Why is Exodus 40 Years?

Posted by: Hailing Huang on October 19, 2012 2:58 pm

A friend has been job hunting for the last five years since he was laid off as an IT engineer. This friend frequently prayed and contemplated on when the job search will end. He is not the only one in this economic recession, according to CBC news, the unemployment rate increased to 7.4% in September. Thousands and millions of people have been affected by this recession. So when is the end? Or rather, is there an end? And how do we make sense and prepare for this uncomfortable journey?

This phenomenon reminds me of the journey of Exodus. It was a journey of liberation; however God did not directly lead Israel into the Promised Land but into the wilderness and it took Israel 40 years to wonder around. Every day the hardships of landscape, with no food or water, and encounters with new enemies threatened their faith in God.

Have you ever wondered, why does it take forty years and why not four years, or fourteen years? What is the necessity for Israel taking so long to reach the Promised Land? We may find the answer in the Bible, it says: the length of time the Israelite people lived in Egypt was 430 years (Exodus 12:40).

Therefore, we assume that Israel, as a long-oppressed community, had deeply ingrained an ego as “slave”; and we assume that they may not have had the resources to move quickly from “slaves” mentality to “slaves no more” mentality. So God had to do some work to enable Israel to gain the new identity. The period of wandering is, at least in part, a necessary buffer between slavery mentality and liberation; it takes time and space for the sake of shaping such thoughts. A new identity does not come easily either for Israel or God; with God’s power, Moses took the people out of Egypt, but it proved more difficult to take Egypt out of the people (Birch, et al, 2005).
God invited Israel to take one generation to develop a new identity of which Israel is and the liberation journey has being physically laboring, emotionally arduous and spiritually intricate.

In our conventional world, we often misinterpret God’s plan for us and expect life to be comfortable and free of trouble. We measure God’s presence in our lives by our level of personal comfort; we believe God is here if our prayers are answered. But in reality neither God or any other spiritual leader or tradition guarantee or encourages a pain-free life. Several important themes can be generated from this Exodus wilderness encounters (Birch et al, p123):

  1. God’s salvation does not guarantee life without hardships. The world outside of bondage is also a world with dangers and struggles.
  2. Faced with wilderness, some would choose the security of bondage over the struggle in freedom. In the context of such struggle, even bondage can begin to look attractive.

Taking Israel’s Exodus journey as an example in dealing with current economic recession, with facing the layoff, what do we ask from God? How do we pray and what could we pray for every day? Is it to get a better job, having a trouble-free or comfortable living?
Or is there something more that we can pray for, such as the ability to endure whatever is presented in life, the capacity of being in peace, love, gracious, grow, resilient; praise for whatever life presents, and being thankful for what we have. Abundance can be evaluated at two levels: the tangible aspect and intangible aspect. Can we contemplate on this idea: even when we are financially insufficient, and yet be spiritually efficient? That is the purpose of Exodus: the liberation journey.

Some may ask, why do we need to, or have to draw upon on tradition? What is the function of tradition in today’s modern world? Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist of the modern era said that although the world has dramatically changed from what it was fifty years ago, or five hundred years ago, the onward journey of the human being, the path toward maturity remains the same (Campbell, 2004). Therefore, by studying, and learning from the old wisdom teachings, we can acknowledge what the paths of those heroes were, what kinds of life quests they faced, how they felt when they were at these cross roads. What was their life force that helped them overcome obstacles and achieved their goals? Acknowledging and learning from old stories can provide us with a road map for our life journey.

Mythology has four functions (Campbell, 2004), first is to evoke in the individual a sense of gratitude, affirmative awe before the monstrous mystery that is existence; second is to present an image of the cosmos, an image of the universe around about this; third is to validate and maintain a certain sociological system, a shared set of rights and wrongs, on which your particular social unit depends for its existence; the last is the psychological function, the myth must carry the individual through the stages of his life, from birth through maturity through senility to death.

Although we don’t regard religion as pure myth, it does have the similar four functions. The second and the third functions have been taken over in our world by secular orders. Our cosmology is in the hands of science. The laws of science are working hypotheses. In religious tradition, the older the doctrine, the truer it is held to be. In the social realm, we don’t regard our laws as being divinely ordained. God’s law is no longer the justification for the nation’s laws. Congress decides what a decent aim for the social order is and what the institution is. However, the first and fourth functions of myth do still play a role. The first is awe, and the fourth is pedagogical- the function of the pedagogical order is to bring a child to maturity and then to help the age become disengaged (Campbell, p 39).

Bible stories provide the first and fourth functions, the role as awe, and the role as pedagogical. As a counsellor or Spiritual care provider, if we can learn from the book of Exodus, understand how Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt, then we can apply the same mentality into today’s situations. VanKatwyk (2003) had coined the term, extrinsic, which is addressing the root causes of the problem; focus on why we have the problem, instead of only focusing on the intrinsic problem, which is focusing on solving the problem as opposed to eliminating the problem. As Spiritual Care providers, our capacity also lays at being able to address the extrinsic issues: the faith, the growing maturely in spirituality. Only then we can take every journey as an Exodus- a path to spiritual maturity.

Works Cited

Birch C.B. , Brueggemann W., Fretheim T., & Petersen L.D (2005). A Theological Introduction To The Old Testament. 

Campbell J. (1991). The Power Of Myth With Bill Moyers. Anchor Books : NY. 

VanKatwyk P.L. (2003). Spiritual Care And Therapy, Integrative Perspectives. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

 Whitehead D. J. & Whitehead E. E. (1980). Method in Ministry: Theological Reflection and Christian Ministry. New York: the Seabury Press.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

0 comments on “Why is Exodus 40 Years?”

  1. Hello, Dear Linda,
    Thanks for your in-depth input. I think spiritual care and psychotherapy (previous pastoral counselling) is the new trend of counselling approach. It integrates the tradition with the psychology, or we could interprets it as integrating the religion with the science (psychology was regarded as science for the past century). While facts have proved that we cannot just relay upon science, we also need to relay upon our tradition and intuition. As one friend pointed out, spiritual care is at the front wave, and we are the front wave player. Maybe this is our exodus journey, another 40 years?
    Warm regards,

  2. Linda Thompson says:

    Good morning Hailing – my previous and spontaneous comment to you on the great topic of exodus was lost to the semi-triangular 0 in the Captcha which is no longer going to be a problem, however, I was unable to retrieve my original comment.

    In a secular society, you show strength and courage indeed utilizing ancient (biblical) stories in the modern world and thanks for disclosing that you are a spiritual (pastoral) counsellor. So glad to hear that as my spiritual mentor (pastoral) counsellor retired this summer and we need professionals passionate about their work with mysterium. I love the way you have weaved the exodus story of liberation out of ancient slavery (the world of work back then) into the contemporary problem of unemployment and recession noted today in the world of work.

    Back in my parents day, a grade 6 education was sufficient to enter the world of work. Forward to my generation and a Grade X was sufficient to get into the helping professions. Fast forward to today and a Bachelors is minimum and a Masters degree preferred. Bread and butter jobs are essential today for their is no guarantee that once you get your degrees that you will be able to earn a living to support yourself or your family. Two lines of work was what I did to survive. Nursing was my bread/butter job and trauma counselling remains my passion, but capital loss venture.

    Until the government funds counsellors or we are approved for third party billing; that is our reality. I find it curious that we continue to allow discipline discrimination from a fee for service perspective within the world of counselling services. Arcahaic indeed.

    Food for thought. Regards Linda

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