STLT#104, When Israel Was in Egypt’s Land

I’m going to let you down, dear reader, because there is a distinct lack of content today.

I feel like I have a lot more work to do to understand this song’s actual origins, the history of its use by Harriet Tubman as a code song for the Underground Railroad, and its use today. I feel ill-equipped to talk about whether I think this should, or shouldn’t be in our hymnal, and what conditions and warnings I would give around the use of such. And … I don’t have the energy to talk about the Biblical text this song speaks to, even though I spent eight months studying Exodus for a show I co-wrote and directed in seminary.

But right now all of these thoughts and directions to investigate seem too big, too important, and too much in need of thoughtful consideration to rush through it on a Sunday morning when I still have service preparations to make.

The short version of it all is this: the song tune is called Tubman to honor this incredible woman, the story of Israelite freedom was a useful and needed allegory for the enslaved as they sought their own freedom, and I always fear that as predominantly white folk, we misuse songs like this.

And still, it’s a good one to sing, especially on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day – it gets down to your toes and resonates in your chest and speaks to that deep yearning in the belly of our humanity.

When Israel was in Egypt’s land,
let my people go;
oppressed so hard they could not stand,
let my people go.

(Chorus)
Go down, Moses,
way down in Egypt land,
tell old Pharaoh,
to let my people go.

The Lord told Moses what to do,
let my people go;
to lead the tribe of Israel through,
let my people go. (Chorus)

For you the cloud shall clear the way,
let my people go;
a fire by night,
a shade by day,
let my people go. (Chorus)

We need not always weep and moan,
let my people go;
and wear these slav’ry chains forlorn,
let my people go. (Chorus)

And so, dear reader, I owe you on this one.

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