Search This Blog

Monday, November 26, 2018

5 PHASES OF FREEDOM (an Exodus blog)

blogging Exodus 12-14

This will be a long post.  I’d originally intended to break the content up into a series, it’s more important for you to see and digest these ideas as a unit. 
Read carefully.  Think hard. 
I welcome your comments.

First some history. 

Lincoln didn’t free the slaves, not fully.  The Emancipation Proclamation was an emergency wartime executive order that apply to slaves outside the Confederacy.  Within the Confederacy, Southern states didn’t recognize Lincoln’s authority.  Lincoln basically federalized asylum for runaway Southern slaves who made it to Union lines.  Also, most historians agree that the order would not have withstood a post-war constitutional challenge.  It was the 13th Amendment that ended American slavery, and the country almost didn’t pass that several times. 
After the slavery amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th), White communities successfully conspired to re-disenfranchise and re-subjugate Black Americans, especially across the defeated Confederate states.  That wasn’t a novel process in American history.  It is a pattern in HUMAN history.

The Bible teaches us that whenever one people profit from oppressing another people, the oppressors do not give up their slaves quickly, willingly, or smoothly.  Even when liberation is forced upon the slavers, even after they have issued the proclamations and passed the Amendments, Massuh ALWAYS tries to get his slaves back.

America re-enslaved African-Americans with Jim Crow.

Pharaoh tried to take back his slaves at the Red Sea. 

Now it was told the king of Egypt that the people had fled, and the heart of Pharaoh and his servants was turned against the people; and they said, “Why have we done this, that we have let Israel go from serving us?” So he made ready his chariot and took his people with him (Exodus 14).

Even Old Testament Israel was guilty of reneging on promised emancipation.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, after King Zedekiah had made a covenant with all the people who were at Jerusalem to proclaim liberty to them: that every man should set free his male and female slave—a Hebrew man or woman—that no one should keep a Jewish brother in bondage.
10 Now when all the princes and all the people, who had entered into the covenant, heard that everyone should set free his male and female slaves, that no one should keep them in bondage anymore, they obeyed and let them go.
11 But afterward they changed their minds and made the male and female slaves return, whom they had set free, and brought them into subjection as male and female slaves (Jeremiah 34).

God knows the pattern of re-enslavement, and he has provided a system for how the oppressed can outmaneuver their former masters to secure their lasting liberty and all the prosperity promised to them in the land.  

Taking the Exodus story through chapter 14, as our Biblical case study, we find 5 steps or phases to the lasting Emancipation of a people.
They are:
      1.      EXIT.
      2.      ORGANIZE.
      3.      RE-EDUCATE.
      4.      TRAIN. 
      5.      OUT-THINK.

Phase 1:  EXIT.

Getting out sounds simple, but one of the defining marks of slavery is limited mobility. 

 Over 400+ years, the opening chapters of Exodus explain, the Egyptians created systems that exploited their Hebrew community and transformed the fertile lands of Goshen into the world’s first ghetto. 
But we’re not just talking about a physical exit from a neighborhood.  We’re talking about getting out from under the systems that turn a community into a ghetto, a neighborhood into “the hood.”  

In Exodus era Egypt, in Jeremiah era Israel, in the American era, those systems enabled the financial, cultural, and military dominance of the nation.  Liberation means breaking those systems, but if you break the systems, you harm the state that depends on them. 

The plagues wiped out: the Egyptian fishing industry, their food stores, their livestock holdings, their standing crops, their trees and orchards, and the seedlings for the next year’s harvest . They were left with only liquid assets (gold, silver, jewels), the modern equivalent of losing all the money in the banks and stock markets and having only the cash in individual houses.   The plagues broke the Egyptian economic system, like the American Civil War bankrupted the South and large parts of the North.

In the decades following the Civil War, Black communities throughout the country built communities so independent of traditional, White-dominated economic and political systems that they became known generically as Black Wall Streets. 
The Black residents of these prosperous communities still resided in America, but they had GOTTEN OUT of the systems of oppression.

Society has systems of slavery hidden in plain view. 
Debt is slavery.  Proverbs 22: 7 The rich rules over the poor,  And the borrower is servant to the lender.

Dependence is a system of oppression.  Generational reliance on food stamps, TANF, Medicare, Medicaid, Section-8, etc. enables segregation, over-policing, and target dehumanization.  We gotta get out of those systems and into our own economic independence. 

Financial illiteracy, labor-centered employment training, poor schools, dysfunctional family structures, ineffective policing (the kind that kills the unarmed and doesn’t stop the proliferation of crime) are all systems of oppression.  We have to break those systems and get out of those cycles. 

The systems weren’t just financial and geographical.  They were also cultural.  To break the systems enough for the oppressed to get free, the masters have to experience such physical and PSYCHO-SOCIAL suffering  that it momentarily breaks the will of the masters.  After the darkness and death of the 9th and 10th plagues the Egyptians urged the people, that they might send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead” (Exodus 12:33).  After that, the Hebrews were able to GET OUT.

Make no mistake, after all these decades there are deeply vested economic and political interests who see a change to these systems not as progress, but as plagues.   A lot of people have to lose a lot of money and a lot of power for God’s people to GET OUT of these systems.  It’s gonna be ugly.  Freedom summer ugly.  Sherman’s march through Atlanta ugly. Exodus 5-12 ugly.

Phase 2:  Organize, starting with what they know.

So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt. (Exodus 13: 18, NKJV)

The NIV says. . .  The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. 

The English Standard Version reads . . . equipped for battle. 

The New American Standard Bible  says . . . the sons of Israel went up in martial array from the land of Egypt.

If you ever saw a movie or documentary depicting an ancient Egyptian battle, you remember lines of foot soldiers with no armor and no shield, just a spear of simple sword.  Those unprotected foot soldiers were the first to die, pawns thrown at the front lines of the opposing army while the citizen soldiers maneuvered.    Along with being free labor, Hebrew men had been used as disposable slave soldiers.  Sometimes the mercenary property was rented out to fight for other nations.
That’s nothing new.  Even in the antebellum South, it wasn’t unusual for massuh to arm a contingent of slave men to guard the big house while the White men were away.

When the Israelites left Goshen, the enslaved veterans organized their tribesmen into orderly ranks.  The Hebrews marched out of Egypt with a contingent of armed veteran ex-slaves.

Moses organized his people’s exodus according to a system they already understood.  He used the orderly ranks and lines they’d learned as slave-soldiers to keep the people together and to make sure that no Hebrew was left behind. 

Strong, traditional extended family units undergird the success of Asian, Indian, and prosperous Hispanic communities.  The synagogue and kosher culture have sustained Jewish communities through 3,000 years of exiles and failed genocides.  The most successful immigrant and minority communities in America utilize internal organizational structures carried over from their familiar home culture.   

Black Wall Streets were built around and out of the Black Church which is still the only Black-owned, Black-managed, Black-staffed institution with property and offices in every Black neighborhood in America.   That’s what we have.

Now, we need to utilize the institution we control, bring in the skills we’ve learned in other institutions and organize it into orderly structures that police, protect, and develop our own communities toward our promise and potential. 

Phase 1.  EXIT the systems that oppress us.
Phase 2.  ORGANIZE the resources and institutions we already have.

Phase 3:  RE-EDUCATE the people.

The closing chapters of the book of Genesis describe how children of Israel originally entered migrated to Egypt, not as slaves, but as the honored guests of Pharoah.  Joseph, son of Israel was the hero of Egypt, the prophet and prime minister who had saved the nation from famine.

You can’t exploit and enslave a minority ethnic group AND acknowledge that they were the foundation of your nation’s success. 

That’s why  after Joseph and his generation died, there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph (Exodus 1:8).   The new national leadership   ignored and suppressed the truth of their national history  history. 

When your nation builds its prosperity on the work of a minority ethnic group, but wants to enslave that same ethnic group and disproportionately use them as cannon fodder in wars you fight for other countries ---- you have to hide the history of where they really came from.  You have to bury Joseph and forget who he was.  You have to bury Joseph and make THEM forget who he was.

For the people of a historically enslaved and oppressed minority to build themselves into the rulers of their promised land, they have to dig up their history and teach themselves what they had forgotten. 

Exodus 13: 19 And Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for he had placed the children of Israel under solemn oath, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones from here with you.”

We will have to dig up histories like that counter the dominant narrative that Black people were passive slaves who waited on White saviors for their freedom.  We have to dig up the history of ancestors like Robert Smalls. 

If an escaped slave can start a Southern state’s public school system, surely the descendants of slaves can fix a Southern state’s public school system.  We have the spirit and resources to transform the culture of education in our communities and through that transformed culture to raise up subsequent generations who know what, why, and how to advance their people on the path to the Promise.

Phase 1.  EXIT the systems that oppress us.
Phase 2.  ORGANIZE the resources and institutions we already have.
Phase 3:  RE-EDUCATE the people.

Phase 4: TRAIN them to follow God. 
Exodus 13: 20 So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness. 21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.
22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.

To our modern minds with trillions of pages of analysis and interpretation between us and the original events, Exodus 13:20-22  seems a pretty straight-forward passage.  But the actual process of over a million men, women, and children with their wagons and baggage and livestock all simultaneously charting their direction by the placement of a column of fire and/or smoke at an undisclosed height and distance ----- that was new to the children of Israel.  It took time and practice to get everybody on course and acclimated to this unique method of navigation.

It’s gonna take some serious effort to get our community and our churches all properly oriented and acclimated to following God.  The typical reader of my blog identifies as a born-again Christian.  You LOVE God.  But loving and following are not exactly the same.

Children love their parents, but they don’t always follow their parents’ directions.  You don’t have to teach a baby to love the parents who feed and shelter and talk sweetly to it.  But you do have train up that child in the way, in the direction he/she should go.   Loving the God who emancipated them was easy.

Following His guidance once they were free took training.

One of the weaknesses of the Christian community in America is that we talk ONLY about LOVING Jesus.  Don’t misunderstand me.  We must, should, and will talk constantly about loving the Lord and about the love of the Lord; but we are missing an important truth when we talk about loving Jesus but not about FOLLOWING Jesus.

At the Last Supper, when Jesus declared Himself to be the Passover Lamb of the NEW covenant, and in at least 4 different ways Jesus said you can’t love the Lord and not also FOLLOW the Lord (John 14: 15, 21, 23, 24).

Day and night, we have to practice getting behind what God says, getting in line with what God wants, getting on task with what God assigns.  We have to get back to the fundamentals of spiritual training.  Back to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, and fasting, studying the Word, sharing the Word, witnessing, testifying, and serving.

If we’re going to go grow outwardly, we have to do the hard work to grow inwardly.   And for a while that means we’ll be doing some things the long way.  The first time you ---- yes, YOU --- lead the congregation in prayer, you might stumble and fumble.  But over time you’ll  learn to follow the Lord in prayer.

When you – yes, YOU ----  teach Sunday school the first time you’ll be nervous.  But after a while of winding through, you’ll learn to follow the Lord in teaching. 

When you start off planning and organizing the new ministry you’ll have to stop and start over several times because you’ll drift into planning a cute event instead of planning a long-term, life-transforming ministry.  After some twists and turns, you’ll get used to lining up with the Lord on outreach.

With time, focus, and persistence we can develop a culture that is not crippled by petty jealousies because the members of the community have been trained to measure themselves by what they do for the community not by what display compared to their neighbors.   

And along the way, we’ll confront modern versions of the same obstacles and inquiries the people of God always encounter.  Somebody’s going to say, “Look. I love Jesus as much as anybody, but why do I have to do all this?  What about THEM?”

After the Resurrection, Jesus had a conversation with Peter.  The conversation in John 21 began with Jesus asking 3 time, “Do you love Me?,”  and Peter insisting each time that “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”  The conversation ended with Peter looking at John and asking Jesus, “Well, what about him?”

Jesus told Peter the same thing He’s telling you and me right now.  John 21: 22.  Don’t trip trying to keep your eyes on the next dude’s movements.  You FOLLOW Jesus.

Phase 1.  EXIT the systems that oppress us.
Phase 2.  ORGANIZE the resources and institutions we already have.
Phase 3:  RE-EDUCATE the people.
Phase 4: TRAIN them to follow God. 

And finally, Phase 5: OUT-THINK your enemy.

So they took their journey from Succoth and camped in Etham at the edge of the wilderness.
Now the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: “Speak to the children of Israel, that they turn and camp before Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, opposite Baal Zephon; you shall camp before it by the sea.
 For (BECAUSE) Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, ‘They are bewildered by the land; the wilderness has closed them in.’
Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.” And they did so (Exodus 13: 20- 14: 4).

God took the Israelites on a long and winding path.  It felt like they were lost, retracing their steps, starting and starting over, not moving directly to their destination.  But God wasn’t lost.  God was thinking like Pharaoh.  Or, to be more precise:  God was OUT-thinking Pharaoh.

Since God  created us, He understand us.  I don’t just mean God empathizes with us.  I mean that God fully and absolutely sees and comprehends how each and all human being work.

The Lord knew that Pharaoh would send scouts to follow the Israelites.  God knew that those scouts would be prejudiced against the ignorant minorities who’d begged for a break from work.   He knew that the mentality of the majority would interpret their winding path as proof that the Jews couldn’t handle freedom.  They were lost.  They were disorganized.  Their leaders were incapable of running their own institutions.

God knew Pharaoh and those with a pharaoh mentality would take the first opportunity to step in, take over, and return the Israelites to a state of subservience.

God knew that a pharaoh will always try to get his slaves back.  Cough-cough, gentrification.  Cough-cough, privatization and government seizure.  Cough-cough liberal White paternalism. 

In Scripture, God records some of the ways He out-thinks the enemies of His people so we can use those texts as examples of how to out-think the enemies of God’s people.

Learn the rules of the game.
Anticipate what the opponents will do.
Make their efforts work for your people.
As Yahweh put it, gain honor over Pharaoh and over all his army. 


When Israel applied the principles above, they found themselves on the far side of the Red Sea watching the broken pieces of chariots wash up on the shore.  For all the time they travelled from there to the Promised Land and for generations thereafter, Egypt did not threaten the Israelites.   Pharaoh gave up trying to take his slaves back.

We can be truly and fully free from the lingering legacies of racism, White supremacy, and all of their ancillary injustices. It’ll be a long and winding road, but thank God that God has given us the tools to travel the path all the way into His Promises.
---Anderson T. Graves II   is a writer, community organizer and consultant for education, ministry, and rural leadership development.

Rev. Anderson T. Graves II is pastor of Bailey Tabernacle CME Church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He writes the popular blog: A Word to the Wise at

Follow me on twitter @AndersonTGraves 

Click here to support this ministry with a donation.  Or go to and click on the DONATE button on the right-hand sidebar. 
Visit the ministry’s website at

Support by check or money order may be mailed to 
Bailey Tabernacle CME Church
1117 23rd Avenue
Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35401

No comments:

Post a Comment