March 28, 2014

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Old Testament: God tells Moses to lead his people out of Egypt

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

The Book of Genesis ends with Jacob (also called Israel) and his family, 70 people, in Egypt. The Book of Exodus begins there, but almost 400 years later—roughly twice the length of the history of the United States. The Israelites proliferated so much that Egypt’s pharaoh thought it prudent to stop their increase in case they would join Egypt’s enemies in a war.

He enslaved the Israelites, forcing them to build the Egyptian cities. He also instructed midwives to kill the Israelite baby boys when they were born. Although the midwives disobeyed this order, the lives of Israelite boys were in danger.

Therefore, when Moses was born, his mother hid him for three months. Then she put him in a basket among reeds in the Nile River. Moses’ sister, Miriam, watched to see what would happen. Pharaoh’s daughter came with her attendants to bathe and they discovered the baby. Miriam asked if she should find an Israelite mother to nurse the boy and Pharaoh’s daughter agreed. So Moses’ mother nursed him until he was weaned. Then Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him.

When Moses was about 40, he saw an Egyptian striking an Israelite. In anger, Moses killed the Egyptian. When this became known, Pharaoh sought Moses to put him to death, so Moses fled Egypt for Midian, to the east of the Sinai Peninsula. There he married Zipporah and they had two children, Gershom and Eliezer.

A long time passed, and the pharaoh who sought Moses died.

One day, while Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, he saw a bush on fire, but the fire didn’t consume it. When he went to investigate this phenomenon, God called out to him from the bush. He told Moses that he had chosen him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and back to the land he had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

When Moses asked who he was, God said, “I am who am” (Ex 3:14). He told Moses that he could tell the Israelites, “I am sent me to you” (Ex 3:14).

Moses argued with God, saying that Pharaoh wouldn’t listen to him, and, besides, he was slow of speech. God said that he would perform wondrous deeds and signs, like turning Moses’ staff into a snake and making his hand leprous and then clean again. He also told him that Moses’ brother, Aaron, would be his assistant.

So Moses and his family returned to Egypt. He told Aaron what God had told him, and the two men gathered the elders of the Israelites. They performed the signs that God put into his power, so the people believed.

Then they went to see Pharaoh, asking first that he let the Israelites go on a three-day journey to celebrate a feast. Pharaoh refused, as God had told Moses he would. He not only refused, but he ordered the foremen of the Israelites to make them work harder—to gather straw for the bricks they made instead of having it supplied to them.

It was time for Moses to return to Pharaoh. †

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