When Israel came out of Egypt,
Jacob from a people of foreign tongue,
Judah became God’s sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.
Psalm 114:1-2 (NIV)
There are sometimes life events which, for good or for ill, help define who we are and give us a sense of identity. I’ve seen it happen in families, in which a young child dies or a parent commits suicide and the family system shifts to ceaselessly revolve around that tragic event. I’ve seen it happen with sports teams, in which a team like the Boston Red Sox live under the “curse of the Babe” for almost a century, and my beloved Cubs continue to languish under the curse of the Billy Goat and tragedy of the Bartman ball. I’ve seen it happen in cities like my hometown of Des Moines, when the great flood of 1993 created a new sense of community out of a sudden lack of fresh water. I believe that Americans are only beginning to understand how the events of 9/11 and their aftermath have changed and defined us.
For the people of Israel, the defining event was the Exodus when God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and led them to the promised land. The story is retold and referenced countless times in the Old Testament by the historians, prophets, and poets. Thousands of years later, it continues to be retold and celebrated by millions of people around the world each Passover.
Today’s psalm is one of many lyric references to this defining event. It was likely written after the time of Solomon when the kingdom was split in two. Notice the reference to both Judah (the southern kingdom) and Israel (the northern kingdom) in the verse above. The song writer uses this common heritage to remind the people of both nations that despite their present political differences, the Exodus unites them in a common bond.
Today, I’m thinking about the events which helped forge my identity and gave definition to the person I have been, am now, and am becoming. What family events, even those from previous generations, affected my family system which influenced that person I became? What happened in my hometown, in my country, or the larger ethnic group from which I came that has impacted me personally and culturally? What would happen if I understood them with greater clarity? Which are worth celebrating? Which should I let pass away?