*** DEBUG END ***

Delivered out of Empire: Pivotal moments in the Book of Exodus, Part One by Walter Brueggemann

28 January 2022

Anthony Phillips reads the first volume in a scholar’s new series

THIS small book is the first in a new series examining pivotal moments in the Old Testament. There is no greater pivotal point in the Hebrew Scriptures than the narrative of the exodus from Egypt (Exodus 1-15), selected as the subject for the first volume in this series, nor a more appropriate author than Walter Brueggemann. No scholar has done more to enable the reader to appreciate the Hebrew Scriptures.

In the preface, Brueggemann points out that this work is not a commentary, but rather a reader’s guide book suitable for individuals or group study. Acknowledging the complexity that lies behind the completion of the material, he offers a canonical reading of the text, highlighting the pivotal moments in the narrative. His is a liberationist reading, witnessing to the God who both opposes and defeats “the powers of bondage”.

The author first examines the intolerable situation of the slaves. Having long suffered in silence, the workers suddenly voice their pain (2.23), which acts as a “wake-up call” to YHWH. What follows confirms that such a cry cannot in the end be defeated, as contemporary history has witnessed and is witnessing. So the command of Moses to Pharaoh to let my people go is “a command that lies behind every political revolution that has marked the modern world”. But the transfer of loyalty from Pharaoh to YHWH has economic consequences in the way in which society functions, as later legal material makes clear.

The decisive pivotal point is reached with the failure of Pharaoh’s magicians to mirror the plague of gnats (8.18), forcing the Egyptians, but not Pharaoh, to recognise “the finger of God”. Protracted negotiations with Pharaoh follow, in which Moses asserts that not “one hoof” will remain. For Brueggemann, this dialogue confirms the universalism of God’s love.

After the tenth plague, Pharaoh surrenders and astonishingly asks for Moses’s blessing (12.32), a request that goes unanswered; and, after the debacle of the Red Sea, Pharaoh is eliminated from the narrative.

It is not only the Hebrews but a “mixed crowd” (12.38) who depart with them which conjures up “a disordered and confused array of folks without ethnic or linguistic identity”, which explains the necessity for the comprehensive scope of YHWH’s law (12.49). Thereby, “economics is joined with theology.” Later tension between inclusiveness and exclusiveness will test the people of God. But no freedom movement — which is what Christianity at its best is — can debate who is eligible for emancipation.

Faced with the pursuing might of Pharaoh’s army, the people regret their escape. In Moses’s command, “Fear not,” another pivotal point is reached. It is a theme that runs through both Testaments. For Brueggemann, “the power of God is more than equal to the power that enslaves,” whatever form that enslavement takes. The gift of such grace can only result in praise: “The Lord will reign for ever and ever” (15.18).

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury.


Delivered out of Empire: Pivotal moments in the Book of Exodus, Part One
Walter Brueggemann
WJK £13
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Church Times Bookshop

Save money on books reviewed or featured in the Church Times. To get your reader discount:

> Click on the “Church Times Bookshop” link at the end of the review.

> Call 0845 017 6965 (Mon-Fri, 9.30am-5pm).

The reader discount is valid for two months after the review publication date. E&OE

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)