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Liberation Narratives in Exodus 3 and the Demand for Justice in the Niger Delta 


Israel Ndu Johnson 08033387975 Department of Religious and Cultural Studies Ignatius Ajuru University of Education, Rumuolumeni, Port Harcourt, Rivers State 


The study narrates the Exodus story with particular reference to chapter 3 to show God’s interest in the oppression of the Israelites and his willingness to liberate them from a tyrant Pharaoh of Egypt. From history we hear how people fight to liberate themselves from their oppressors. Liberation connotes positive action coming from the previous negative action of oppression. Liberation in colonial African era was a demand for justice: give the Africans right to rule themselves. Children of Israel in Egypt demanded justice from Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The children of Israel needed to be set free from slavery and allowed to determine their fate and worship Jehovah the way they would want. They were slaves and worked under hard condition without adequatenumeration. Moses demanded for freedom and was able to liberate the Israelites. The liberation of the Israelites is a typical example of struggle for liberation and justice.This paper argues the people of Niger Delta need “Liberation”, and should be given adequate attention from the Federal Government and other ethnic groups in Nigeria. This work looks into the liberation story and examines God’s parts and Moses’ 

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driving force to face a tyrant like Pharaoh. The concept of justice in relation to the liberation of Niger Delta will be examined. 


Liberation struggle was a typical issue globally among theologians in the second half of 20th century. A new trend of oppression is now within the liberated countries,where the majority suppressed the agitation of the minority; though in Burundi and Rwanda the minority Tutsi oppress the majority Hutu. This study wants to give impetus to the struggle of the people of Niger Delta in Nigeria for “resource control”. A narrative account of the Exodus and other incidences in the Bible, show that God demandsjustice from every man in his relationship with his neighbor. The Niger Delta Region lays the “golden egg” that sustains the economy of Nigeria but continues to wallow in object poverty. It is an aberration to the teaching of the Bible and it is also social injustice when compare to prosperity of the Nigerian country. Why must the people of Niger Delta live below poverty line? Maybe they are in minority when compared to other major ethnic groups in the country or because they misused their opportunity. 

Often it is the minoritywho are persecuted because of their less privileged position which places them at disadvantage or the majority suppressing the minority because of their numerical strength, like the case of Israel in the hands of the Egyptians. Evil is perpetuated when justice is perverted; when truth is not allowed to prevail in an environment of self actualization and equal opportunity. The Exodus narrative brings out evil and injustice melted on the Israelites, who once were privileged to add to the political and social development of Egypt. Joseph, who was one of the Israelites, was a Prime Minister and through him Pharaoh was able to manage the surplus years of harvest and drought year that followed. However a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph came on the throne suddenly remembered that the Hebrews were of different tribe and might fight 

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against them and changed the political situation of the Empire. The Hebrew folk became slaves in the land they had lived for years. 

The advent of Moses to the scene brought out the tyranny and bigotry features of the reigning Pharaoh. Moses challenged his audacity to maltreat his fellow human beings and demanded the release of the Israelites and their freedom. Pharaoh could not understand the effrontery of Moses to make such demand and increased his oppression and suppression of the Israelites. The contest that evolved disrupted the “peaceful” serenity of the tyrants empire. There was a political turmoil that culminated in the liberation of the Israelites. The whole story portrays God as one who abhors evil, especially social injustice. In the eight century B.C of Israel glorious reign when social justice was trampled and evil and cheating was magnified, God through the prophets, like Amos and Hosea cried against social injustice that was prevalent then. God is still against injustice, even in our present world where few individuals, because of their privilege position amass wealth to the detriment of the majority. 

This work will do a bird view of the Exodus liberation narrative and see the part it can play in the present search for justice and peace in Africa. Therefore, the paper would be discussed under the following sub-heading the person of Moses, His Call and the Purpose of Exodus, Gods demand of Justice and liberation in modern Africa. The Person of Moses 

Moses was born at a time the children of Israel had lost their glorious moment in Egypt. Moses of the tribe of Levi had a sister, Miriam who had the onerous duty of “keeping eyes” on him. He had favour in the eyes of the Egyptian midwives, who instead of handling him over to the authority was hidden by the sea-side and had his sister watched over him. Moses also was favoured by Pharaoh’s daughter, who did not only adopt him as a son but also gave him all the necessary training a Prince of Egypt could receive. The life of Moses, wasto anchor God’s plan of deliverance of Israelites to light. From the story of Moses’ birth to his running away from the palace 

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and his eventual return to confront Pharaoh, there was divine providence and intervention that could not be waved off as mere coincidence. 

Moses- the man God used to bring about deliverance to the children of Israel- is an all-round person, according to G. Henton Davis, (1983:46) he was a generousperson who had natural endowment. He was a prophet, a royalty, judge and law giver. All these positions were seen in his leadership quality, yet he was not a priest because he never acted as a priest. Moses was humility personified. The Bible said no one on earth was as meek as Moses. It was only Moses who on earth was able to speak to God “Face to face” and lived. He was a great man and the only one God buried by himself. (Deut. 34:6) 

He was called like any other prophet in the Bible. He was reluctant to accept the responsibility of leading the Israelites out of Egypt. His reasons are logical. Who is Moses to take away the slaves in the grip of Pharaoh? Moreover, he had speech impediment, though he was learned, and was not as easy going and flowing like his younger brother Aaron. Aaron was an orator and a man of the people, which was evident in his compromise with the populace to make them golden calf as the “God that brought them out of Egypt”. Moses wanted God to take another person instead of him. His reason of refusing to go was his inquisitive disposition which wanted to know why God was sending him. What shall I say is His name? This encounter is found in Exodus 3:1-10. 

In Exodus 3 verse 7, it shows God’s concern over the suffering of his people (the children of Israel). He says “my people” they are God’s people in the sense that He had made promises to their fore fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would cater for them and would make them special and prosperous. 

God in Exodus 3 Verse 10, brings out His prophetic commission of Moses: “I have come down to deliver them” and that you (Moses) may bring forth my people out of Egypt. From this command one could see God as ‘the author of deliverance’ in Exodus narrative, though His proposals are carried out by Moses and even Aaron (Davis1983:69). Moses himself once 

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was moved by the injustice meted on a slave and acted as a deliverer. Now God is saying “I am coming down” to save a people. Moses might have been strengthened by this statement when he remembered his own experiences – when he killed an Egyptian to save a slave (Black 212). 

Moses wants to know who is sending him out and for what purpose. What is he going to tell his fellow countrymen? God understands Moses’ predicament and assured him he will be with him. God reveals his name to him, as “I am who I am”. Name is regarded indicative of character of the bearer. In the early religion before a relationship is entered with any deity, the name is first known. So, for Moses to first establish the name of God who wants to send him on an errand is understandable. The root meaning in Hebrew is to be “hayah or haway. A simple explanation of the name is that Yahweh is an active God, who is always around to lead, protect and direct his people. The God Moses met was not only “otherness” he is nearer (Davidson109). Yahweh is different and special. He is not like others. The revelation of God in the Burning Bush to Moses is an enduring incidence in his life and a beginning of things to unfold in future. The encounter was not an end in itself, not an invitation to share in the mystical union with God. It is issues in a word of command which commit Moses to action and obedience, a word of command from which Moses at first shrink, (Exodus 4; cf. Isaiah 6; Jer 1) (110). Moses’ Call

The political situation in Egypt was at dismay level, draconic and despotic. The sufferings of the slaves, specially the Hebrews, were glare for anyone to notice. The outcry was much that God Himself looked down from heaven. The intervention of God and the dramatic way the Israelites were freed are realities interpreted through the eyes of Israelites’ faith. It is on this premises, we shall also see the call of Moses as God’s own way of intervening in human sphere to save the oppressed. 

God said “I have seen the affliction of my people and have heard their cry… I know their sufferings, and have come down to deliver them (Exodus 3:7:8). It means God is concern on what happens on the earth 

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especially where it comes to the oppression of the less privileged. He “is not aloof from the human scene of travail and oppression” (Anderson 52). God commissioned Moses to Pharaoh, “come I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt. Bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, though God’s command was not an easy task. God said “I have come down to deliver them”. It means God’s special intervention force, which Moses was called on to lead. Moses excuses was met with God’s patience and explanation. This was to allow Moses understand that the whole episode was God’s. Moses Obedience was the victory of Israel. It becomes Yahweh’s victory over his enemies and also a victory on behalf of his oppressed people. To whom story of Exodus became a lesson according to Bernard W. Anderson, “to teach future generation of Israel how Yahweh made a toy of the Egyptians by performing ‘signs among them, so that you may know I am the Yahweh” (Exodus 10:2, Deut: 6:20-25) (1981 59). 

God’s name was important for Moses to know, because in the contemporary religion gods are identified with names: the god of Moab – Chemish, gods of Canaanites- Baal. The Yahweh, it is believed is powerful and full of vitality. In the narrator’s standpoint is not to promote polytheism rather to show the one God, “the God of the fathers, who is also now speaking to Moses on behalf of the Hebrew slaves. This God is known in relationship with the fathers of the Israelites. He is, and still in relation with the children and will continue to be. Hence the name: I am or I will be (cf Exodus 3:12) – “I will be with you”). 

Purpose of Exodus 

Exodus narrative was salvation story told in the eyes of Israelites faith. It shows the Glory of God of Israel. It teaches the future generation how their God delivered their forefathers from the powerful hand of Pharaoh. The same God is one who controls the universe and his sovereignty is supreme. The plagues against Egypt are shown as God’s own way of dealing with the Egyptians for enslaving His people- Israelites. It 

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may not give a modern day historical accuracy and a critical mind of a scientific driven empiricism. But it gives an interpretation of a community of faith, which concern is to show how God on behalf of slaves in bondage acted in history to demonstrate His concern. Adeogun put it this way that the writer of Exodus was not out for historiographical details; rather he was out to write redemptive history, he was paying the Egyptians in their own coin. The theme and theology of the book of Exodus is redemptive (2014:6). 

Exodus is therefore the record of the redemption of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and their establishment as a nation governed by terms of God’s covenant and the laws of God. (Musyoki quoted by Adeogun). 

The plagues inflicted on the Egyptians, were given to break the power of Pharaoh. The water was turn to blood, both rivers and dug-out- wells. Frogs and flies filled the whole land and the hail released to destroy crops and other things. The ten plagues were given to the Egyptians to show God’s power and control of natural events. The final plague that broke Pharaoh’s resistance and reluctance was the killing of every male child including Pharaoh’s son. 

The plagues are “signs and wonders” to show God’s power and sovereignty. However the question is “the signs are they there to convince the people about the existence of God”? The attitude of the Israelites and the Egyptians did not show that they understood whom Yahweh is. The Egyptians after mourning the death of their dear ones, took up arms and pursued the Israelites and finally perished in the Red Sea. The Israelites in subsequent reaction and rejection of Moses also proved that they never understood Yahweh. They wanted to return to Egypt after witnessing the “signs and wonders” wrought by Moses in Egypt. 

The victory at the Red Sea proves God’s willingness to fulfill His promise to the fore fathers. The victory also determined the next course of action of the Israelites. God told Moses to “tell the people of Israel to go forward” (Exod. 14:13-14). The ‘forward march’ led to the wilderness, where they had covenant with God and finally established a special 

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relationship with as “people of God”. The covenant was the basis of Israel’s existence as a people. Moses used it to remind them of their specialty and peculiarity. It is based on this that God often punishes and also forgives the people of Israel. 

The exodus incidence is a reference point in the life of Israel. It is often a starting point in the redemptive work of God among the Israelites even in the world. The Israelite makes reference to the creation story because the Exodus event is acknowledged. It is through it one finds the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and knows God’s love through the Exodus event. The Israelites access their position in the event of the world through the narration. Therefore Exodus is more or less the “starting point for the nation of Israel”. 

God’s Demand of Justice and Liberation 

The God we know in the Bible is one who demands justice from the leaders and every one. He identifies with the poor and fight for them. David offended God when he maltreated Uriah and took his wife. It pained God that Hedemanded justice, which David was willing to give but unaware that he was the offender. In the case of Ahab and Naboth, God was not pleased with King Ahab and promised to fight against Ahab. Amos strong message in chapter 5:21-24 is justice to flow like a river. God demanded righteousness from the people of Israel. He said that their sacrifices and ritual observance of the law was like a noise blown across by a wind; without rain to water the ground. The rich in the society cannot suppress the poor and expect the Lord to accept their offerings and save them. Social justice is what God is demanding. Amos puts it succinctly “Women of Samaria… who ill-treat the weak, oppress the poor… you will be dragged to the nearest break in the wall and thrown out” (1-3) it therefore means that salvation of Israel depends on social justice. 

Jesus himself stood often on the side of the poor. He came for them: to set free the oppressed and liberate the poor (Luke 4:18-19). In Matthew 5: 21-2, He ends the discourse with “whatever you did for the least of the 

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poor or oppressed, you did to me”. To Jesus, justice is fair-play: do to others what you would want them do to you. 

What is Just and Justice? 

Just: The idea of just is not really on itself. It goes with righteousness. In the Bible it has a “relational activity, a matter of putting or keeping relationships right” (Watson 295). It can be used both of man to man, and man to God. In the case of man to man, justification is everywhere possible, but there is nothing man can do to secure justification before God.” (Snaith118). Justification is what God gives by Himself through grace. God wants His people to be holy because He is holy. Justice is the quality of being fair and fair treatment of people. If Justice is doing what God wants and exhibits, it is appropriate that those who associate with Him should also abhor injustice in any form. Christians are to identify with God on this because Jesus Himself fought against injustice. Moses became a leader and made every effort to bring God near his people. This is demonstrated in the giving of the laws, which he received from God (Ogunkunle 92). 

Liberation struggles in modern time countries use Exodus narrative as a spring board to launch co-ordinated attacks on the seemingly opponent. In the case of liberation, the Exodus is a symbol of throwing off the yoke, breaking away from established institutions, and enhancing the ability of a people to fashion or refashion a life for themselves (Fierro 476). The Exodus account is a matter of fact, not a key for representation. It took place in history. It is not an issue of interpretation. It is a celebrated event in the history of Israel. When the incidence of exodus is critically examined, it was “a political act”, clearly bearing the stamp of resistance. Through it comes their freedom- independence. The story becomes a model to all freedom fighters. 

It is true that Exodus does not give moral command to engage in revolution, but possess “exemplary values” that can be borrowed to fight injustice. In the Exodus we see examples that encourage heroism and nourish “Christian consciousness” – the burning desire to be like Jesus and 

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fight injustice in any form it manifest itself – to fight injustice in the form of liberation action. Moses arose within this context of inadequate socio- political order and overthrew the old order” (Acha2012:36). Moses did not over-draw the old order of wickedness, he provided a new order, which is Judaism (Yahwehism); the national religion of Israel. It is Moses’ fight for justice in Egypt and his conscious effort to establish a community that fear God and respect human dignity that brought about the Israelite religion. 

In modern Africa, freedom fighters are now virtually in control of their countries after the fall of colonialism and apartheid. However, justice is still far in Africa and many small ethnic nationals are persecuted by the bigger nationals in the continent. There is need for a new set of freedom fighters again in the continent. Freedom fighters with Christian principles, which is biblically based to champion the course of the ordinary man in the street, the oppressed and the masses that are ignored and neglected to wallop in abject poverty. The fighters this time are not national freedom fighters but social crusaders who will champion social justice, like former minister of Education in Nigeria, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili. She is championing the current “Bring Back Our Girls”. African continent now needs Moses to fight for liberation of the masses. Where our men of God are social crusaders. We need the likes of Moses in the continent. 

Justice in the Niger Delta Region 

Niger Delta is a region in geographical location called Nigeria. It is very rich in mineral resources, like petroleum. The Nigerian economy is monolithic and depends on oil and gas to survive. Exploration of oil in Niger Delta may lead to exploitation of people and the land. The government of Nigeria and multinational companies like Shell P.B, Chevron, Agip and Total explore oil and gas from the region without adequate provision and compensation for the damage caused by the exploration. The land lies waste. No enough provision for immediate sustenance of the inhabitant of the region, no social amenities and adequate health care to cater for the diseases that arose as a result of oil pollution and 

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soil degradation. Pollution and degradations are concomitant of oil exploration. 

There are indications that the oil may not continue to floor in the future and the degradation in the region may result to poor agricultural yield, terminal sicknesses, water contamination etc. No serious evidence on the ground to indicate that Federal Government of Nigeria has plan for sustainable development of the Niger Delta region. Sustainable development is a type of development “that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the unborn generation to their own needs” (Orji and Okerometa178). The inhabitant of the region are weary of government promises to develop the area. The government efforts made in the area of establishing institutions to sustain development are relatively inadequate. The Niger Delta Development Commission and the recent Niger Delta Ministry are hardly touching the problems of the people talk less of solving them. This leads to constant clamour of the people of the Niger Delta for resource control. 

There are some positive efforts by the government of Federal Republic of Nigeria and even the World to ameliorate the suffering of the people of Niger Delta. The Ogonis, a tribe in the Niger Delta region had won a law suit against Shell PB in Netherland and Billions of Naira had been awarded the people. The Federal Government had instituted action and plans carry out modalities on how to pay and implement the necessary things affecting the well-being of the people. 

The resource control does not mean “take-all” by the Niger Deltans rather than a demand to manage their resources and pay to the central government what is due it. 

“The constitution (of Nigeria) recognizes, only one class of national and that is citizen of Nigeria. Therefore the minority tribes in the country have right to enjoy their natural and God given wealth. The clamour (for resource control), of course should not be to take all the national wealth because it comes from their land rather to receive reasonable derivation of the 

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revenue just as it was the case before the finding of oil in large quality in the Niger Delta region” (Johnson 151). 

Resource control as stated above is not acquisition of resource, but a deliberate conscious effort to make available people’s resource to them for determination of their destiny. Resources here are the natural minerals wealth in a given geographical area in the world. 

Resource control has become a thorning issue in any human endeavour in the country. The Niger Deltans would not allow it to rest and the opponent, that is, those who may not agree with the idea, would avoid it and even stop it from being discussed nationally. But, the resource control issue continuing to be recurrent decimal in the Nigerian socio-political and even in religio-economic business. 

The recurrence of resource control issue in any Nigerian “take-shop” (Political, religion and economic conferences) is as a result of the intricacies of social justice that demands for salvation and liberation. Any oppressed people will always demand for justice. The Israelites asked for independence and sought for liberation. God supported their demand and encouraged them. He even made it possible for them to actualize their demand. Jesus Christ came to liberate the oppressed and set free the captive. He encouraged mankind to move freely without the cumbersome of oppression and slavery. Therefore every peace loving Nigerian and those who fight for the oppressed and the poor, should see the Niger Delta demand for resource control as legitimate right and course for liberation from economic derivation and denial of right to own their God-given resource. It must be understood that this work is not campaigning for physical fight or ethnic cleansing but contributing academic proposal on how to solve the agitation and unrest in the Niger Delta region. 

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Having gone through the life and call of Moses and also having seen the liberation theology and what it stands for I recommend that many of our rich men of God, who are now purchasing air craft should think less of the affluent and do more of crusade for social justice and deprivation of the citizens their human rights given by God, who created everyone equal. If the amount spent on building gigantic church houses and evangelism is given to social work and fight against injustice, life should be somehow better for the ordinary citizen. 

Let more Non-governmental organization come out and criticize the get rich syndrome in the polity. The more we have voices and fighters, the more the war against injustice and the better Africa to live. Peace could be guaranteed. We are in turmoil, everyone is struggling to survive but if there is equal opportunity and more job to go round, the less the chaos we have now. 

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McGovern, Arthur F. “The Bible in Latin American on Liberation Theology” ed. Norman K. Gottwald, The Bible and Liberation: Political and social Hermeneutics New York: Orbis Book, 461, 1983 

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Revised England: Inter-varsity Press, 1979. 

Ogunkunle, C.O, ”Permanent Influences of Moses as the Leader of a new Nation in the context of Leadership in African “eds J. Aka, J.D Gwamna al African Journal of Biblical Studies Ibadan: NABIS, Vol. XXIV No 11 Oct. 2007. 

Orji, K.E. and M.E. Okeremeta, “Historical consciousness and Sustainable Development in the Niger Delta of Nigeria” Icheke Journal of the Faculty of Humanities. Rivers State University of Education, Rumuolmeni Port Harcourt, Vol. 8 No.1 & 2 Oct. 2014 

Snaith, N.H. “Justification “A Theological Word Book of the Bible ed. Alan 

Richardson, London: SCM press, 1980. 

Watson, P.S. “Righteousness” A Dictionary of Christian theology ed. Alan 

Richardson London SCM Press, 1981 

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