The opening chapters of Exodus paint a grim picture of Israel's plight under the oppressive hand of Pharaoh. Concerned about the impact of Israel's exponentially exploding population on Egypt's national security, Pharaoh imposed three increasingly severe measures: he afflicted the Hebrew slaves with heavy burdens (Ex. 1:8-14); he ordered nurses to kill male Hebrew babies at birth (1:15-21); and then he ordered the blatant murder of all Israelite boys by anyone in Egypt (1:22). Not only did these measures prove futile, but by Exodus 12-13 Egypt will pay the price of divine justice for this brutality.
It is almost unimaginable that a group of people who suffered so much would ever desire to return to such harsh conditions, but that is exactly what happened in Exodus 14. Obstructed by the Red Sea in front of them and hemmed in by Pharaoh's chariots behind them, the panic-stricken Israelites cried out: "Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: 'Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians'? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness" (Ex. 14:11-12).
Freedom isn't easy. There is a perverse sense of security and stability under an orderly regimen, even if that regimen is cruel and unyielding. Combine that with the uncertainty of the unknown life of freedom, and it is easier to understand why Israel wanted to go back to the familiar routine of the taskmasters.
The New Testament portion of today's reading is Galatians 5, which begins, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (5:1). The Galatians were Gentiles (4:8) whose faith in Christ and the gospel was being subverted by Judaizers, those insisting that God's promises and covenant came through the Law of Moses and not simply through Christ. In Paul's eyes, that would be like going back to Egypt, returning to slavery, and he admonished the Galatians to stand firm in their freedom.
Perhaps a sense of stability lured the Galatians to embrace the yoke of the Law. Perhaps they were afraid of the persecution that would come from the Judaizers if they did not become Law-keepers (a fear which Paul says motivated the Judaizers themselves - 6:12). But whatever the reason, the Galatians were discovering the same truth as Israel did centuries earlier - freedom isn't easy.
The road of freedom is a tough one for for us as well, but like Israel and the Galatians, we must never forget that the road of freedom-bumpy though it may be-leads to the promised land.