When we approach Israel's political theology through Israel's imaginative stories and songs, it is almost inescapable that the Exodus narrative (or its early poetic articulation in the Song of Exodus: Exod. 15: 1-18) should be seen as paradigmatic (Miller 1973: 166-75). In that paradigmatic narrative, YHWH is rendered as the great force and agent who confronts the absolute political power of Pharaoh and, through a series of contests, delegitimates and finally overthrows the imperial power of Egypt that at the outset appeared to be not only intransigent but beyond challenge. Israel's tradition, as it reflects critically upon political questions and processes, endlessly reiterates this "Pharaoh versus YHWH" drama in new contexts, and relentlessly rereads and reinterprets every political question in terms of that defining, paradigmatic narrative.

The question of the historicity of the exodus event is an acute one. Insofar as the Exodus is regarded as historical, it is characteristically placed by scholars in the thirteenth century bce, wherein the Pharaoh is variously identified as Sethos, Rameses II, or Marniptah (Bright 1959: 107-28). It is clear in any case, however, that Israel's traditionists do not linger long over historical questions, but cast this Exodus memory in a liturgical mode so that it is available for many reuses and is rhetorically open to endlessly reimagined locations and circumstances (Pedersen 1940: 728-3 7).

The reason for focusing upon the narrative of "Pharaoh versus YHWH" is that YHWH as a political agent in the narrative of Israel is to be understood as the decisive "anti-Pharaoh." Thus we may understand Israel's peculiar and characteristic sense of the political if we reflect on the narrative presentation of Pharaoh as a foil for YHWH (Green 1998). Pharaoh is taken as a historical figure but is quickly transposed into a cipher and metaphor for all threats that Israel opposed on its political horizon:

• Pharaoh is a figure of absolute top-down authority who operates a political-

economic system of totalism.

• Pharaoh is characteristically propelled by a nightmare of scarcity, motivated by anxiety about not having enough, and so a determined accumulator and monopolizer (Gen. 41: 14-57).

• Pharaoh brutally enacts his nightmare of anxiety by policies of confiscation and exploitation, and allows no dimension of human awareness or compassion in the implementation of policies grounded in acute anxiety (Gen. 47: 13-26).

• Pharaoh's absolutism is enacted at immense social cost to those upon whom the policies impinge; as Fretheim has noted, moreover, the cost extends beyond its human toll to the savage abuse of the environment (Fretheim 1991).

• Pharaoh's absolutism cannot be sustained, because in his arrogant autonomy he completely miscalculates the limitation imposed on human authority by YHWH's holiness, a limitation embodied and performed by the role and character of YHWH.

In the imagination of Israel, this characterization of Pharaoh lays out the primary lines of Israel's political theology. From that imaginative articulation, it is obvious enough that Israel's positive political commitments, which revolve around YHWH, include the following:

• The political-economic process cannot be a closed, absolute system, but must remain open to serious dialogic transaction, for which the term is "covenant."

• The political economy that prevails is grounded not in a nightmare of scarcity, but in an assumed and affirmed abundance, rooted in God, who is a generous creator (Brueggemann 1999). Thus Exodus 16 functions as a Yahwistic contrast to the scarcity of Pharaoh, a contrast in which "some gathered more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed" (Exod. 16: 17-18) (see Brueggemann forthcoming).

• The political enterprise of Israel is not to be a fearful practice of monopoly and acquisitiveness, but is to be a neighborly practice in which communal goods, ordered by a rule of covenantal law, are to be deployed among members of the community - rich and poor - who are all entitled to an adequate share. The curb on accumulation and monopoly is dramatically stated in the provision for the "Year of Release" in Deut. 15: 1-18; (see on Neh. 5 below).

• Israel's political economy is concerned for the practice of compassion for the disenfranchised neighbors (widows, orphans, aliens, the poor; Deut. 24: 17-22), a sharing that is grounded in a lyrical appreciation for the generosity of the earth that is to be celebrated and appropriated, but not exploited or violently used (Deut. 6: 10-12; 8: 7-20). That practice of compassion is motivated, moreover, by the recurring remembrance, "You were slaves in Egypt" (Deut. 10: 19; 15: 15; 24: 22).

• Israel's political economy is to be generously covenantal, so that YHWH, creator of heaven and earth, is acknowledged to be source and ground of all that is, is to be ceded ultimate authority, thanked in gratitude that matches God's primordial generosity, and gladly obeyed, so that social relationships are congruous with YHWH's own generosity. That is, social relationships fully express and embody the reality of YHWH's sovereign practice of generosity.

Israel's political life characteristically is conducted in the tension between a glad embrace of YHWH's covenantal mode of relationship and exploitative practices that disregard covenantal entitlements and restraints. These alternatives are understood in Israel as life-or-death options in the political process. According to Israel's best claim, the choosing of covenantal relatedness as a political form of life results in well-being, while the option of brutalizing totalism leads to destruction:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity death and adversity If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Deut. 30: 15-18)

Thus the concrete, practical political issue of the deployment of goods, power, and access is decisively situated in a deep decision of "YHWH versus Pharaoh." Political decisions are understood as proximate subdecisions in the service of a more powerfully defining decision about ultimate governance that is simply the either/or of Pharaoh in absolutizing acquisitiveness or YHWH in covenantal generosity. Every political decision derives from, reflects, and serves this alternative theological decision in favor of covenant with YHWH that Israel is always remaking.

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