Cover Image: Delivered out of Empire

Delivered out of Empire

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Member Reviews

I love this time period and the author's thoughtful approach. Highly recommend for those interested in Biblical history!
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Walter Brueggemann has long established himself as one of the most thoughtful, reflective scholars in the Christian tradition. There are few people who can make the Old Testament come to life with contemporary application like Brueggemann. His life’s work has been a repudiation of the excesses of capitalism, nationalism, and militarism, something that finds perfect harmony in Delivered Out of Empire, a thoughtful look at the first fifteen chapters of Exodus.

Brueggemann begins his story with the Israelites being called out of Empire and ends with the Red Sea crossing and Moses and Miriam realizing their deliverance and bursting into song. Just the rhetorical structure of the book thoroughly encapsules the way Brueggemann approaches his exegesis, one that combines text and history with imagination and art. We start with a call and end with a song. 

Delivered Out of Empire are reflection on ten different passages within Exodus 1-15, each of them considered “pivotal moments” in the book. This connects to the larger series, edited by Brent Strawn, called Pivotal Moments in the Old Testament. Brueggemann brings these old passages to light with astounding contemporary relevance. Of primary importance is that he places the modern Western reader as closer to the Empire of Pharaoh than the slavery of Israel. We don’t often think of ourselves as the villains of the story, but if you look at the American Church and the power it holds, it cannot be denied that in many ways we are more like Egypt than Israel in this moment. That inversion really sets the stage for a new reading of Exodus.

That is why, from the beginning, he identifies the cries of Israel with the protests of the Civil Rights movement, anti-apartheid sentiment, and Black Lives Matter. It’s a difficult message that many in the church will unfortunately not accept, but Brueggemann’s masterful writing makes clear the cognitive dissonance.

Other important moments include his chapter on the plagues, viewing them as a teaching curriculum of sorts that prove Yahweh’s dominion over the false gods of Egypt. And then there’s his caution that as the Israelite people leave their bondage, they soon become ensnared by the same trap from the other side becoming oppressors themselves. Delivered Out of Empire also touches on how Empire maintains the enslavement of people. Brueggemann writes:

Empire depends on nameless nobodies to do the heavy lifting. When these anonymous heavy lifters become 'a people', they constitute, in their comradeship, a threat to the empire and a force for an alternative.

Delivered Out of Empire exists in uneasy tension. That’s probably true of most of Brueggemann’s work. At times, his prophetic imagination may stretch the text beyond what some biblical literalists feel comfortable with. At times, his vocabulary wavers between general accessibility and writing to a theologically-minded audience. And always, he is aware of the tension of naming American—with its crony capitalism, nationalism, and militarism—as more akin to Egypt than Israel.

Delivered Out of Empire is a powerful book, one that will take multiple readings to truly grasp in all its fullness. The book’s structure lends itself to small group study over a ten-week period, making it perfect for Sunday Schools or personal devotionals. It’s a book that will serve as a backbone for any future studies of Exodus I undertake.
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This work seeks to connect the current state of the United States’ government, the pandemic, racism, greed, monopolies, victimization, violence, economic and social oppression, national security, climate change, anxiety, and inequitable capitalism with that of Pharaoh in Egypt during the enslavement of the Israelites versus what is termed as the common good which is a lifestyle founded on equity for all. Many parallels made are ones that I have not heard elsewhere nor connected myself. 

As this text seeks to interpret the Exodus story through a purely victimizer versus victim, oppressor versus oppressed, and the haves versus the have nots, the author mitigates the equally true interpretation (in my opinion) of historical people of the world (Egyptians) versus the historical people of God (Israelites.) Simply stated, there are more ways to read the Biblical text than just through a socioeconomic reading.

So what is the anecdote to a scarcity mindset of enslavement which Pharaoh placed upon the Israelites and that is present in the modern unconscious in all humans where we seek to hoard an over abundance of possessions in fear of scarcity? The answer given is a neighborhood mindset where we, as humans, and more specifically neighbors to those in our community, seek to help meet the needs of those around us where the church can help facilitate this logistically.

In summary, this text has a deep concern for interpreting Scripture in light of current crises which impact everyone regardless of their religious convictions; or lack thereof. While you may not agree with every parallel made between the Israelites situation in the Biblical narrative with that of the present-day context, you will undoubtedly find this work to be both satisfying and imaginative in the treatment of the Biblical exodus especially in light of the empires of old and those operating today. 

*I have received this ebook free of charge in exchange for an honest review.
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