Weekly Reflections: Never to return to Egypt


“In Egypt we used to eat all the fish we wanted, and costs us nothing.” — Numbers 11:5

“The king is not to have a large number of horses for his army, and he is not to send people to Egypt to buy horses, because the LORD has said that his people are never to return there.” — Deuteronomy 17:15

September 21

September 21 is significant to us for two reasons. Firstly, this is the day when the then Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Martial Law throughout our country. Some historians though would like to correct the historical facts saying that the signing of Proclamation No. 1081 was actually antedated to September 21, although the enforcement of this law came the following day, September 22, because 21, a multiple of 7, was President Marcos’ lucky number.

Perhaps, 21 was a lucky number for deposed Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos, but for the Filipino people it became a number that stands for suffering and is cursed. Indeed, it stands for freedom that was lost. Throughout the whole period of Martial Law, about 10,000 people were arrested, tortured, killed or simply disappeared, never to be seen again.

Secondly, September 21 is significant also because this day is declared by the United Nations Organization and the World Council of Churches as the International Day of Prayer for Peace. It seems to be a coincidence, but nevertheless it is indeed a fitting reminder that the best way to commemorate the declaration of martial law is no other than to earnestly pray and to see to it that never again martial law in any form or guise will return in our beloved country.

Of course, many are saying there is no need to declare martial law, because in reality martial law has never left us. The values and ways of martial law have been very much with us, despite claims to the contrary. What we need to do perhaps is to struggle for true freedom, and for genuine and lasting and peace in our land.

Wilderness experience

This reminds us of the Israelites’ experience in the wilderness as recorded in the Scriptures. They were enslaved by the Egyptians for about 400 years. They suffered a lot in the hands of their cruel slave drivers (Ex.1). In the midst of their sufferings, they cried out unto God for help. Through Moses, whom God called from the wilderness of Midian, the people were set free and started their long and difficult journey through the wilderness towards the Promised Land, a land “flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3: 8). Meaning, it was a land believed to be spacious, rich and fertile.

Now, it was when they were in the wilderness that the Israelites experienced the problem of food. Actually, it is not that they had no food, because God provided them Manna for their daily sustenance. But rather, they had this strong craving for meat – the kind of food they used to eat in Egypt. And so, they began to remember their food in Egypt – “the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Num. 11:5) – and tried to compare it with the Manna, the only food God had been giving them each day. They said, “In Egypt we used to eat all the fish we wanted, and it cost us nothing” (Num. 11:5). And so, they concluded that it should have been better for them to have stayed in Egypt and never left the place. Thus, some of them would like to go back to Egypt.

Selective memory

There are at least two things that we could learn from this wilderness experience. First of all, people who have gone through a difficult life of repressive rule tend to have some selective memories when they are faced with new problems and difficulties. The Israelites remembered the food they ate in Egypt, but they seemed to have forgotten their lost freedom and the sufferings and repressions they experienced as slaves in the hands of the Egyptians. They had remembered the food, but they had forgotten their lost freedom.

Similarly, many of us are saying that life was better economically during the Martial Law years. Probably, it’s true, but then we also tend to forget those whose lives have been sacrificed for the sake of justice and genuine freedom. We also tend to forget those who have been imprisoned, tortured, killed, and disappeared in the darkest nights of Martial Law.

Genuine change

Secondly, the wilderness experience also shows us that genuine change can not be done overnight. Having been enslaved for many years, the Israelites were able to internalize deeply the life of a slave, so much so that when they were set free they apparently were not ready to embrace a life of freedom. Their values and ways of life were still that of a slave.

As slaves, the Israelites were used to be dominated and to be dictated upon by their masters. Hence, they seemed to find it difficult to live in freedom. They find it difficult to put their ultimate trust in God daily, to make hard decisions for their own selves, and to shape their own future and destiny as a people.

It is already about 22 years since the ouster of the late dictator, yet the spirit of martial law is still the kind of spirit that is ruling over us. We have in fact an undeclared martial law in our country. The values and ways of life of the martial law years have been very much with us. Repression, summary execution, lies and deceit, graft and corruption, moral decadence, political patronage, militarization of the bureaucracy, concentration of wealth in the hands of the few and the impoverishment of the many: all these things and many more associated with the martial law years are still very much with us and are even getting worse.

Nevertheless, this should not deter us from pursuing our narrow and winding road and difficult journey as a people towards our own Promised Land. The Israelites journeyed in the wilderness for 40 years. Forty is a symbolic number for the Israelites, which simply means many years. It does not necessarily mean exactly 40. It could be more than forty or less than 40. But definitely, it means many years. Nevertheless, the Israelites had finally reached their Promised Land, no matter how long and difficult the journey had been.

Justice and peace

For the Israelites, Egypt was a symbol of slavery, of repression and exploitation of people. Thus, when the Israelites were able to establish their nation in the Promised Land, they were given instructions never to return to Egypt. The revised instructions for the king written in the Book of Deuteronomy read, “The king is not to have a large number of horses for his army, and he is not to send people to Egypt to buy horses, because the LORD has said that his people are never to return there” (Dt.17:16).

Never to return to Egypt means that the Israelites must not go back to the ways of Egypt. They should do away with slavery, with repression and exploitation of their own people. They should always remember that once upon a time they were slaves in Egypt. They knew what it means to be a slave.

We also know what it means to live under Martial Law, declared or undeclared. We know what it means to risk one’s life for the sake of truth and justice. Thus, we have to pray and to work hard to exorcise the demonic spirit of martial law and allow the life-giving spirit of genuine freedom, of justice and peace to reign in our land. We must never return to Martial Law; we must never return to Egypt. #


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