The story of Exodus in the Bible tells of how the Israelites escaped bondage and made their way to the promised land. But did you know it tells your story too? Here’s how:
It starts out with the people of Israel as slaves in Egypt. They have material goods – tasty food and solid homes – but they are trapped by a system that forces them to work. … Just like being trapped in your 9-5 job, working hard to earn enough money to go on holiday once a year, if you’re lucky. And then back to the grindstone, right?
‘Egypt’ also describes our psyche’s enslavement to our emotions. Get angry sometimes without knowing why? Exhausted even after sleep? Frustrated with loved ones even when you know it’s not their fault? Or maybe you feel enslaved to an addiction which helps you get through life: sugar, junk TV, cigarettes. You’re far from alone. All of us regularly do things without knowing why, or do things we don’t really want to do. This is enslavement to the passions, the emotions.
In both ways, we are not in control of our own lives.
Then one day, something happens: disaster strikes! Plagues occur. But in that disaster an opportunity arises and we are forced to make a decision: do we want to remain in Egypt, in bondage, or do we want to make a bid for freedom?
Jewish sources say that 80% of the Israelites stayed in Egypt – only one in five left. And far from finding freedom, that minority almost immediately found themselves in trouble; within days they were trapped, the Red Sea before them and Pharaoh’s army behind. They cursed their luck and asked themselves why they had ever come.
This is what happens to everyone who seeks meaning in life. When you make the decision to free yourself there will be a falling away – of bad habits, of toxic relationships, maybe even of places that it’s time to move on from. Those things will try to pull you back in to Egypt, but you must remain resolute in your decision to be free.
In that time, you will feel yourself trapped – you’re out of your comfort zone, perhaps for the first time ever, and it will feel terrifying. You might even feel like you’re about to die. But, don’t despair! Just as you feel you have nowhere to go, the seas will part and the way will become clear, like a path opening up before you. You will cross the great sea and leave slavery behind.
Now the fun really starts. Now you are free, but you still remember Egypt. You still have a slave mentality. You must now learn how to be free.
The people of Israel wandered the desert for 40 years. It takes only 11 days to walk from Egypt across the Sinai to Israel, so why so long? I believe it’s because this journey is representative of the main portion of a seeking person’s life. Most people reach their plagues disaster in the form of some sort of mid-life crisis, which generally occurs in the late 30s to early 40s. Add another 40 years and you have the full span of a human lifetime.
This gives us some idea of what this period is for. You will make mistakes. You will create false idols and have to break them. You will traipse around in circles and camp in strange places. You will learn the rules for living a good life, and you will start to follow them. This will set you in balance. No longer will ‘the people’ – your emotions and appetites – rule you, instead you will learn to lead them and to keep them in check. You will learn to bend your will, through disciplined creativity, to achieving your desires.
And throughout this whole period, you will learn that you don’t have to do anything. Everything you need to survive is given to you – food to eat, shelter from the elements, and a guide on the path showing you the way forward. All you need to concentrate on is being present and aware, and in control of yourself. On finding your balance.
Finally, at the end of the wandering comes the big day when at last the Israelites reach the promised land. Why does Moses not enter with them? Because this is the moment of enlightenment, when the ego is finally left fully behind, and the soul is able to take its place in unity with the land of milk and honey.
Here too, there are trials: the Israelites must eject the Canaanites from the land. But this they do, taking full possession of Eretz Yisrael, as we, at the moment of enlightenment, take full possession of our true inheritance: a place where there is no more toil, only peace.
If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re currently in your home in Egypt, looking out across the Red Sea and wondering what lies beyond. Wondering whether it’s worth the risk. For more than 4000 years, people have been asking themselves the same question. But time and again what they have discovered is that, if you make a bid for freedom and head for the wilderness, there, God shows up.
Why not try it? You have nothing to lose but your chains.