging to the East Indian Co., and threw the cargo of tea overboard into the Boston Harbor. The British called them traitors. We call them heroes.
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WHEN THE HEBREW SLAVES see the tyrant’s army, they are horrified. With flocks and families on foot, they cannot move very fast. The cards are stacked against them. But they do not need to overthrow the enemy. Note that this is God’s doing. God alone has the power to cast a tyrant’s weapons into the sea.
Now the great external obstacle to liberation is removed. Physically, the Hebrews have left Egypt and the tyranny of Pharaoh.
However, as we shall see in the passages ahead, it will take some time for Israel to spiritually remove themselves from slavery and slave identity.
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DID YOU KNOW it was 23 years from the Declaration of Independence until the United States Constitution went into effect?
Twenty-three years to decide what freedom means, and how to live within that freedom.
It takes time to discover who you are without masters and whips. It takes some time to live into the responsibility of being tethered to each other.
It takes time to grow into God’s spiritual and ethical codes. And that time is not an easy road to travel.
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WE HAVE A PRELUDE to struggles ahead in the verses before the parting of the sea:
Why are you doing this to us, Moses? Wouldn’t it be better to stay in Egypt and at least know our fate? Wouldn’t it be better to be close to the riches of a wealthy nation than to be lost in the wilderness?
Without the external tyrant preventing the people from living into liberation, small counter-revolutions pop up within the camp. We’ll address some of those next Sunday as we continue our Road Trip through Dissension in the Desert.