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You shall have no borrowed Gods

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by Oscar Allen

It was their emancipation that led the Hebrew people to find their faith and their God.
That is what we read in the Hebrew scriptures which we call the Old Testament. In their book, Exodus, we read about this ragged, refugee mixture of people wandering in the wilderness with nowhere to go after their escape from Egypt. {{more}} Then something happened. God called them and told them: “It is I who emancipated you and I want to own you and for you to own me.” And they agreed. They would no longer hold on to the old gods who had them as slaves; they would no longer look up the gods of the powerful countries around them. They, the wandering underclass Hebrews, came to their own faith policy, their own covenant with their own god.
No borrowed gods, no rented gods, our own freedom God!
In their own constitutional statement, this is what we read.
I Yahweh (the Lord) am your God, the one who brought you out of Egypt where you were slaves.
Do not worship any God except me (Exodus 20: 1-2)
One fact was given as the reason for their faith, their worship and their caring relations with each other: that the Lord God had been the active person in emancipating them from slavery. You can almost say that the whole of Hebrew scripture stands on this one categorical claim and command:
“I Yahweh am the one who emancipated you. Trust me only.”

The two
emancipations

If we reflect on the emancipation from colonial slavery that we enjoy in our English-speaking region and if we compare it with the edited accounts of the Hebrew experience in Exodus, one thing stands out for me – in sociopolitical terms. The Caribbean ex-slaves remained in the same land and under the same general political masters as when they were slaves. The Hebrew ex-slaves removed themselves from the land and from the power of their masters. The Pharaoh did not control the future of the Hebrews in the wilderness. He did not have them in his schools, his churches or on his estates. The Hebrews were free from his presence, his power, and free for their independent development. In the Caribbean, our emancipation took place under our Pharaoh’s nose.
Let us look at it from another angle.
The Hebrews had a leader named Moses; he had been part of the ruling class. Moses, however, became converted to the cause of the slaves and turned against the oppression that Pharaoh represented. This Moses became God’s servant or missionary to mould and build the Hebrew people in their emancipation. It was he who shaped the new faith in the new God of the Hebrew people.
In the Caribbean struggles, what can we say about our emancipation leaders? Those who stood up as God’s servants for the people became marked by the British Pharaoh as criminals, law breakers, heathen dolts and rabble rousers. In the 1862 uprising of workers in the estate belt here, the judge, the Methodist minister and magistrates of the investigating committee described the workers’ leaders as “wicked and desegnery people”, and “emissaries of mischief”. They put 246 men and women in jail. On the other hand, the colonial leaders, let us call them the Pharaonic leaders in the emancipated Caribbean, wanted to keep Pharaoh’s ship sailing smoothly. They taught in schools, preached in churches and acted as magistrates and police chiefs. They were not leaders like Moses who could be the mouthpiece of God and say: I am the Lord who emancipated you from slavery.
Instead their message from God would be “I am the God from the church in England. Pay up your tithes and work hard for Masa. He is a Good Masa.”
The message was clear: Rent Masa’s God, There is no God for you.

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