Monday evening, Jews ‒ as well as many Christians ‒ begin the observance of Passover. Young people, if they are taught anything about Passover − which is becoming increasingly unlikely − will say that it commemorates the liberation of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This explanation is correct but incomplete. It leaves out the two most important pieces of the story: Who brought about their liberation, and for what purpose?
One need not be a biblical scholar, which I surely am not, in order to answer these key questions. One need only read a single verse:
And the LORD spake unto Moses, Go unto Pharaoh, and say unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Let my people go, that they may serve me.
− Exodus 8:1 (KJV)
The answer to the first question is clear. Moses led his people out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land, and out of slavery to freedom. But it was God who caused this liberation to occur.
This is no surprise to those of us old enough to have been taught to memorize in school. Now, of course, memorization is “old fashioned,” and children are asked not what some text says, but how they “feel” about it. But how can you know what to “feel” about something when you don’t know what it is in the first place?
Some people claim that our Founders were deists who wanted a government devoid of religious influences. These people should note the idea of “freethinker” Benjamin Franklin for the Great Seal of the United States:
Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.
Motto: “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” [Emphasis added.]
We memorized “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” also called “America,” which we sang at school assemblies. It almost became our national anthem, but the fact that it has the same melody as “God Save the Queen” was against it. We always sang the first verse, and often the fourth:
Our fathers’ God, to Thee,
Author of liberty, to Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light.
Protect us by thy might, great God, our King.
As a child, I learned that freedom is holy because God is its source. Not the government, not even the Constitution, but God Himself. And if singing was not my forte, I had the Declaration of Independence to study:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
There it is again. We are endowed by the Creator with rights. Not the by the government, which had not yet been established. Not by the Constitution, which had not yet been written. Not by the Bill of Rights, which had not yet been proposed.
No, our rights come from the Creator. What is more, our rights are unalienable, or as we would say, inalienable. That is, we can’t give them away, even if we want to. We should remember this when we talk about all the usurpations of our rights that our so-called representatives in government greedily enact.
How many of our rights can we give away (remember unalienable?) until we are no longer free, and what is worse, no longer deserve to be free? How high a tax rate can we bear before freedom becomes merely a hollow concept with no reality?
This year, average Americans will have to work from January 1 to April 25 to pay their taxes, one day longer than last year. That is, we have to work for no wages 31% of the time, or about one and one-half days a week. This is sure to increase, in view of our monstrous deficits. And in fact, it has increased almost every year since 1900.
But wait – what do you call someone who must work for no wages? What is slavery, if not a 100% tax rate? How high must income taxes go before we are, in effect, partial slaves? How high must property taxes go before we are, in effect, paying rent to the government, and do not really own our homes?
Politicians promise free health care and free college for all, and young people cheer. The slaves in Egypt got free food, free housing, free health care (such as it was), and a guaranteed job − just as convicts in prison do today. In fact, some Israelites did not want to leave Egypt. They were accustomed to being slaves − they were afraid of freedom. Others did leave with Moses, but later changed their minds and wanted to go back. They tasted freedom, but they preferred slavery.
Such people deserve pity and contempt. But they are taken as role models by those Americans who want the government to control virtually every aspect of our lives, from light bulbs and toilets, to dishwashing detergent and shower heads, to salt shakers and sodas, to health care. Like the faint-hearted Israelites who wanted to return to Egypt, these Americans tasted freedom but prefer slavery. Make their own decisions? No, that’s too daunting a prospect for the faint-hearted.
Land of the free and home of the brave? I’m not so sure anymore. Recall what President Eisenhower taught us:
History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.
We answered the first question. We know Who liberated the people from slavery, and Who is the source of liberty. But what about the second question? What is the purpose of liberty?
Liberty is like health – it is good in itself. But like health, it is also good because it allows us to do…what? Anything that’s legal? Anything we can get away with? Anything that feels good? Anything we please?
This brings us back to the message of Passover. Moses was instructed to go to Pharaoh and tell him that the Lord says to let His people go, that they may serve Him.
Liberty has a purpose: to allow people to live useful, productive lives in their communities. But not useful and productive in a purely economic sense, as a Marxist would insist. No, useful and productive in a deeper sense. Useful in helping those who need help. Productive in making things or providing services that people really need to improve their lives, and not just more electronic gizmos that complicate their lives and deplete their finances. Useful and productive in being good citizens, and raising children to be good citizens.
In short, the purpose of liberty is to enable us to live virtuous lives. If this seems too religious for a secular article, consider a quotation from John Adams, our second president and a signer of the Declaration of Independence:
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
Adams’ point is painfully clear. A Constitution that allows the people broad freedoms requires that the people use those freedoms wisely. But if people act irresponsibly, like impulsive teenagers, one of two results will surely follow: (1) the nation will disintegrate into chaos; or (2) the government will become more and more oppressive.
Either people will control themselves, following moral principles derived from religion, or the government will have to control them. There are now 325 million Americans. That many people, most of whom are crowded into urban and suburban areas, must act responsibly, or else external controls will be inevitable. Adams knew what he was talking about.
We Americans preach incessantly about freedom. We used to mean what we say. But do we still? Or has it become just a word? The American founders taught us that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. The Bible teaches us that the price of liberty is the Ten Commandments – that is, if we do not want to be ruled, we must learn to control ourselves. We are in the process of forgetting both lessons.
We give lip-service to liberty. But are we sincere? Or do we really prefer that bureaucrats make key decisions for us? Would we rather take responsibility for ourselves and our loved ones, or vegetate in the temporary and false security of a nanny state?
Moses led his people out of slavery, but he couldn’t turn slaves into free men and women. He had to wander for 40 years until the slave generation died out, and was replaced by people who were used to being self-sufficient and independent. Regrettably, it is far easier to turn free people into slaves – just offer them more and more “free stuff.” The process is already far advanced.
Well, which will it be? Do we want to strike out on our own, facing the future with faith that God will show us the way? Or do we want to slink back to Egypt, and let Pharaoh run our lives for us?
I wish you a happy and a thoughtful Passover.
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