Archbishop writes: Cherishing our real freedom

glenn davies
Archbishop writes: Cherishing our real freedom image

The son of the freeman becomes a slave

In the biblical narrative, Egypt is a place of slavery and deprivation for the people of God. It is, of course, associated with the selling of Joseph into slavery.

This event in the Genesis storyline follows the corrupt behaviour of the sons of Israel, which the reader can easily infer is a judgment upon them for seeking to kill their brother out of envy and spite, and throwing him into a pit. Although Reuben sought to spare Joseph’s life, hoping to restore him to his father, it was Judah who suggested Joseph be sold to the Ishmaelites.

The irony that the child of the promise, a descendant of Isaac, son of the free woman, should be sold to the descendants of the child of the flesh, son of the slave woman, is not lost upon the reader. Yet God’s hand was upon Joseph. Moreover, despite the brothers’ desire for evil, before they can exact their revenge, a passing band of Midianites finds Joseph and sells him to the Ishmaelites.

Yet the guilt of Joseph’s brothers is later confirmed, as Reuben grieves their sin in abandoning their own brother, despite the distress of his soul, and their later deception of their father, Jacob, into believing his beloved son had been killed by a wild beast.

The unfolding story of Genesis sees Joseph, through his righteous acts and trust in God, rise from slave to free man, from servant to master, as he is given rule over all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself, with his revelation of the seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.

As the famine spreads, Israel’s family is forced to leave their homeland and come to Egypt in order to survive. In the providence of God, the selling of Joseph into slavery was to become the salvation of Israel’s family.  

God brings his people to the promised land

Yet Egypt also became the place of enslavement for the people of God. When the days of Joseph’s benefaction to the people of Egypt was forgotten, a Pharaoh arose “who knew not Joseph”. The Book of Exodus then reveals the salvation of God in redeeming Israel from slavery and setting them free to serve him in their own land, the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Throughout the Old Testament, Egypt is associated with slavery and bondage, the antithesis of all that God has in store for his people in the Promised Land. Egypt becomes a paradigm of all that is to be avoided. When Judah’s kings put their trust in Egypt rather than God, God brings judgment upon them. Even when Judah is threatened with God’s judgment they foolishly look to Egypt, despite Jeremiah’s warning “not to go down to Egypt

Jesus in Egypt

It therefore comes as a surprise to the reader of the New Testament to find that another Joseph, another faithful Israelite, departs for Egypt, taking his wife and child. He flees at God’s command as God’s Son is threatened with death, as was Joseph of old.

Why Egypt? Because God, in his sovereign purposes, was retracing the steps of Israel’s flight from the land of slavery to the land of freedom. Jesus’ identification with God’s people, Israel, was from the beginning of his life an identification with their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, from bondage and fear to freedom and liberty.

Matthew saw this clearly as he records Jesus’ departure from Egypt: “This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son’”.

You will be free indeed

As we come to celebrate Christmas this month, it is easy to recall the angel’s appearance to Mary and the angels’ appearance to shepherds, but the angels’ appearances to Joseph ought not to be underestimated.

Joseph was a righteous man who heeded the Lord’s command, against what might have been his better judgment. In so doing, he was instrumental in displaying the Lord’s purposes that Jesus, God’s Son, would “save his people from their sins”, by redeeming them from the slavery of sin and bringing them into freedom as sons and daughters of God.

‘If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed’. This promise is not just for Jews but for all people, from every tribe and tongue – including Egyptians!

While our politicians may or may not protect our religious freedoms remember that, as Christians, we already have true freedom.

May God richly bless you this coming Christmas, that the joy of Jesus’ birth and the freedom he came to establish will be yours – not just in this festive season, but throughout the coming year, as you live as free men and women in the service of our God.