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God educates because – and when – he saves
Purpose, path and goal of God's pedagogy in the Exodus

“Yahweh's portion was his people…,
In the waste land he adopts him, in the howling desert of the wilderness.
He protects him, rears him, guards him, as the pupil of his eye”
(Dt 32:9-10)


The Rector Major, in his Strenna, wanted to “draw attention not only to those who benefit from the work of education, but directly – he says – all of you too my dear educators, who know that you are, like Jesus, consecrated and sent by the Spirit of the Lord to evangelise, free from slavery, give back sight and offer a year of grace to those to whom your work of education is addressed”.

It seems to me to be very much on the mark that the Strenna this year focuses on the person of the educator. The Strenna, in fact, “aims to appeal to strengthen our identity as educators, to throw light on the Salesian educational proposal, to deepen our understanding of the educational method, to clarify the purpose of our task, to make ourselves more aware of the social impact of the act of educating”. But its greatest value, in my opinion is that it identifies the educator with Christ, meaning to say, it affirms that the educational mission is equal to the messianic mission: like Christ, the educator feels consecrated and sent by the Spirit to evangelise, release from slavery, and offer a time of grace (cf Is 61:1-2). Even if not formally said, in identifying the educator with Christ it points to the understanding of education as an act of salvation, which is tantamount to declaring that in Christianity the one who saves, educates, and the one who educates, saves.

The purpose of my address, then is precisely to understand this intuition; I would like to present God's salvation as education and thus encourage educators – and which of us belonging to the Salesian Family is not an educator – to do God's work, that is to save by educating, with as much awareness as efficiency. I could have taken my starting point from Lk 4:18-19, the Gospel quote which the SDB Constitutions use in Chapter 4, when they reformulate as an educative and pastoral manifesto what Don Bosco experienced and said. However it seemed more suited to my central idea and richer in stimulating points of view to offer a biblical reflection on Israel's exodus from Egypt, the event which created Israel as the People of God, since it reminds us of an educator God because he saves, and continues to do so.

I. God saves by educating

The paradigm par excellence of salvation in the Biblical story, the escape from Egypt, is presented in the Book of Exodus as a long and marvellous divine education-in-act. To bring Israel out of Egypt God had his work cut out over a long period and with as much enthusiasm as imagination. There are four stages to the educational process God undertook to save Israel.

The first, a preliminary but essential one, came about when God in person left behind his anonymity and chose Moses as mediator, bringing him out of what he was doing, and away from his family, to bring God's people out of Egypt. (cf. Ex 3:1-4,17). God let himself be known when he let Moses know about the salvation he had in mind for his people.

The other three are, in reality, successive phases of a single process of liberation: in the first phase God imposes – as much on Egypt the oppressor as on Israel whom he protects – the leaving behind of the state of unjust slavery and the beginning of a free service (Ex 7:8-13,16). In the second, God sets Israel wandering through a desert for forty years, as soon as they regain their freedom, until they become his covenanted people (Ex 13,17-24,18). Finally, after being their only companion on the journey and their only ally, God lets Israel enter the Promised Land and their rest (Nm 27:12-23; Josh 1:1-11) ).

1. The why: revelation of a 'new' God
By revealing himself, God educates Moses as his mediator and representative

“I am sending you to Pharoah. to bring my people out of Egypt!” (Ex 3:10)

Before saving Israel, bringing them out of Egypt, God reveals himself by revealing his plan to Moses, whom he chooses as intermediary, spokesman of his plans and leader of the freedom that he is planning to bring about: “I mean to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians… I am sending you to Pharoah. to bring my people out of Egypt” (Ex 3:8.10). Because he wants to bring Israel out from slavery, God must first choose for himself a mediator and personally educate him.

1.1 Learning to become God's mediator, an arduous and difficult learning task

Before beginning a salvation which will be a grand exodus, God submits the one who will lead it to a long and difficult learning task. The mediator will have to experience in person, first, what he will propose in God's name to his people. The one who is to educate the people of God must first allow himself to be educated by God.

Moses, saved “from the waters” of a great river (Ex 2,10) soon after he was born, is called to bring about an act of salvation by dividing the sea “for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground” (Ex 14,16). A child of Hebrews (Ex 2:6), adopted by Pharoah's daughter (Ex 2:9-10), he cannot put up with – as afterwards too his God cannot (Ex 3:7-8; 6:5-6) – the sufferings his people must undergo (Ex 2:11): he will kill an Egyptian (Ex 2:12) and must go into exile to save his own life. (Ex 2:14). The one who will one day lead his people to freedom (Ex 14:4) had earlier saved himself by taking flight (Ex 2:15); for years he would live “as a stranger in a foreign land” (Ex 2:22), before leading his people through the desert for forty years (Dt 29:4): the one who will be called to bring Israel to an encounter with God (Ex 19:1-25), was living amongst strangers when God encountered him (Ex 3:3-6). The one who must resist the rebelliousness of his people (Ex 4:1-14; 6,:2-30) will have to know how to deal with God (Ex 14:11; 15:24; 16:2-3; 17:2-4). He knew misunderstanding, refusal of his own, as he would be a witness to a God who was misunderstood and contested (Ex 1:,3.8; 17:3).

If the lesson God submitted Moses to was difficult, even cruel, the end became even crueler. The one who would would foster and guide the departure from Egypt, accompany his people through the desert, furnish them with a body of law and an awareness of being a nation, make them an ally of God's, would conclude his days at the threshold of the Promised Land: and he would enter into the rest of his fathers (Dt 31:16) without entering into the rest of God himself (Dt 31:2); he would be allowed to glimpse from afar, without actually visiting it, the land that was so much hoped for (Dt 32:55), the realisation of the promise of salvation. The one chosen by God to mediate salvation would finish his own life with a 'half' experience of salvation: he died and was buried “according to the Lord's command…, in the country of Moab” (Dt 34:5.6). The lot of the one called to be the intermediary between God and his people would remain at the halfway point, without belonging definitively in either place.

1.2 God discovered - the origin and cause of mediation

Moses was able to bear his difficult training because he had known God in person. The God who, on Mt Nebo, showed Moses “the whole land” and let him see it with his own eyes (Dt 34:1.4), had approached him in person “on Horeb, the mountain of the Lord” (Ex 3:1.4). Moses tangled with God in the burning but not consumed bush, a God who did not let himself be seen but heard, a God who revealed a plan of salvation but not his face. Moses dealt intimately with God before saving his people; the mediator gained confidence before undergoing the divine pedagogy; he let himself be educated by the one who had revealed himself to him: God let himself be known before letting his plan be known. First he revealed his name, then his plan, and only afterwards, did he begin to train his mediator. The one who has experience of God experiences his educative action: God works his pedagogy with those who are experts in him.

God began his work of education with Moses by calling him, bringing him away from what he was doing (family, profession, places where he lived) in order to give him a task he could never have imagined: saving the people he had abandoned to save his own skin. For Moses, finding a 'new' God happened as he found a new mission in life: he had his encounter with God at the moment he encountered a plan of salvation for Israel.

“The God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob” showed his name (Ex 3:6.14-16), identifying himself as the one who will free Israel. The “God of the Hebrews” (Ex 3:18), a God who is there to “bring the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex 3:11): “I have visited you and seen all the Egyptians are doing to you. And so I have resolved to bring you up out of Egypt” (Ex 3:17). God revealed his "new" name in revealing his will to free Israel: He is there to save.

Only Moses, who knows the name of God and his plan, can present himself to Pharoah and to his people as God's representative (Ex 3:11-15). To save God's people one must know God intimately, his 'name' and his 'programme'; and God will be with Moses always, and only when Moses puts himself to the task of saving Israel (Ex 3:12).

Such a great task, obviously, finds opposition. The first, the worst resistance, arises in the heart of the one who is called: God does everything possible to undo this, by force as much as with pedagogy. If Moses says he is incapable (Ex 3:11: “Who am I to go to Pharoah?”), God says he will not leave him on his own (Ex 3:12: “I will be with you”). If this God is unknown (Ex 3:5: “But they will ask: what is his name? And what will I tell them?”), Moses can give his true name (Ex 3:14: God said to Moses: I am who am. Then he said: You will tell the Israelites: I-am has sent me to you”). If Moses fears he will not earn the trust of the people (Ex 4,1: “They will not believe me, they will not listen to my voice”), God will grant him prodigious powers (Ex 4:8: “If they will not believe you and not listen to your voice at the first sign, they will believe you after the second”). If - the final resistance - Moses says he does not know how to speak (Ex 4:10: “I am not a man of eloquence; either before or since you have spoken to your servant”), God, besides promising to be his voice (Ex 4:12), gives him a brother (Ex 4:14: “There is your brother Aaron, the Levite, is there not? I know that he is a good speaker”). And the first “Now go, I shall help you to speak” (Ex 4:12) becomes “You will speak to him and tell him what message to give...He himself is to speak to the people in your place” (Ex 4:15-16).

It is strange, this curriculum which begins with a God that is to be listened to and finishes with a brother whom you must allow to speak! How much patience God the educator has to employ with the one he has sent! The result is evident: having God with you and having a brother, makes of Moses the mediator the suffering people needed.

2. The 'what': an obligatory departure.
By imposing an exodus, God educates his people so they pass from slavery to service.

The Lord, the God of Israel says:
“Let my people go, so that they may keep a feast in the wilderness in honour of me!” (Es 5,1)

Israel experienced the departure from Egypt as a liberation since, as slaves, they had suffered an unjust regime of forced labour. And he understood that to get away with it was the work of a 'new' God; only such a God could face up to the military power of Pharoah and win: the emancipation of a group of slaves was divine salvation, the birth of Israel into freedom, the people who knew a God able to bring them out of Egypt, “the house of slavery… with his powerful hand” (Ex 13:3).

2.1 God's initial plan, three days of feasting

A new God reveals himself by letting his new deeds be noted – something unheard of! He said: “I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt…, I know all their sufferings. I mean to deliver them out of the hands of Egypt” (Ex 3:7-8). This God began his great plan of saving Israel with a reasonable, I'd say a modest, request; he sent Moses and Aaron to ask the Pharoah to let Israel go “for a journey of three days in the desert and to celebrate a sacrifice to the Lord our God” (Ex 5:3); he wanted to free the slaves in order to be served by them.

In fact what Moses and Aaron asked in His Name was just a brief period of rest, a momentary suspension of work. By refusing to grant it, the Pharoah set off a long and violent process of liberation. The one who refuses to serve God opts to use up his neighbour; the one instead who favours the free service of the God who loves freedom, becomes involved in the process of liberation. Rejecting a service of God carried out in rest and feasting goes against the God who wants to be feasted by free people. The one who believes in the God of the Exodus will not feel under duress when he works, and when he is not working, will feel called to celebrate his rediscovered freedom (Ex 5:1-9; 13:2). Recovering a taste for feasting and rest even for a short time, helps us recall God and carry out his plan of salvation. Thus a liturgical space for freedom is born and a stimulus for a renewed set of processes of liberation.

From the beginning, Israel knew it had not deserved the freedom it was given; it knew however the reason for its liberation: to serve God (Ex 5:1). Because the God of the Exodus loved feasting, he freed a people so they might feast. The freedom God wins for us, then, is not absolute. It has a precise aim, the worship of the Liberator, the festive celebration of the freedom that has been given. Consequently, if serving God is only possible for free men and women, freeing oneself, being and feeling free is the task to do before feasting. The service of God is authentic if it arises from a lived freedom.

2.2 God's ‘reasons’: his fatherliness

To legitimise his intervention on behalf of a group of slaves, God must make an unusual decision: to adopt Israel as a first-born and present it as his legal representative. Having become the ‘father’ of a people, he can do no other than to take matters up with their oppressors: “Israel is my first-born child. I ordered you to let my son go to offer me worship! You refuse to let him go. So be it! I shall put your first-born to death” (Ex 4:22-23). Israel was able to feel certain of its liberation, because God was not able to avoid his responsibilities. Protected like a child, it knew it was called to be free.

Believing in God the Father nurtured Israel's anxiety for freedom; knowing it was familiar with God brought Israel to demand that it be allowed to leave the “house of slavery". Israel always thought of its freedom as something conceded, and not as the fruit of its collective efforts; it was born as a free people when it became a believer and recognised that independence and national sovereignty were tied to its fidelity to God, to the service of its father.

Therefore, since it always saw its autonomy and freedom threatened, it came to confess its sin; by believing, Israel knew that to disobey God left it undefended in the hands of its enemies. The one who comes into history through an encounter with God, will remain part of history if it does not lose God. Faith in God of the Exodus obliged Israel to always confront its history with God as its Father.

2.3 A misunderstood and embattled plan

Freeing Israel was not easy, not even for God. The opposition he found forced him to reaffirm his will repeatedly and at times violently: he constantly claimed to be in favour of a salvation which few desired.

The first, and the most obstinate resistence God found was in political power; Pharoah had recourse to wizards and prophets to endanger, initially and finally, God's plan for freedom. To succeed, God fought ‘body with body’. It is important to see that God foresaw this opposition, had even increased it by hardening Pharoah's heart (Ex 4:21); even if there were good 'political' reasons (Ex 1:10-11) and economic ones (Es 5, 12-19), hostility had been foreseen, even willed by God (Ex 7:3-4; 9:12; 10:1.20.27; 11:10; 14,4.17): his plan was politically incorrect (freeing a group of slaves), a financial disaster (granting days off to forced labourers) and inadvisable from a religious point of view (celebrating an as yet unrecognised God), God was not intimidated; he was more interested in receiving worship than in maintaining slavery: he preferred the service of free men in the desert (Ex 3:12) to hearing the cry and seeing the oppression of his people (Ex 3:7.9).

The God of our fathers (Ex 3:6) is a God who, by freeing slaves, makes himself known, a God who, by introducing a group of freed people into human history, offers himself as their God. Ours is a God who needs free beings to make themselves faithful believers. To have an experience of the God of the Exodus requires firstly people who love the freedom they have been granted, people who will not put up with the negation of the freedom of others: the God of the Exodus will only let himself be feasted by free people. The one who escapes from Egypt, from the "house of slavery" will meet this God, and will inaugurate freedom by celebrating this God. A freedom set in motion to serve God was the first pedagogical stage of the God of the Exodus.

3. The 'how': an unexpected desert.
By introducing his people to the desert, God educates them and brings them from solitude to covenant..

“Yahwey your God goes in front of you, and will be fighting on your side..,
In the wilderness too you saw him: how Yahweh carried you,
as a man carries his child, all along the road you travelled on the way to this place” (Dt 1:30-31)

In the Exodus, the historical plan for biblical salvation, the desert is an unforeseen but necessary stage of the divine pedagogy. God, who began to save by bringing a mass of slaves out of Egypt, promising them freedom and a land in which to live (Ex 3:8), imposed on them a long and arduous wandering through the desert, a land where nobody lived (Ex 13:17), as a gradual path to their total liberation.

That the story of this passage through the desert occupies the greater - and central - part of the Pentateuch (from Ex 19:1 to Nm 10:28) is proof of its importance within God's programme of education: Israel learned that where nobody can survive, God alone can set up salvation; where everything is adverse and an enemy, God alone becomes the companion. Israel had to wander for at least 40 years learning to walk with the God who freed it (Ex 13,:21-22) to the point of encountering God in covenant (Ex 19-34).

3.1 God's strategic decision

Those who came out of Egypt did not immediately enter, as they thought had been promised, into a “land rich and broad…, a land where milk and honey flow” (Ex 3:8). The immediate gift of lands where they could live in freedom was not given immediately after this portentous act of liberation; Israel began its life of freedom in an uninhabitable desert (Ex 13:17-18,20).

Entering the desert was neither a capricious act of God's nor human error, but a well thought through decision of God's (Ex 13:17-18), even if neither foreseen nor desired by Israel (Ex 14:11-12). In God's plan, the desert was the place and time for salvation, even if in reality it set back the time for its completion. Wandering with incomprehension in an uninhabited desert was a time for temptation and grace, a place of trial and encounter with God.

God had recourse to the desert as a pedagogical choice; he introduced into the desert a group of people not yet accustomed to freedom and, after a long period and constant internal struggles, he made a people out of them, constituted them as a nation and a firm ally. Without the desert, Israel would have neither sworn allegiance to its God nor accepted him as a companion on the journey.

God, when he saves, always imposes a desert; the promise made is always delayed. He leaves his own alone, faced with enemies, and lets them wander in a land where there is no one, with nobody as their friend. Whoever overlooks this either places himself in opposition or loses the chance, even though already freed, to become a believer in and an ally of God's.

3.2 Time - for God and for his own - – to test one's fidelity

Israel lived a long time in the desert to put God to the test: “ten times already and they haven't obeyed (my) voice” (Nm 13:22-23). The episode of the twelve sent out on reconnaissance explains how God sees that he is obliged to strike dead the generation which he brought out of Egypt when he divided the sea, and wait for those born in the desert to become adults and better believers.

As soon as they knew that the land they were going to was inhabited, they understood that they would have to struggle, perhaps die to conquer it; they were freed from Egypt but now felt tricked; they murmured against God who had promised a land for nothing. For sin there will be punishment: since they did not want to enter a land they would have to earn through force, they did not leave the desert; they were afraid to see the Promised Land because it was inhabited, and so they will see just the desert, the uninhabitable land.

Meanwhile, God grants time to prepare a people who trust in him and his promises and walks according to his will. And Israel must learn that God, regardless of everything, will not abandon it: in the shape of a dark cloud (Ex 13:21-22; 14:19-24; 33:9-11; Nm 11:25; 14:14) or a column of fire (Ex 13:21-22; 19:18; 40:34-38; Nm 9:15-23; 10:11-12), he will march ahead of them, walking with them and showing them the way. By day, a column of cloud, by night, a column of fire, God proves his closeness and, at the same time, his distance: he accompanies his people without being overbearing, always encouraging faith and leaving space for freedom. Israel, as a consequence, must always decide whether to abdicate its responsibilities and run the risk of erring; it will feel it is guided by God but will not feel constrained to follow him. The desert period was difficult, essential for educating them in freedom.

Having God going ahead of it did not absolve Israel of its efforts on the journey, of the fear of making a mistake, nor of its responsibility. In fact, Israel fell into the temptation of making a God for its own circumstances, constructing a precious but powerless animal, "a God who goes ahead of us" (Ex 32: 1,23); "they exchange their glory for the image of a grass-eating ox" (Ps 106,20) Who other than God could want a people so tired of being on the journey? But a God imagined according to the needs of the believer, a God set up to please, is no liberator and becomes a heavy burden; as the prophet muses, the god, "nothing but delusion with no breath in them", does not know how to speak and "needs carrying because it cannot walk" (Jer 10:5).

Educating the people he had chosen as his child cost God a lot; for Him the desert was a place of bitterness, trial, provocation (Ex 17:1-7; Ps 81:8; 95:8) which made him "jealous" (Ps 78:58). In the desert God became more sensitive to Israel's criticisms, because he remained close, because he had slaked their thirst and fed their hunger, because he had guided them day and night. To succeed in having a faithful people God had to suffer so much insolence and so many mistakes, to the point where he begins to think, sorrowfully, of wiping out such a stiff-necked people. Just as well that on that occasion he had Moses with him, the mediator, who banking on the dishonoured God's own sense of honour, and also on his faithfulness to his promises, he convinced him, and "the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened" (Ex 32:14).

3.3 A single objective - bringing back his people

As Israel would discover, after a long wandering through the desert, its Liberator had a precise plan from the beginning: the journey which began as a pilgrimage of three days to offer sacrifice (Ex 5:3) finished with the ratification of a perpetual covnenant. Israel found in the desert a God who yearned to tie himself to it with a legal pact, and obligated itself to observe the law freely adopted. (Ex 34:10-27). Becoming God's ally was the last, the definitive experience of the people who had journeyed for forty years in the desert.

At Sinai, Israel allied itself with the God who had freed it from Egypt by adopting it as his first-born child (Ex 4:22), and came to know that it had to give itself with total exclusivity to a loving and jealous God (Ex 20:5; 34:14). Certainly, this excessive predilection was such that this jealous God becomes a difficult and intolerant companion, reacts violently and passionately when he feels that his love has been betrayed. Israel notes that this God was necessary for it to survive (Nm 14:40-45), that he went before it, fought for it, carried it and supported it "like a father carries his own child" (Dt 1:31), that he did not cease following it up and stayed with it "over these forty years and it was never in want" (Dt 2:7). Furthermore, while Israel journeyed with Him, side by side, Israel understood that God wanted to be followed and obeyed (Dt 13:5) and that being alienated from Him - or even just forgetting Him - meant perdition (Dt 7:4; 8:14).

Thus, subjugated by this God, Israel became allied to its Liberator and became aware of its singular importance when compared with other peoples: "You of all the nations will be my very own" (Ex 19:5): God had not behaved thus with any other nations. Israel, liberated from Egypt and free after a lengthy period of learning, finally became a chosen people, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation (Ex 19:6); the long and painful process of liberation - and the educational effort on God's part - had come to its conclusion. At Sinai, free and as friends, Israel and God would together begin the final journey with God's will accepted (Ex 19:8): “What God has said we will do!"). The sojourn in the desert, even if unforeseen and not entirely willed, had brought about the miracle of converting a disorganised bunch of freedmen into a people that felt it was chosen by God. Here is the success of the divine pedagogy!

4. The aim: a land to live in freedom.
By obliging it to conquer the land, God educates his people to receive the gift as a task.

"This is the land I have made over to you;
go and take possession of the land that Yahweh swore to give your fathers"(Dt 1:8)

Leaving Egypt would have been a clear and stupid choice had it ended in a permanent sojourn in the desert; without its own land to live in as a free people, Israel's Exodus would not have been a true salvation; Canaan realised that promise and gave concreteness to salvation.

The Promised Land, then, was an integral part of God's salvific plan, the exchange for Egypt; entering into the land of the Canaanites closed the cycle of divine initiatives that began when Abram left his country (Dt 26:5-9): in Canaan the people of God found, finally, a place to live and a space for rest.

4.1 A delayed gift but a splendid one: a 'good' land and a 'new' God

Everyone left the desert and entered the fertile land of Canaan and touched – better to say stamped their feet on – their salvation. Israeel knew that it was not a child, nor a natural occupant of the land it was about to take: it took over “great and prosperous cities not of your building, houses full of good things not furnished by you, wells you did not dig, vineyards and olives you did not plant” (Dt 6:11) and forever confessed that they were promised and granted by God.

The Canaan settlement was not only a consequence of occupation, for military conquest or pacific infiltration, but especially the legitimate appropriation of what God had granted. Its God was not content with giving the people freedom, but gave a land to exercise the freedom given. God permitted Israel to establish itself in the country that was his possession (Josh 22:19): he had first chosen a people as his own son, and now he procured him a place to live (Ex 15:17); Israel, the nation and the land, was and would remain God's heritage.

Once the land was given Israel received, additionally, a new revelation of God. It learned that God its Liberator from Egypt, God its companion and ally in the desert, was also the God of their land: belonging to this God included “being in partnership with the Lord” (Josh 22,25; cf. Ps 16:5). As a consequence, no one in Israel was the owner of a land that was, exclusively, God's, and in that case all of them were, at most “strangers and guests” (Lv 25:23). The land was not given as ownership, but as a loan for them to exploit; the borders of the land when it was divided out remained untouchable, because they were sanctioned by God. To live outside, “far from the Lord's inheritance” implied being “far from the face of the Lord” (1 Sm 26:20); living in it obliged them to obey the Lord (Jer 2:7; 16:18): the payment for disobedience was exile (Ez 36:5; Hos 9:3). Understanding Canaan as an inheritance from God implicitly meant a new image of God: the God who was the companion on the journey, a wanderer with his errant people, settled in the midst of his people (Nm 35:34). In the land of Canaan God becomes a sedentary God as soon as the people settle there.

And since the land was given, possession of it was always a grace. In a land given like this one does not live as one likes, but as God, the Lord likes. God's liberality forces Israel to live in it with generosity: what it had obtained as an undeserved gift it could not carelessly exploit. In Canaan Israel became, like Adam in Eden before sinning (Gn 1:29), God's locum tenens. In God's mind the laws referring to the cultivation of the land were intended to keep the people thankful to God from generation to generation, and respectful of the land.

Thus God submitted Israel to the pedagogy of gift: avoiding thinking that it was the only owner of the land, it was educated by God to live dependent on Him and putting what it had received as a gift at the disposition of others. The one who had received everything from God, was obliged to reserve something for Him and for its neighbour: God would not permit upstart landed gentry. The laws concerning the first fruits (Ex 23:19; 34:26; Lv :9:23-24; 23:10), every decade, annually, and every three years (Ex 22:28; Nm 18:21-22; Dt 14:22), the law of fallow every seven years (Ex 23:10-12) and, even, the prohibition on gathering what was left over from the harvest, or picking the gleanings (Lv 19:9-12; 23:22) are but corollaries of Israel's faith in the one God who owns the land they are living in.

Since the land was a gift from God their ally it could only be the best land possible, 'good' land (Es 3,8; Nm 14:7; Josh 18:9; Dt 1:25). Gained without effort (Josh 24:13), Israel was enthusiastic about it because God had not left them deluded: a land running with milk and honey (Nm 13:27; Dt 6:3; 11:9; 26:9-15; 27:3; Jer 11:5; 32:22). In neat contrast with the monotonous aridity of the desert, the promised land is a reminder of the lost paradise: the waters in it abound (Dt 8:7-20; 11:10-15), and so it is a proof of divine protection. Furthermore, in Canaan it is God in person who takes care of the timely rains; a land that drinks water from heaven is, it goes without saying, the land of God's blessings. Israel finally came to know the joy of counting on God while it was reaping the goodness of the land.

4.2 A freedom given which obliges one to live in freedom

The salvation granted by God is not only gratuitous gift; it is above all a programme to be carried out: the gift of freedom is by necessity followed by the task of freedom. During the entire process of liberation God did everything for the people, who were even at times against him; in the final stage of the settlement in Canaan, nothing would be achieved without Israel - born to freedom almost without wishing it, Israel would remain in freedom in order to remain in life.

Establishing itself in a new land caused many problems. There was the danger of assimilating cultural and religious forms that were more developed and apparently more effective, better adapted to the needs. For agricultural people the arable land was an evident mediation with the divinity. Israel, instead, a nomadic people, soon felt the seduction of the Cananite religion which seemd to better ensure subsistence in that land.

The settlement in Canaan also provoked radical changes in the norms of social behaviour. Israel took on the juridical order of the peoples surrounding it, without ceasing to base this on the positive will of its God. Therefore Israelite law was marked by a strong moral sense, proportion between transgression and punishment and a preferential concern for the weaker strata of society. Believing in God as a Liberator was the basis of social freedoms: those who believed they were rescued from slavery could not return to a state of having new masters (1 Sam 13:8-15; 15:10-30; 2 Sam 12:1-12; 1 Kgs 11:31-39; 21:17-24), could not keep on acting like slaves in perpetuity (Ex 21-23; Dt 15:12-18; Lv 25:39-43). The God who had saved a people by freeing them from enforced servitude needed free people in order to be celebrated as a Liberator. Israel, which had encountered God while it was leaving the house of slavery, could not limit the freedom of others: for both, for God and for Israel, freedom was undeniable.

4.3 Rest and Feast, the goal of liberation

After having conquered the Promised Land, Israel found, finally, a place where it could rest and a reason for a common feast. Entering the land brought an end to tired feet and rest followed effort; Israel could eat and drink “joyfully” (1 Kg 4:20): the salvation of the God of the Exodus had as its objective, the true aim of the ‘process of education’, the granting of a land where rest would not be overlooked and ease would encourage joy and worship.

Having their own land made rest possible. In the land they were given they could live tranquilly and calmly, “each with his own vineyard and figs” (1 Kg 5,5). God personally looked after the borders (Ez 36,5; Ps 123) and had assured Israel of a definitive rest (1 Re 8,56). With God amidst his people, in the Temple in Jerusalem, Israel felt itself safe from any return to ancient slaveries or new labours. It would be God who would look after and build up his people, guard the frontiers and homes: there was little point in keeping guard till dawn or going late to rest (Ps 127, 2). Israel overcame its fear of the future not because it knew how to dominate it but because it was certain it would not be facing it alone. Whoever enters into the place of God's rest (Ps 95:11) is freed from worry and as a free person gives himself to the task walking the way of the Lord. Even sleep, a gratifying state of repose and absence of apprehension, becomes a gift – like bread – for the friends of the Lord (Ps 127:3).

Resting in the Promised Land was so important the God who freed the slaves ordered Israel to observe the Sabbath (Ex 23:12; 2 Kg 4:23; Is 1,13; Os 2,13): the people must rest in order to confess that work is no violent imposition (Dt 5:14-15). The God of the Exodus frees his faithful from anxious abuse of time, from anxiety so they can profit from time; to have free space to recall past experience with God, to renounce compulsive production and the anxiety of earning reconciles the believer with himself and with his neighbour.

By obliging rest and ordering worship, God educated his people to gratuity: living from what was recevied, without working too much. Stressing out to have more is not the goal of the pedagogy of the God of the Exodus, the God who thought in terms of a liberation in three days (Ex 5:3) and, not having succeeded, imposed a definitive redemption and gave them a land to celebrate it in.

II. Educating today - divine accomplishment

“Don Bosco's pedagogy – an expert writes – is identified with all his activity; and all his activity with his personality; and all of Don Bosco is to be found, finally, in his heart”. Don Bosco's educational system – his choices and method - is, then, a revelation of his most intimate being and the concretisation of his action as a priest for the young. Like God with Israel, like Jesus with his disciples, I would dare to say that Don Bosco saved youth by educating them. Thus must Salesians act.

1. A compassionate God who educates the educator

The educator saves if, like God, he observes the misery of those who are his own, is moved by their suffering (Ex 3:7-9a) and formulates a precise plan of intervention (Ex 3:9b-4,17). He identifies himself (Ex 3:14-15: “You will tell the Israelites: ‘I-am’ has sent me to you… the Lord, the God of your fathers… This is my name; this is the title with which I will be remembered from generation to generation”), by identifying who and how to save ‘by educating’ ( Ex 3:16-18). Knowing – he saw and felt it – the sorrow of the people, he could not remain inactive, or neutral. At the origins of divine education there is, then, compassion when faced with a situation of misery: the God of our fathers lets himself be known because – and when – he lets his salvation be known. So a salvation that does not produce compassionate education is not worthy of the name.

2. To educate as God did - a task to be shared

Whoever educates the people of God, must first let himself be educated by God. Whoever educates in God's name must know God well and his plans: without a personal encounter – divine revelation – education of the people will not become God's salvation. A unique mediator, the educator receives a brother as support for his or her deficiencies: saving education is always a common business and not just an individual task.

3. To educate as God did - a father's role

God began his salvation with a reasonable request, I would say a modest one, of partial liberation, three days of celebration to lead to a taste for feast and repose in his people, to joy in free service. Similar projects meet resistance and misunderstanding: to make himself legitimate, God the 'educator' takes the part of the one suffering and becomes his father. Divine education is the competence of compassionate fathers.

4. To educate as God did - possible everywhere

In Israel's history, type and image of the Church, it becomes evident that no human situation is unable to be the reason and means for an encounter with God: a foreign country, like Egypt, where the only occupation was forced labour, could lead to the discovery of God the liberator; in the desert, nobody's land, where existence is permanently under threat, there was the experience of God as a tireless companion and faithful ally; a new fertile, inhabited land, where service of God and man's rest were possible, led to an encounter with God, the only Lord of the land and friend of feasting.

5. To educate as God did - a long and contested process

The work of education requires time and brings trials: getting out of one bad situation does not mean entering into a better one; freedom obtained is not yet freedom adopted. It needs unforeseen paths, painful ones, which as a good educator God always accompanies with a view to being the trusted ally.

Education needs lengthy periods for one to become free, taking on the freedom granted; and once free one needs to become a liberator and grant freedom to others. Whoever has been saved from slavery in a strange land cannot end up being in favour of enslaving others in his own land. The well educated person becomes the good educator, liberator. The goal of divine education is festive repose and gratuity in relationships with others.

Israel could not ‘get out’ of its own history – to flee reality, even if that was a calamatous one - to find God; but it had to continually escape from itself in order to welcome God, when – and how – he showed himself. The God who lives to save does not save without ‘bringing out’, without educating.

Juan J. Bartolomé
Rome, 3 December 2007

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