Set Them Free: The Other Side of Exodus

by Laurel Dykstra (2002), reviewed by Vern Raztlaff

Exodus is a disturbing book that sees G-d siding with the oppressed and the marginalized; this means that the western church recognizes its own immense privileges under corporate capitalism and identifies with the Egyptian oppressor. Dykstra’s Set Them Free is a book about biblical Egypt, global capitalism, liberation and oppression.

The great empires that succeeded Egypt (Assyria, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome—and Britain and the United States!) operated by domination, extraction of resources and exploitation of labour. Egypt was the site of forced labour, religious oppression and the execution of children (p 59)—sound familiar? Profit, personal comfort, control, dominion, slave labour, displacement of indigenous people, cultural arrogance, global military power. Then and now.

Dykstra writes, “We fit in among the functionaries in Pharaoh’s court rather than among the workers in the slave labour camps” (p 126). Exodus believes people could actively resist empire and its allies of the oppressed: global capitalism makes this difficult. Looking specifically the land of Egypt leads us to focus on environmental/ecological issues, issues of women, and connections between modern corporate exploitation of the natural world and of other humans” (p 196).

Set Them Free identifies key theological perspectives for this task: salvation (“sin” as corporate), solidarity, conversion (transformation), humility, vigilance, recovery, apocalyptic (“we live under the empire of global capitalism, but also in the kingdom, the beloved community, a world beyond empire” (p 204). Together with Shipphrah and Puah (the Jewish midwives) and Pharaoh’s daughter, we can come out of empire (p 213). A wonderful book.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.