God had told Abraham that his descendants would spend four hundred years in another nation. This particular exile began in the days of Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, and his great-grandson, Joseph. The children of Israel went down to Egypt 70 strong, and they emerged from that land 400 years later, an enormous multitude.
But the various biblical chronologies of this require some work to decipher. God tells Abraham that his descendents would be afflicted in another land for 400 years, and that they would come back in the fourth generation. Paul tells us that the law came 430 years after the covenant with Abraham. And we learn in Exodus that there were just three men between Jacob and Moses (Levi, Kohath, Amram), which is difficult to spread over four hundred years. It is thus possible that the affliction in Egypt was as short as 215 years, with the four hundred being reckoned from the time of Abraham. If Palestine became a tributary state to Egypt, this does not require a great stretch of the imagination.
We are told in 1 Kings 6:1 that the fourth year of Solomon’s reign was 480 years after the Exodus, so this places our story in the 15th century B.C. Those who want to place the Exodus at some other time do so because they prefer the words of men to the word of God, which is unambiguous on this point. For far too long, historians have evaluated Hebrew chronologies in the light of Egyptian chronologies instead of the reverse. As we see how this story unfolds, this is clearly an unproductive way of proceeding.
The man who brought them out of the land of Egypt was named Moses, one of the truly great men in the household of faith. He was a faithful servant in the house, preparing the way for the son over the house. Looking forward in faith to the coming of the Messiah, Moses was one of history’s truly great Christians.
God blessed the children of Israel in the land of Egypt, and they grew and multiplied in the land, so much so that they became a threat to the native Egyptians. A Pharaoh came to power who “knew not Joseph” and he resolved to treat the Israelites harshly. This he did, but it did not keep the oppressed nation from continuing to multiply. The next step was taken, which was to instruct the Hebrew midwives to kill any male child that was
born to Israel.
In order to understand this, we have to understand something of politics of Egypt. What was this nation like? We know that it was an accomplished civilization, but even here our knowledge tends to be cursory. Their accomplishments were most impressive. The great Cheops pyramid contains at least 2,300,000 stone blocks, each of them weighing on average about two and a half tons. To get some idea of how much rock this involved, if these stones were cut into cubes one foot on each side, and they were laid end to end, the line would reach three quarters of the way around the world at the equator. The Egyptians had fallen into the sin that the Bible calls the “pride of life,” but when such accomplishments are considered, the temptation is at least comprehensible.
Another feature of Egyptian life was the massive bureaucracy. No other bureaucracy rivaled it until the modern era. And of course, the central claim of all such statist bureaucracies is the claim of total sovereignty. Bureaucracy is man’s attempt to counterfeit the predestination of God. And while we like to mock the ineptness of bureaucratic bungling, the accomplishments can nevertheless be impressive-and enticing. The faith of Egypt necessarily involved a denial of the Creator/creature distinction. Much preferred was the idea that all existence was one continuous chain of being, and that the Pharaoh was the earthly embodiment of the gods, and his voice (mediated through the bureaucracy) exercised total and complete control.
And thus it was that Pharaoh simply assumed that he had the right to command the deaths of countless Israelite boys. His voice was the final arbiter of all that could be permitted. He did not recognize the God of Joseph, the God of Jacob, the God of Isaac, the God of Abraham. We ought not challenge this, for we see the same thing happening in our own day. If the court decisions are procedurally correct, then it does not matter what the suction pump in the abortion clinic is actually doing. The same thought process governed German bureaucrats who had to do all the gas chamber paperwork. Massive bureaucracies are an attempt to duplicate the omniscience of God, and once this prerogative is foolishly claimed, other prerogatives of Deity are soon to follow-like claims to authority over all of life and all of death.
But others feared the true God anyway, and two of them were Hebrew midwives named Shiprah and Puah. They were almost certainly not the two working midwives for all Israel, but were probably the two heads of midwifery guilds, expected to be on top of any new regulations issued, and they were required to promulgate them to the rest of the Hebrew midwives.
But these midwives feared God, and so they disobeyed the Pharaoh. When the Pharaoh called them to account, Shiprah and Puah deceived him, and God blessed them for that godly lie with families of their own. The fact that their lie was transparent meant that their answer to Pharaoh was verging on open defiance. If the Hebrew women were so vigorous that their boys were born before the midwives got there, then why did the Hebrews need midwives at all? And further, their answer to Pharaoh included an insult directed at the Egyptian women, who were not nearly as “lively” as the Hebrews. Nevertheless, God blessed them greatly for their deception.
This reply of theirs made Pharaoh take an even more extreme measure, commanding that every male child be thrown into the river, but that the daughters be spared. The sparing of the daughters was no doubt seen by some as an act of benevolence.
And here we first meet the future deliverer of Israel. A man from the tribe of Levi named Amram had married a woman named Jochebed, who happened to be his aunt. Amram was the son of Kohath, who was the son of Levi. So Moses was of the tribe of Levi, but Levi was his great-grandfather, and not a distant ancestor. When Moses was born, his family disobeyed the government’s decree by hiding Moses for 3 months, as long as was possible. After this, they obeyed the Pharaoh’s decree (technically), but they also provided the baby with a small boat. But nevertheless, they did put the baby in the river.
Years later, when the Exodus happened, the Israelites plundered the gold of the Egyptians. But the greatest treasure they ever got from Egypt was this man Moses. And this is the story of how Moses happened to become the treasure of Egypt.
Moses was found by a daughter of Pharaoh, who felt sorry for the crying baby. Miriam, who had been closely watching, arranged for her mother to become the baby’s wet nurse, for which she received payment from Pharaoh’s daughter. The whole affair-the boat, the care of Miriam, indicates that there was no intention of allowing Moses to die. One suspects that Pharaoh’s daughter was set up. And when the child had grown to an appropriate age, he was then brought to Pharaoh’s daughter, who adopted him and named him Moses-because he had been drawn out of the water.
Moses received a royal education, one that was complete in every way. Stephen tells us that he was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and that he was mighty in words and deeds (Acts 7:22). As a prince of Egypt, he was a great man indeed. One of his mighty deeds, according to Josephus, was the conquest of the Abysinian region of Saba, which you might know by its more familiar name of Sheba. He conquered that city because the queen of the city fell in love with him from the city wall, and offered to turn over the city if he would marry her. This he did-the one possible scriptural link to this story is the mysterious appearance of an Abyssian wife for Moses in Num. 12:1. Sheba was at the southern end of Arabia-Jesus called the Queen of Sheba the Queen of the South-in what is now known as Yemen. This was not far from Ethiopia, just across the water, and all of it was considered Abyssinia. Almost five hundred years later, an Abyssinian woman went 1200 miles north to see the wisdom of Solomon. Throughout the Old Testament, we see remarkable instances of the evangelistic impact of faithful obedience to the Word of God on the part of God’s people.
Now Moses the prince came to a point where he sought to deliver his kinsmen from their bondage. He killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew. He was no murderer in this, but rather a judge, a man of faith. But in attempting the next day to break up a quarrel between Hebrews, he found out that they were not ready to accept his leadership. Slavery has its enticements, and though the Israelites were put to hard labor, there were some who preferred the job security of slavery to the freedom offered by Moses. After all, Pharaoh offered full employment and job security. “Who do you think you are?” one of the Hebrews said to Moses.
When Pharaoh sought to kill Moses, he fled to Midian, where he married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, and had a son named Gershom. Moses tended sheep there for forty years, which might be considered intensive training for the shepherding he was to do for the forty years after that.
But as Moses flees Egypt because of the internalized slavery that had taken root among the Israelites, it must be remembered that the next person to ask the question-“who do you think you are?”-was Pharaoh himself, and not an envious Hebrew slave.
But God heard the groaning of the Israelites. Moses left Egypt when he was forty years old, and he spent the next forty in Midian. But the oppression of the Israelites grew severe, and God had respect concerning them. He heard their groaning, and remembered the covenant He had made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2:24). It must never be forgotten that the deliverance from Egypt was the result of God’s gracious covenant with Abraham. The promise to Abraham was foundational to all that follows, and we must never see the Mosaic administration as anything other than God’s continued kindness to the descendents of Abraham.
God spoke to Moses from the burning bush and commissioned him to deliver the people from their slavery. God revealed Himself to Moses as the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and gave His covenant name YHWH to Moses. He tells Moses to go to the elders of Israel and promise them deliverance. Moses was to go to the king of Egypt and request that he allow all of Israel to leave Egypt for three days, in order to sacrifice to God in the wilderness. Pharaoh could not do this without relinquishing total control, thereby acknowledging that the true God was not under his control. He would refuse, God promised Moses, and God said that He would smite Egypt, and that the Egyptians would keep the Israelites from departing empty.
Egypt was one of the world’s great superpowers, to use our modern terminology. But after God was done with them, their nation and economy was in shambles. The original fear had been the military threat posed to them by Israel, and this fear was eventually realized-although in an unexpected way.
The plagues sent by the true and living God were plagues directly aimed at the gods of Egypt. Although Pharaoh was initially defiant, and the children of Israel were completely discouraged by this resistance, Moses went back to the Lord, and received divine encouragement from him. God would visit plagues upon Egypt, and He would also harden Pharaoh’s heart so that Egypt would be completely ruined destroyed.
The first plague turned the Nile to blood. Of course, the livelihood of Egypt was completely dependent upon the Nile. Ha’pi, the god of Nile inundation, was completely helpless before God’s use of the Nile as an instrument of devastation. The fish died, rotted, and stank, and the Egyptians had to dig around the Nile to get water to drink. But the magicians of Egypt duplicated the plague, turning more water to blood, which is not what Egypt needed. Oh, great, more blood. Their work only reinforced the judgment of God.
The second plague was a swarm of frogs, a symbol of fertility in Egypt. They swarmed everywhere, inside and out, and Egypt was completely covered with frogs. The magicians of Egypt were able to duplicate this also-just what we needed, more frogs!-but Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and promised to let the people go for their three day festival. Moses asked Pharaoh to specify a time for the relief, which he did. Moses cried out to the Lord, and the frogs all died on the appointed day. The Egyptians raked them all into huge piles and they stank. And Pharaoh changed his mind, hardening his heart.
The third plague was “lice” emerging from the dust of the ground. Whether it was lice, or mosquitoes, or some other kind of insect, the effect was beyond endurance. The magicians of Egypt couldn’t make things any worse, so they acknowledged God. But Pharaoh hardened his heart-he could handle the lice.
So Moses came and promised the fourth plague, which was swarms of flies. And so they came, but not upon the Israelites, and Pharaoh called Moses and offered to negotiate. Sacrifice to your God here, he said. No, Moses said. So Pharaoh relented, and Moses prayed for the flies to leave. But when they were gone, Pharaoh hardened his heart again.
The fifth plague came upon all the livestock of Egypt. All their cattle died, but the cattle of Israel were spared. Pharaoh sent in order to check, and he knew that God spared Israel. But he continued to harden his heart.
The sixth was a plague of boils upon man and beast throughout the entire land of Egypt. The magicians of Egypt could not even stand before Moses because of those boils. But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart.
The next plague was heavy hail, coupled with thunder, lightning and rain. Those Egyptians who had begun to fear God brought their animals and servants inside and were spared. But those who like Pharaoh were hardened fools suffered, and the crops were devastated. Not only was there hail, but fire ran along the ground. Pharaoh called for Moses and did more than relent. He confessed his own wickedness and the righteousness of God. Moses prayed for him, but knew that he was not truly repentant. And that is what happened-Pharaoh hardened his heart yet again.
The eighth plague was locusts, which carpeted the entire face of the earth. They destroyed the next cycle of crops, and the servants of Pharaoh rebuked him just on the threat of locusts. Do you not yet know that Egypt is destroyed? Pharaoh tried to negotiate again-go out to sacrifice to God with just your men. But Moses refused and the locusts came in a way that the world has never seen before or since. Pharaoh repented again, and promised to let the people go. So Moses prayed for a reprieve, and it came, and the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart again.
The ninth plague was one of great darkness for three days. This time Pharaoh said he would let all the people go, but that their livestock had to remain behind. Moses refused. Pharaoh said that if Moses came to him again he would be killed. Moses said it was well spoken, he would come back no more. He promised the last plague-the death of the firstborn-and went out from Pharaoh in great anger.
The tenth plague came, but the angel of death passed over all the houses that had the blood of a Lamb on the doorposts. There was a great cry throughout all Egypt and Pharaoh finally let the people go. But after they had left, it dawned on Pharaoh that their slaves were their only remaining wealth-the departure of Israel was an eleventh plague, one that Pharaoh thought he could reverse. So he pursued them with a contingent of chariots, and God destroyed them in the sea. Egypt was completely undone, it was left as a smoldering ruin.
The people of Israel saw all this with their own eyes, and they danced on the far shore of the Red Sea. But it takes more than a few seen marvels to get the slavery out of the hearts of sinners.
When the people came out of Egypt, it was Christ who delivered them. When Moses rejected the treasures of Egypt, it was to follow Christ. When the bread fell from heaven, that bread was Christ. When the Rock split and the people drank the water, the Rock was Christ.
The people were graciously given the law early in their time in the wilderness. But they still turned to grumbling and idolatry, and God sentenced them to forty years wandering in the wilderness. This was time enough for the generation of slaves to harden, and bring up another generation of free men and women, children of faith who would conquer the land. The gospel and goodness of God surrounded them the entire time, but there are two instances of this great kindness that are worth telling you about.
The Rock was Christ that accompanied them. And when the people complained about not having water, the Lord told Moses and Aaron to speak to the Rock in the sight of the complainers, and water would come forth for the people to drink. But Moses, exasperated with the people, called them rebels (in the midst of his own rebellion) and struck the Rock with his staff. He said, must we fetch water out of this Rock? We, and not God. Striking, and not speaking. God in His kindness still gave water, but Moses was kept out of the promised land because of this.
Another time, the people were discouraged because the way was hard, the manna was boring and light, there was no bread and water, and so they spoke against Moses. God in response sent fiery serpents into their midst to afflict them further. This brought them around and they confessed their sin to Moses, and asked for deliverance. He was told by the Lord to make a bronze image of a seraph, the creatures that were afflicting the people were apparently some form of seraphim, raise it on a pole, and all who looked to it would be healed. Of course, this shows yet another way that Moses, a great man of faith, preached the gospel to a stubborn people.
How did Moses die? His eye was not dimmed, even at the end, and God showed him all the land the people were to inherit, a great land promised to Abraham. And we standing with Moses, on Mount Pisgah, can see as far as he did, and farther. The entire earth is promised, and we, learning the lessons of Israel in the wilderness, need to learn the lessons of Israel in the land, exercising dominion through faith in the conquering gospel of Christ.