Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
The African-American spiritual, Go Down Moses, was first sung by slaves in the early 1800s and continued to be sung throughout the Civil Rights movement. Louis Armstrong’s 1958 rendition is perhaps the most well known version. The song concerns the Biblical story of the Exodus where God’s chosen people, Israel, were living as oppressed slaves in Egypt. God chooses one Hebrew, Moses, to “go down” into Egypt and petition Pharaoh to “let my people go.” Following Moses’ descent into Egypt, and Israel’s bondage, the song’s original rendition ends with Israel’s exodus through the divided waters of the Red Sea. The contemporary anti-abortion movement can glean lessons from the song and its employment by historical civil rights movements.
Locating the story
Interestingly, Go Down Moses never once explicitly refers to the struggle of African-Americans in the era of American slavery or Jim Crow. But the song doesn’t have to. Once the song’s method of communication is properly understood, the song clearly concerns the oppression faced by African-Americans under slavery and Jim Crow. Go Down Moses communicates its message in typological fashion. In the spiritual, the struggles of the African-American community are presented and played out through the familiar faces of Moses and Pharaoh. In this way, the Exodus story is employed to symbolically represent the struggles of the African-American community.
In doing so, Go Down Moses contextualizes the struggle for abolition and civil rights within the Biblical story of the Exodus. For African-Americans of the time, they located their own plight within the story of Israel’s plight, and their liberation within the story of Israel’s liberation. In other words, this suffering community mapped the Biblical story onto their own story; so much so, that in a way, the story became their own, and to communicate their struggle and their hope, all that had to be done was to make reference to the Biblical story of the Exodus. The African-American community in a very real way learned to live and inhabit the Exodus story, and in doing so, they learned to live and inhabit the world of the Scriptures (1). For this suffering community, the language and reality of the Scriptures, its patterns and paradigms of exile and exodus, was the only sufficient place in which they could properly locate their story and the only sufficient way to tell their story. In locating their story in the Exodus story, the “exile” and “exodus” of the community was located within God’s plans and purposes for redemption. In doing so, the Exodus story served as a uniting metaphor for the movements.
Three benefits of Biblical contextualization
The Biblical contextualization of these historic movements serve as needed antecedents for the contemporary movement against abortion. The anti-abortion movement has yet to locate the plight of the preborn in the Biblical narrative. It has yet to Biblically contextualize its struggle. It has yet to map the world of the Scriptures onto its fight for abolition.
For the anti-abortion movement, as with its historical antecedents, Biblical contextualization has at least three benefits. First, it serves as a uniting metaphor which the movement can unite around and view itself through. Secondly, Biblical contextualization properly locates the struggle of a movement in the place of God’s purposes. In doing so, the suffering community views itself in a tangible connection to the Biblical heroes of faith who went before, suffering and waiting. Thirdly, and relatedly, Biblical contextualization allows the struggle of the movement to be properly understood in light of the grand narrative of the Bible. Here, the suffering community is pushed towards the telos of God’s purposes, gaining hope in the future restoration of all things, including the establishment of justice.
Where can the anti-abortion movement locate its struggle in the Scriptures? Perhaps by going down with Moses into Egypt, perhaps by hanging out in the reeds of the Nile, one can begin to draw out an answer. One of the most well-known stories from the Exodus account is the baby Moses in a basket floating down the Nile (Exod 2:1–10). This story is precipitated by Pharaoh’s genocidal decrees that every Hebrew newborn son shall die (Exod 1:15–22). Perhaps unknown to some, Pharaoh’s attempt to drown the offspring of Abraham is actually part of a larger conflict — one that started in Eden.
The offspring of Eve
In the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s fall, and the ensuing curses (Gen 3:14–17), God foretells a long struggle between Eve and the Serpent, between their respective offspring, in which one of Eve’s offspring would finally crush the head of the Serpent. Throughout the Biblical narrative, wherever the offspring of Eve is, the offspring of the Serpent lurks, seeking to destroy. Most infamously, Pharaoh and King Herod clothed themselves in snakeskin, so to speak, when they sought to destroy the offspring of Eve through infanticide (Exod 1:15–21, Matt 2:13–18). Pharaoh and Herod both fit the Apostle John’s description of the dragon in Revelation 12, where he writes, “the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it” (Rev 12:4–5).
Although the offspring of Eve is traced through a particular family line and ultimately unto Christ and those who follow him, in a very real sense, each child born to humanity is an offspring of Eve, and a reminder of God’s promise of salvation. The dragon stands at the womb today. He lurks in the abortion clinics, holding the forceps, syringes, and pills. The anti-abortion movement ought to locate its struggle in the cosmic conflict of Eve and the Serpent. The anti-abortion movement ought to find itself in the red waters of the Nile and in the empty cradles of Bethlehem. The movement must become Biblical. Perhaps only then, when the struggle for abortion’s abolition is found in the narrative reality and world of the Scriptures, when the world of the Scriptures is mapped onto the struggle for abolition, can the struggle be properly carried out and in “God’s good time,” be victorious.
(1) For a more in-depth look at this terminology see John H. Sailhamer’s article, Cosmic Maps, Prophecy Charts, and the Hollywood Movie: A Biblical Realist Looks at the Eclipse of Old Testament Narrative, in The Seminary As A Textual Community: Exploring John Sailhamer’s Vision for Theological Education. ed. Ched Spellman, Jason K. Lee. 2021, Fontes Press.
Bio: Nicholas Kallis graduated from Cedarville University with a Masters of Divinity, and currently works part-time for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
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