June 8, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Exodus: The Israelites leave Egypt

John F. Fink(Eighth in a series of columns)

Last week, I finished a brief summary of the Book of Genesis. I’m going to move through the rest of the Old Testament even faster than I did that first book since this series is only a quick review, not a Scripture course.

Genesis ended with the descendants of Jacob’s 12 sons in Egypt. They were there for 430 years and became so numerous that the land was filled with them.

The Book of Exodus tells what happened next. One of the Pharaohs, who knew nothing about Joseph and what he had done for Egypt, enslaves the Israelites to work on his extensive construction projects. This might have been Ramses II, who reigned for 66 years, from 1279 to 1213 B.C. His statues are everywhere in Egypt today. He was a prodigious builder. However, Egypt’s histories contain nothing about the Israelites.

God then calls on Moses to deliver his chosen people. Moses and his brother, Aaron, have several confrontations with the Pharaoh, who will not release the Israelites. So God calls down 10 plagues upon Egypt, the final one being the slaying of all the firstborn sons.

Before that event, though, God tells the Israelites to prepare a meal with a lamb and to put some of the lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their homes so the angel will pass over their homes. This was the beginning of the feast of Passover that the Jews have observed ever since.

The Pharaoh then permits the Israelites to leave. After they do, though, he changes his mind and chases after them with his troops. That’s when Moses parts the waters of the Sea of Reeds and the Israelites cross on dry land. The Egyptians chase after them, but the water flows back and they are all drowned. (No, we don’t have to believe that this happened exactly as it says in the Bible.)

The Israelites then spend 40 years in the Sinai Desert, with God providing for them with manna to eat and water to drink. The most important event of those 40 years is God giving Moses the Ten Commandments. He also gives them many other religious laws and rituals, and the Israelites build the Ark of the Covenant.

The third book in the Old Testament is Leviticus. Most of this book consists of sacrificial and other ritual laws prescribed for the priests of the tribe of Levi. Levi was one of Jacob’s sons. The men of his tribe were the Israelites’ priests.

The Book of Numbers continues the story of the Israelites’ travels in the Sinai Desert and then to the plains of Moab on the east side of the Dead Sea in what is now Jordan.

The Book of Deuteronomy summarizes the Israelites’ history, the Ten Commandments and the laws. It ends with lengthy speeches by Moses, his commissioning of Joshua to succeed him and his death.

Those five books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy—comprise the Jewish Torah and the Christian Pentateuch. †

Local site Links: