I am reading Michael Walzer’s Exodus and Revolution. He suggests that the Exodus story is the template for revolutionary movements throughout history. I think there are some lessons here for us today.
Lesson #1—“a land flowing with milk and honey”
Walzer notes that liberation always includes a promise. For the Israelites, the promise was “a land flowing with milk and honey.” [Exodus 3:8] What I had forgotten (or conveniently overlooked) was that the Israelites saw Egypt as a land of milk and honey—“ Isn’t it enough that you’ve brought us up from a land full of milk and honey to kill us in the desert so that you’d also dominate us” (Numbers 13:16, CEB). The difference was that the promise was for milk and honey without bondage and oppression.
The strange thing about revolutions is that the promise is eventually compromised and Egypt is replicated. Power and domination have been “the normalcy of civilization” [John Dominic Crossan]. Israel became oppressive Egypt; America became colonial England; the church became the money-changers in the Temple. “Wherever you live,” Walzer writes, “it is probably Egypt.”
The American political scene has been an oligarchy of millionaires (Democrats and Republicans), supported by billionaires and corporate interests, promising milk and honey to blue-collar workers, but providing Egypt. My cynical self thinks that the President’s promise to “Make America Great Again” was understood as a promise of security through jobs and healthcare, as well as the ability to despise actively those whom you dislike. In reality it was a promise to the wealthy and to corporate interests to enhance wealth by removing governmental restrictions on corporate activity and providing tax benefits for those in the highest income brackets.