Chronological Bible 5: Moses Confronts Pharaoh

This week’s readings came from Job 35-42 and Exodus 1-12 (with a few genealogical verses from 1 Chronicles 6). The book of Job concluded with Elihu’s speech and then God confronting Job, but I discussed those last week. This week I want to concentrate on the first part of Exodus, which tells the story of the eventual release of the Israelite nation from the bonds of slavery to Egypt.

The text begins with a listing of the descendants of Jacob who are now residing in Egypt, and then has the statement (1:8), “Now there arose a new king of Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” As you recall, Joseph had been placed as second in command over all Egypt under the pharaoh of his day, but after Joseph died, the people began to fear the Israelites because they had become so numerous. You must understand that between the end of Genesis and the beginning of Exodus, approximately 350 years have passed, so it’s not like the people became fearful overnight. The Israelites have grown by this time to be a nation of over a million people. The current king of Egypt issues an order that all the male children being born to Israel must die. One of the Israeli women gave birth to a son whom she hid in a floating basket and placed it in the waters at the edge of the Nile. The boy’s sister observed that Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby and adopted it as her own, naming him Moses.

Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s house but eventually recognized the brutality with which his people were being treated and ended up killing an Egyptian over it. This forced Moses to flee to the desert for safety. While there, he encountered God speaking from a bush which burned but was not consumed. Again, you have to be conscious of time when you read this and realize that Moses is approaching the age of 80 by now. His life, as described in the narrative, is broken up into 3 40-year segments: his life in Pharaoh’s house for the first 40 years, his exile in the desert for the next 40, and then his leadership of the Israelite nation to lead it out of Egypt during the final 40 years.

From the burning bush, God calls Moses to return to Egypt and demand the Israelites be released. God also tells him that Pharaoh will refuse until God has sent a series of 10 signs (plagues) upon the Egyptians, concluding with the death of their first born children. This death sentence ultimately led to the Israelites being released, and to the institution of the celebration/remembrance of Passover, when God’s judgment “passed over” all those who listened to him and obeyed him by covering their doors (symbolic of lives) with the blood of the Passover lamb.

The Plagues

As Moses was confronting Pharaoh about letting the Israelites go, God performed a series of ten miracles/plagues against the Egyptian people. The plagues were

  • Nile turning to blood
  • Frog infestation
  • Dust turning to gnat infestations
  • Fly infestation
  • Large-scale deaths of livestock
  • Boils on humans and animals
  • Devastating Hail
  • Locust devastation
  • Three days of darkness
  • Death of the firstborns (people and cattle)

Scholars have pointed out that many of these plagues represent God’s power over elements worshipped by the Egyptians. I specifically want to point out two things about them.

First, these plagues were pre-planned by God when he initially called Moses to go to Pharaoh.

And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, ‘Let my son go that he may serve me.’ If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.” (Exodus 4:21-23)

God instructed Moses to perform all the miracles first, which would ultimately culminate with the deaths of the firstborns. The plagues were not an impulsive act of an angry God. Rather, they were a just act of judgment against a people who rejected him.

Second, ultimately the purpose of the plagues was to teach about and bring glory to God, both in the eyes of the Egyptians and in the eyes of the Israelites.

“The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” (Exodus 7:5) …. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your grandson how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 10:1-2)

The Gospel of the Exodus

There are two big ways in which the gospel story of Jesus are reflected in these passages. The first one is in the broad story line of the Exodus itself. We’ll be looking at more detail about individual elements as we continue our journey through the Bible, but for now, consider the overarching story of the Exodus.

God’s people were in slavery. God chose to send a great prophet (Moses) to confront the source of their slavery (Pharaoh and Egypt) and facilitate their release. Once their captor was defeated, God’s people were led out of slavery, but spent some time in the “in-between” world of the wilderness, sometimes falling back into the mindset of slavery, but still journeying toward and anticipating that time would God would ultimately settle them in their promised land.

This is a picture of God’s work through Jesus. All of humanity is in slavery to sin. God sent his son (Jesus) to confront the slaveowner (Satan) and to defeat him by dying and then resurrecting from the grave in victory over the power of death. He then offers us the ability to follow him in that victory and leave behind the enslaving power of sin. When we follow him, though, we still battle against the influences and temptations of sin as we continue our life’s journey. Ultimately, though, Jesus will deliver those who have trusted him and followed him into the final promised “land” of heaven to live with him.

The Gospel of the Passover

The particulars of the Passover meal specified in Exodus 12 are

  • Sacrificial lamb without blemish
  • Male
  • Killed at twilight
  • None of the lamb’s bones could be broken
  • Blood had to cover the doorway to the house
  • All of the sacrifice had to be roasted and consumed, with no leftovers
  • It had to be consumed with anticipation of the exodus (e.g. in a hurry, ready to leave)
  • The accompanying bread must be unleavened (representing quick preparation and not “polluted”)
  • This would distinguish God’s people from those who aren’t. Foreigners who were not Jews had to become Jewish (e.g. be circumcised) to participate.
  • The actual Passover event (death of Egypt’s firstborns) occurred only once, but the Passover celebration was to continue in perpetuity.

When Jesus died on the cross, he fulfilled the elements and picture of the Passover himself, providing the second, and eternal, “Passover” victory over death.

Next week’s readings will be from Exodus 13-34.

For Further Investigation

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