Pharaoh's Way or the Way of YHWH? (God as the Just Judge)

Elmer Martens begins his discussion of the cult practices of Israel with Passover. Such an annual festival was explained with great detail, but the theology of such is left unattended (48). He expands his exploration of a theology of sacrifice by noting that ‘substitution’ as commonly understood is not the focal point as many assume (61-63). Rather, sacrifices point to ongoing deliverances as blessing from YHWH (64).

Walter Brueggemann notes a God who is “sovereign in relationship” rather than being distant (85ff). This sovereignty is such that YHWH’s grace and mercy have been identified with a particular people, Israel – who were rescued from slavery in Egypt (Passover). YHWH’s fidelity with their suffering is given as a function of sovereignty and enfleshed through open-ended engagement with this people (86-88).

The image of Judge aids in the above issues insofar as the cult is a reminder of continued covenant blessing and the “sovereignty in relationship” is an indication of YHWH’s chosen fidelity with Israel. A judge invites a system of justice: either the pharaonic or covenantal (104ff). Pharaoh’s justice is oppressive slavery and economic hierarchy. YHWH’s justice is egalitarian, always in fidelity with the vulnerable. Israel was liberated into true justice, only to eventually turn from YHWH’s sovereign design by imposing “forced labor” for the construction of the Temple. Liberated slaves created a social hierarchy that resembles the Pharaoh-Judge rather than YHWH-Judge (105). Israel walked away from the blessing of cult and relationship with their just Judge. Throughout the OT YHWH would “hear the cry” then “liberate” after his protection had been lifted for choosing Pharaoh’s way.

1) What parallels does this contrast-system of the Judge YHWH have to our call in Kingdom politics today?

2) How do we deal with the prescriptions for slaves in the Law, given Brueggemann’s reading of the two systems?



Brueggemann, Walter. Old Testament Theology: An Introduction. Nashville: Abingdon, 2008.
Martens, Elmer A. God’s Design: A Focus on Old Testament Theology. N. Richland Hills: BIBAL, 1998.

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  • Brad

    I spend much time in my class on the oppressed becoming the oppressor and the cycle of violence that permeates cultures much like Israel adopting the Pharoah-Judge model. Quoheleth writes, "I saw the tears of the oppressed – and they have no comforter; power was on the side of the oppressors – and they have no comforter. And I declared that the dead, who had already died, are happier than the living, who are still alive." From the English language, and perhaps a deconstructive view the insinuations are eye-opening and profound. While the oppressed obviously "have no comforter" that statement also applies to the oppressor because of the indefinite antecedent. The trappings of power, of greed, of control for the oppressor brings "no comfort." In this way, all (the oppressed and the oppressor) have no comforter. All need a comforter, and that is the YHWH-judge. But in the current Pharoah-system it is the dead, "WHO HAVE ALREADY DIED," that are happier. What a disturbing statement that in the Hebrew mindset to be dead would be better than being alive under the oppressive Pharoah-judge. Buy the same token the "living" are simply walking-dead-men. This cycle of oppression is no life at all. Only a new way, a way that breaks the cycle of oppresser-oppressed-oppressor-oppressed is the answer. Salvation comes not just to the oppressed but to the oppressor in this new way. God freed the Hebrews from slavery, but he also freed the Egyptian oligarchs. Whether or not the Egyptians recognized this or "saw" this is another question, but, of course, it is evident the Hebrews did not fully "see" this either. In fact, much of their wanderings in the desert suggest by the diction of the Old Testament that they were still caught in the "slave mentality," the Nietzschean view of "modern" societies. Christ's model (through Paul in 1Coritnians 12 and Ephesians 1) of a body with every part unique and significant to every other part, interrelated yet individual in its form and function, serves as a predominent metaphor for the children of the Kingdom, where Christ, the YHWH-judge of mercy and compassion rules with mercy and compassion, the true comforter, the one who releases all from oppressions like slavery, holocaust, genocide, poverty, starvation, AND greed, lust for control, lust for power, the desire to subjugate, all of which are forms of brokenness and oppression, needing comfort. It seems to me that Thoreau's, Tolstoy's, Gandhi's, King's, and Mandela's ways of non-violence, yet leading with the other cheek are the only forms that can both remain consistent with "fighting" oppression and avoiding slipping into the role of the oppressor. It is a long battle where change comes slow on the outside, perhaps not as slow in the inside in one's soul. But when the change occurs in the outside world, it will perhaps seem abrupt, though we know that any changes by King or Gandhi took years and years with great suffering involved. This answer is unsatisfying to most who are trapped either knowingly or unknowingly in the Pharoah-judge world we inhabit. But perhaps a first step is to recognize that we are aliens, "illegal-aliens," citizens of another kingdom. Then we have to believe it and live it. This is a hard teaching. Who can follow it?