“…And so they plundered the Egyptians.” Exodus 12:36
Just before the Israelites left Egypt, they asked the Egyptians for gold and silver jewelry, and the Egyptian people were kind enough to oblige, “and so they plundered the Egyptians.” I love this line, because it is a funky little detail in the Exodus story that does not get read, but it does explain the Golden Calf. The passage also gives me pause. Why were the Egyptians so willing to give up their stuff?
I do not have gold or silver to be plundered, but I surely have an abundance of stuff—scarves, lamps, throw blankets, throw pillows, you name it—and I always see more that I want. In particular, I love candleholders. When I saw a particularly beautiful candleholder, I could not buy it because I had no place to put it in my home. “You have reached a saturation point,” says my son. I cannot justify the indulgence of owning thirty candleholders in an electrified house by calling it a “candlestick collection,” because it’s not. I can’t even light them because I’m afraid of fire. It is simply an accumulation. When I see a candleholder I like, I buy it, whether or not I need it. Maybe the Egyptian people also had a saturated supply of stuff, especially of gold and silver. And maybe they realized that their accumulated wealth had come as a result of slave labor. And then maybe they decided that, when the slaves were now free to leave Egypt, the people might be obligated to help them on their way, making up for all those years of exploitation. So when the Israelites plundered the Egyptians—they asked nicely, I hear—they did the Egyptians a favor by helping them to give up stuff that was, in truth, a burden to them. The season of Lent is coming up, a time when we reflect on our relationship to God and to the world around us. I am well aware of how privileged I am in this society, and I realize that I have no desire to be “the Egyptian” in this story, hoarding either my possessions, or my time, or my love, or any of the other myriad gifts that God has given to me. So now, maybe it’s a good time for me to plunder my own inner Egyptian.
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