Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Puritans and the Children of Israel

If you have been faithfully reading the book of Exodus -- and I'm looking for the Readers' Digest Condensed Version but no luck so far -- you will see that the story of the Israelites in captivity in Egypt has some parallels with the Puritans' situation in Europe. Both groups are persecuted by powerful governments, both are led into the wilderness by God-inspired leaders, both have to suffer a time of trial and deprivation, and both have a "promised land" that is already inhabited by heathens, who will have to go.

Some differences obtain, however. The Israelites were slaves; the Puritans, freeholders. The Israelites were freed by God's direct, miraculous intervention; the Puritans used boats and charters. The Israelites rebelled against God time and time again, testing God's patience; the Puritans constantly sought God's will and struggled to stay inside it. Moses (pictured at right, about to smash the Ten Commandments on some unrighteous heads) gave the Israelites the law, which he got straight from God; the Puritans adapted existing civil law to create their own governmental system.

Nonetheless, what we will find in William Bradford, Anne Bradstreet, and Mary Rowlandson, is the unwavering conviction that the Seperatists in America are God's chosen people, the New Israel, sent to take hold of the New Canaan, the promised land of America.

In 1630, the Puritan preacher John Winthrop, in talking to a boatload of Pilgrims bound for the Massachusetts Bay Colony, famously said "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us. So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken... we shall be made a story and a by-word throughout the world. We shall open the mouths of enemies to speak evil of the ways of God... We shall shame the faces of many of God's worthy servants, and cause their prayers to be turned into curses upon us til we be consumed out of the good land whither we are a-going."

No pressure here.

(Essay test question: What does it mean to be "A city on a hill," and does America still consider itself one? Why or why not?)


  1. Are we supposed to be reading Exodus for class? I know that you mentioned it to me earlier this month, but I didn't see it on BB yet, so I was not sure if you had assigned it.

  2. It's actually there on Bb, for people who don't have a copy lying around. I'm probably not going to require the whole book, however, so I haven't officially assigned it. I've got to pick out the relevant chapters.

  3. Another difference is God gave the Israelites manna. Unfortunately for the puritans they didn't get any of that. :)
    -Stacy Gibbs

  4. Manna would have been great, particularly that first winter.