Albert J. Raboteau explains what the biblical narrative meant to slaves, as opposed to their masters.
The dominant hegemonic script of this country has been that American is a redeemer nation, is a “city upon a hill”; I quote Ronald Reagan, that this is an exceptional God-blessed country. The slaves contradicted that by saying, this is not the new Israel, this is the old Egypt until all of God’s children have been freed.
It’s a wonderful incident where a slave named Polly was asked by her mistress how she bore up under all of the work that she had to do, and Polly’s answer was, “When I heard about the Exodus, I know it meant we poor Africans, because unless God had made us to be free someday, why were we made?” So the script, the biblical script of exodus, and freedom from Egypt, and freedom from bondage, was a very important foundational myth for black identity and the sense of black humanity – that, according to this script from the Bible, that we are the chosen people. We are the true Israel in the midst of this American Egypt.
It was also important because of another script, and that’s the script of the Suffering Servant. If Jesus came as a suffering servant, from Isaiah, who resembled him more – the slave or the master?