Lesson 13: Bondage, Passover, and Exodus #BCCSundaySchool2018

Objective: To bring class members together as participants in God’s liberatory work.

Readings: Exodus 1-3, 5-6, 11-14 (optional: read all of Exodus 1-15)Discussion Questions

My approach here will be to produce questions that respond to selected segments of text in the reading. This story has powerful themes, but we leave spiritual treasure on the table when we don’t attend to the text closely. My questions will be in a vein inspired by liberation theology, to which this part of the Torah is central. As you prepare to teach the lesson, read the assigned texts with these questions in mind and ponder ways of making them particularly applicable to your local circumstances. How can these scriptures challenge class members to lean a little harder into the work of building Zion in your community?

  1. Beginnings of Slavery in Egypt. Read Ex. 1: 8-14. What led the Egyptians to enslave the Israelites? How do we allow fear (v. 13) to make us complicit in oppression (v. 11)?
  2. The Midwives. Read Ex. 1:15-22. What can we learn from the midwives about resisting oppression? (See also v. 12.)
  3. The Birth of Moses. Read Ex. 2:1-10. What can this story (together with that of the midwives) tell us about women’s relationships to oppressive power? What can we learn from the examples of Jochebed, Miriam, and Pharaoh’s daughter?
  4. Moses Kills the Egyptian. Read Ex. 2:11-15. How does Moses navigate his privilege in this episode, which is to say: why does he side with the oppressed, when he has the option not to? What can we learn from his example? More troublingly, how do we reckon with the fact of a prophet who is also a murderer? How can acts of violence complicate or even potentially undermine the work of liberation?
  5. God’s Response to Israel’s Bondage. Read Ex. 2:23-25, 3:7-10, and 3:16-19. What does God’s response to Israel’s bondage teach us about our own covenant obligations?
  6. Moses’ Weakness. Read Ex. 4:10-17. What can this story teach us about our own hesitations and hindrances to fuller participation in God’s work?
  7. Pharaoh’s Oppression. Summarize Ex. 5 (Moses and Aaron ask Pharaoh to let the people go; Pharaoh responds by asking them to make bricks without straw; the people protest to no avail). Read Pharaoh’s words in Ex. 5:7-9, 17-20. How do we echo Pharaoh in our responses to people’s sufferings?
  8. God’s Response to Pharaoh. Read Ex. 6:2-9. What is God’s relationship to the oppressed people? What can we learn about oppression from the people’s response in v. 9? What are some obstacles to attaining freedom, and what can we do to mitigate such obstacles in our own time?
  9. Anger. Read Ex. 11:4-8. What can Moses’s “hot anger” (V. 8, NRSV) teach us about both human and divine responses to sustained oppression? How should we respond when oppressed peoples in our own day are angry?
  10. Passover. Read Ex. 12:1-13. What can the practices of Passover teach us about how to celebrate God’s deliverance before it has been accomplished? Given the echoes of the Jewish Passover in the Christian celebration of the Lord’s Supper, how can our own participation in the sacrament further our commitment to and participation in God’s liberatory work?
  11. Pharaoh’s Heart. Read Ex. 14:1-4. Given the JST that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, how do we harden our hearts against the cries of God’s oppressed people in our world today?
  12. The People’s Complaint. Read Ex. 14:10-14. Why do we have a hard time believing that God will deliver us? What about experiences of oppression makes such belief so challenging? How can we work, like Moses did, to counter these obstacles when we see them at work in people around us?
  13. Miracles. This story is full of miracles: the plagues, the Passover, the parting of the sea. We live in a period of extraordinary migration, with refugees fleeing dangerous situations in many places of the world. Wherever we may live, our communities have their own troubles, with some people comfortable and prospering while others struggle to get by. Believing that God still desires the liberation of God’s people, how can we participate in the necessary miracles today?

Comments

  1. Not a Cougar says:

    Jason, is there a way to teach these concepts without using “privilege” language? I think the lesson is worthwhile, but the moment someone says the word “privilege,” hundreds of thousands of socially conservative members will say to themselves, “I’m out on this lesson.” I’m certainly not versed in liberation theology so perhaps the vocabulary is unavoidable.

  2. Probably. Have any suggestions?

    (Admittedly, the less charitable part of myself who is tired of hearing Fox News talking points trotted out as gospel jus wants to say they can deal.)

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Great thought questions. It’s kind of timely for this lesson that Passover began last Friday at sundown, and the feast of unleavened bread will end this Saturday (April 7) at sundown.

  4. Kristine says:

    The notion of “privilege” doesn’t seem like the most interesting question in that passage. I mean, there’s the big question of how we cope with a prophet who’s a murderer… And questions about when violence is just, and how far to submit to the state vs. when to flee. I’m not even quite sure what you mean by Moses’ privilege. It would need explanatory time that I’d hate to dedicate to it.

  5. Not a Cougar says:

    Power? Political capital? Cachet? I don’t really know. I just know that “privilege” is a loaded word to many, many people.

    Kristine, those some socially conservative members will frame it as use of deadly force in defense of others (and it certainly could have been for all I know). The text is admittedly sparse so I can think it’s at least as fair to frame Moses as protecting a brother from deadly harm as to call him a murderer.

  6. Nephi is much less ambiguously a murderer than Moses. Maybe the point of Jason’s question is that Moses was (1) willing to let himself be moved by the plight of those he could have result ignored and (2) made a choice that forced him to take sides with the oppressed against the oppressors, even though he was already a part of the oppressors and it was in his self interest to remain so.

  7. I’d go with “power.” I think most of this can be framed in some form of “does might make right?” If you are physically stronger, or in the majority, or in a position of authority, is that enough to make everything/anything right or correct or charitable or [pick your virtue]? The natural response is no, not enough by itself. And then the discussion begins.

    I’d want to take it in the epistemological direction — how does anybody know? — but that would depend on the classroom.

  8. JKC got at what I was thinking: his choice to side with the oppressed, even when he had the option not to. You could say that and drop the word “privilege.”

    And I agree that the question of what to do with a murderer-prophet is troubling and difficult. I should have had the courage to ask it.

  9. Kristine: I appreciate the pushback here, and I’ve revised the questions accordingly (leaving the word “privilege” in there just so that the comment thread still makes sense).

  10. To questions two and three (which are excellent and got me thinking), I think women in general are more practiced in the art of resisting oppression. But I also think their resistance isn’t always (ever?) recognized as such until much later, if at all. It’s called other things: selling out, deception, making a nuisance of oneself, inconsequential. Women’s resistance also often is calculated to cause as little collateral suffering as possible. Generally, I’ve noticed that when a woman resists, the only life and happiness she’s willing to put on the line is her own, or maybe that of a willing, trusted sister or daughter. So when a woman asks you to resist with her, what I think she is saying is that she sees you as part of her own self. That’s powerful.

  11. Thanks, Leona. Great comment.

  12. Aussie Mormon says:

    An interesting point Kristine and JKC, is that although Moses killed the Egyptian, based on Numbers 20:12, it was Moses breaking a direct commandment by striking to the rock instead of talking to it that stopped him (and Aaron) being able to enter the Promised Land. (Though this won’t be for a few lessons).

  13. Ryan Mullen says:

    I like your questions. They come from a very different direction than I usually approach the exodus story, which is to focus on the textual development. For example, these are the type of questions I’ve used in the past:

    (*) How do the plagues both legitimize Egyptian deities (e.g. Hapi the Nile god, Ra the sun god, Anubis god of death) and demonstrate YHWH’s dominance over them?
    (*) Exodus 15 is possibly the oldest Hebrew text in the entire Bible. You may be surprised that it doesn’t mention dividing the Re(e)d Sea in two. Instead, it mentions winds building up the waves that drowned Pharaoh’s army (compare Christian Bale’s Moses to Charlton Heston’s). Why is it important to not get locked into one visual or interpretation of a story?

    Also, I have never viewed Nephi’s killing of Laban as a commentary on Moses’ killing the Egyptian, but I think there’s a lot to unpack there. Personally, I find Nephi’s cold and rational(ized) killing more disturbing than Moses’s angry spur-of-the-moment violence, but I can see how Nephi’s story could be used to legitimize Moses’s murder. As mentioned above, Moses’ story is rather sparse, but with Nephi we get all the detail we need to justify a prophet committing violence: the command from God, the initial recoil, the internal struggle, and ultimate submission to God.

  14. JustWondering says:

    The questions are thought-provoking. It would be enjoyable to be in a gospel doctrine class in which these kinds of ideas were readily welcomed and discussed. I just wanted to add this tidbit about the midwives. The irony is sweet in that two brave woman are named (Shiphrah and Puah) and a record of their heroic acts is preserved, yet the name of Pharaoh is not recorded in the text and his identity is uncertain. In the HarperCollins Study Bible it’s suggested that the underlying Hebrew points to the possibility that the midwives were Egyptians who served the Israelites, which would make their disobedience to Pharaoh that much more remarkable.

  15. Sarah B says:

    I really appreciated these questions and comments. One point that I may bring up in class: It’s Fast Sunday in our ward this week, and this lesson says so much about liberation and oppression that it’s especially worth considering the role those play in Isaiah’s conception of the fast. In fact, speaking Messianically, it’s the first idea he brings up when he defines the fast: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58: 6, though 7 is a beautiful addition too).

    I’m too much inclined toward a “afflict his soul”/sackcloth and ashes kind of fast myself. I so often spend Fast Sundays only hangry. But I am grateful for the reminder through the story of the Israelites that God wants me to observe my fast through, among other things, setting other people free. (E.g., In my lesson reminder email to the ward, I included a link to the Operation Underground Railroad website as one very cool/specific example of modern-day slavery-busting.)

    On the other hand, I was considering baking unleavened bread in the church ovens during class and serving it during our discussion of the Passover (or giving it to people as they flee from class?)–my Sunday School president has specifically encouraged us teachers to prepare lessons that allow our students to have more varied sensory experiences–but then I realized that baking/serving bread in the ward building is kind of a mean trick on Fast Sunday.

  16. I appreciate these questions and this liberation-focused approach. It brings to mind a point I may make when I teach this lesson: In our ward, it’s Fast Sunday. And liberation from oppression is fundamental to Isaiah’s conception of a godly fast: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6, with 7 as a beautiful description of specific ways we can liberate people).

    I tend too much toward a sackcloth and ashes/afflicted soul kind of fast myself (I am so hangry on Fast Sundays), that I’m grateful for Isaiah’s reminder that my fast should be centered on what God clearly cares so much about–so many kinds of liberation for us all.

  17. Also, the hyperbolic part of me wants to say that teaching this lesson without at least mentioning if not focusing on the women (the midwives, Moses’s mom/sister/surrogate mom) is a sin!

    But I’m trying to stay on my side of the street more and be much less judgmental. So I’m just going to say, If the Spirit prompts us to discuss these things, this lesson presents another rad opportunity to talk about a whole bunch of truly powerful and godly women.

  18. Sounds like you’re well positioned to teach a powerful lesson. I hope it goes well!

  19. “Power” is an easy and reasonable enough substitute for “privilege” but in my opinion, it’s wrong for the same reason that “privilege” has always been a limited vehicle for the concept meant to be carried. Both “power” and “privilege” provoke thoughts of *other* people higher up in a hierarchy more easily than they seed substantial reflection on the responsibilities of one’s own place and introspection about how one might do better.

    I like “advantages,” “blessings,” “position,” and “the good cards in your hand.” The last is probably not ideal for LDS discourse. And most of these lead more toward individual behavior than they do systemic issues, which makes them incomplete (though I think “position” has potential). But they’re far less politically loaded and I think they lend themselves better to self-examination.

  20. Good suggestions. Thank you!

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