Some rabbis who prefer to de-emphasize the blood-redemption aspect of Passover refer to it as the Festival of Freedom. Unfortunately, those who hear such a one-sided presentation can easily acquire a wrong idea of the freedom that God intended for the blood-bought Israelites.
In your imagination transport yourself to ancient Goshen at the time of the Exodus. Eavesdrop on some conversations of the Israelites who were about to be liberated. Do you suppose you might hear comments like these? Now that I’m free, I’m going to go out and eat 500 pounds of leeks fried in garlic!” or “I’m going on a two-week fishing trip down the Nile,” or “Now I’m going to go out and build me a pyramid of my very own. I’ll be the first Hebrew in the community to have one.” Or perhaps in another home the anticipation might be a bit more modest: “I’m going to get a flock of camels and set up a freight line.” Somehow I think those were not the kinds of conversations that transpired among the newly freed slaves.
Rather than plans to do this or that, there probably would have been many questions like, “What did God tell Moses we are to do now?” “Where do we go from here?” “What will it be like?” “How shall we be secure?” Those would have been the concerns of newly freed people. Furthermore, the Israelites knew that they were set free only to follow God with Moses as their leader. They were not free to go where they wanted or to worship as they chose. They were required to serve the Creator with whom they had a covenant relationship. They realized that they must do as God directed or they would never make it out of Egypt.
Most people who cry out for freedom and liberty do not realize that all freedom is limited. A person without commitments, who will not exercise certain restraints is not free but in a state of anarchy—alienated and rebellious against the established order. A meaningful life requires order, and order requires certain limits.
Suppose that our society had no established order regarding where one might live. Anyone would be free to walk into anyone else’s house and use it in any way he or she chose. We could all live the life of happy nomads, unbound by the necessity of having one permanent address. But what would happen when the pantry ran out of food or the fuel bill went unpaid? Could we just move on to a better equipped place? Not if everyone else did the same. What if someone bigger and stronger wanted the place we had chosen for that night, or the food we had decided to eat? Would we then be subject to their tyranny? Indeed we would, unless we had agreed beforehand upon an ordered structure that would protect and provide for the individual’s needs.
All liberty is limited by the situations of life and the “constitution” of reality. Many choices are mere illusions. For example, you might think that you could fly by flapping your arms, but I would strongly advise you not to try a shortcut to street level from the 20th floor window of a skyscraper. Your descent undoubtedly would be faster than you had planned!
Reality demands consistency. Yet human nature prompts us to want more liberty for ourselves than we are willing to give others. The adulterous husband jokes by saying that his wife is married, but he is not. Most murderers believe in the death penalty for their victims, but they would protest that they themselves should not have to face execution.
Reality and truth are absolute. Freedom does not give us the power to ignore truth. The Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights give us the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but those documents are not empowering documents. Though we may have the right to life, there are certain illnesses and the aging process over which constitutional law has no power. Though we are given the right to pursue happiness, that right is limited by other laws. We might think that we could find happiness by driving a sports car 100 miles an hour down the interstate highway; but the traffic laws do not guarantee us the right to that kind of happiness, nor do the natural laws of physics, should we come suddenly to a curve in the road or have a blowout.
Just as the wrong pursuit of happiness can bring us into jeopardy, so can the wrong interpretation of liberty. There are limitations on our freedom. We have the right of free speech, but we cannot freely scream “fire” in a crowded public place when there is no fire.
Liberty or freedom is never without constraints. We are constrained by law, by convention, by our abilities and by the very nature of the universe. Whales do not soar aloft like sea gulls, nor do sea gulls dive to the depths of the ocean and stay submerged for long periods of time. We are all subject to forces that we do not control. We are all bound by things that regulate our lives and over which we have no power.
Our first father Adam was created free to sin or to serve God. But once Adam chose sin, the nature of mankind changed. Adam’s progeny could not really serve God except through Christ, the Second Adam, who overcame the legacy of sin and restored the possibility of spiritual freedom. By commitment to him, we regain that freedom. Nevertheless, God’s intention in providing it is not that we might pursue happiness in any way we choose, but that we might serve him. In this respect, the Constitution of the United States provides more liberty than divine decree. Most of us are constantly in danger of wanting more liberty than God has given.
Freedom has natural and social limitations, and it also has spiritual limitations. The Israelites’ rescue from Egyptian bondage was only for the purpose of serving their Creator. So, too, our freedom as believers in the Messiah is not a license to follow our sinful desires as we did before our redemption, when the order of the day was the law of sin and death.1 We can choose to serve God, or we can choose our own way. But if we choose our own way, we find that we are in bondage to sin.
Yeshua said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”2 That spiritual freedom does not allow us to live according to the illusory liberty of sin. We must follow the Light of Life, the Messiah himself. Our God-given liberty is the freedom to worship God.3
Remnants of the old Adam-nature propel us toward sin. Every committed believer knows that sin can, indeed, bring exquisite pleasure for a moment. But the moment is soon past, and we continue to feel empty or we become filled with other desperate longings. In Christ we are free not to sin and not to be empty, and we are free to repent if we give way to sin. No longer are we fettered by our self-centered, self-destroying impulses. We are free to be clean and at peace because we are part of God’s kingdom, no longer under bondage to the world system that is at enmity with God. We are no longer slaves, but children of the Living God, children of light, princes and princesses of a new world order.
No longer need we be controlled by our own willfulness to satisfy the insatiable appetite for security and personal pleasure. We have a new heart and a new will, and we can know the truth, love the truth and do God’s will. In him we have the power to be more than we ever dreamed we might be. That’s real freedom. “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Happy Passover. Walk with God, and enjoy his freedom!
- Romans 8:2
- John 8:32
- John 8:36 cf. John 4:23