In the future your children will ask you, “What is the meaning of these laws, decrees, and regulations that the Lord our God has commanded us to obey” Then you must tell them, “We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his strong hand.” Deuteronomy 6:20-21
For my 40th birthday, Kevin and I visited Belize. Among other touristy things, we decided to do the Caves Branch tour, a 7-mile float down a river that passes through a long series of caves. Sometimes, we could see the light through holes where the ceiling had fallen in. Sometimes, we were in utter darkness. Mercifully, we had little helmets with lights and a guide. The guide used his high-powered flashlight to show us bats and fantastic cave formations along the way.
At several points, our stopped the float to lead us into the interior of the cave system. One cave, he said, was incredible, but to get there, you had to go through a very tight space. Nope, I said. I’m not good with that. Let’s skip that cave. He agreed and I breathed a sigh of relief.
But on one excursion, the ceiling got lower and lower. First we stooped, then we crawled. My worry turned to all-out fear when the ceiling became so low that to continue, we’d have to drop to our bellies and army crawl. What? Hadn’t we agreed to bypass this one?!? I wanted to stop, to go back, but I couldn’t see a way to turn around. All around the walls were even lower than the narrow space we had to crawl through. I could either forward or try to wiggle out backwards. I took as big of a breath as the narrow space would allow, asked God to help me (please, please!), and wiggled forward, focusing on Kevin’s feet and the promise of open air ahead.
The rock was all around. It felt like it pressed down on me, like I had no space to move, to even breathe. Just thinking about crawling through that narrow space, to this day, fills me with horror. I got out and need never see another cave in my life.
The Hebrew word for Egypt is Mitzrayim which literally means “narrow place.” Egypt was a narrow space, like the little crawlway in the cave. No room to turn, or dream, or change. Only room to go forward, with rock pressing all around. I love that the Hebrew word God’s people chose for Egypt was “narrow space.”
All of us face such spaces in life. Space that constriction our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives. And God’s redemption, when we know the word of Egypt, becomes not just a story of God delivering one generation from one oppressive country, but a promise that God will deliver us from our own narrow spaces. The Exodus is the story of liberation from all narrow spaces. So that when our kids ask us why we follow God, why we believe as we do (as they do in the verse from Deuteronomy above) we can answer like this:
“We were … in [a narrow place], but the Lord brought us out of [that narrow place] with his strong hand.”