Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
"It is a press...from which shall flow inexhaustible streams ... like a new star it shall scatter the darkness of ignorance" — Johannes Gutenberg, inventor of the first printing press, 1440
And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.
— Exodus 1:7
Genesis is the story of creation and nurture, Exodus that of propagation. The patriarchal families of Genesis, fathered by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob respectively, are the delicate seedling from which Israel will sprout. The stories are treated reverently, each character being named and known.
As with gardening or animal husbandry, or indeed human parenting, it's always touch and go when nurturing a new life. Abraham and Sarah cannot conceive, and the promise of being "father of multitudes" must have seemed a mockery to the childless couple. Harder still would have been the command to slaughter the only son who remained with Abraham after he banished Hagar and Ishmael. Isaac's offspring numbered only two. Jacob and his wives were more prolific, but the entire family was threatened with famine and death. It was a shaky beginning.
In contrast, the book of Exodus opens with an image of the children of Israel propagating and swarming over Egypt like termites in a wood frame house. Over 400 years the sons of Israel have grown to become their own people, the Israelites. The first part of God's promise to Abraham has materialised, but the people are in a strange land, and not yet a nation. Exodus is the beginning of the story of the founding of a nation, a story culminating in the book of Joshua.
The overall narrative reminds us it is not easy to make new things, or propagate a new idea. There is much resistance, many failures; despair sometimes sets in. As we persevere there is a turning point when others see what we see, and swiftly following this moment we leap the chasm and the idea multiplies and spreads. It is staying with it, and having strength through the difficult times that keeps our own ideas alive, dormant, waiting for the right conditions to propagate.
The very idea of translating the Bible into English follows such a narrative. The earliest efforts from John Wycliffe and John Purvey caused shockwaves in the establishment, which quickly suppressed them. William Tyndale was burned at the stake as a heretic for his efforts—many of those who owned a copy of his work suffering the same fate. It took the invention of the printing press to propagate his work widely enough for resistance to be futile, and then later King James recognised the need of the people of England to access the Bible in their own tongue, and authorised the version that is still popular today.