Moses Leads God's People

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Years passed, and a new Pharaoh came into power.  The Egyptians forgot how their ancestors were saved from starvation by Joseph.  Now they looked upon the Hebrew People with resentment.  "Why do these people refuse to worship our gods?  And what do they mean by having so many children?  Perhaps they plan to outnumber us and take over Egypt!"

Such thoughts prompted Pharaoh to enslave the Israelites.  He forced them to labor from morning until night, building the roads and cities of Egypt.  Then he decreed that all baby boys born to the Israelites must be killed.

One young Hebrew mother kept her infant son hidden for three months.  She knew she could not do this much longer before the Egyptians found out, so she placed the child in a large, waterproof basket.  The basket was placed among the reeds on the shore of the Nile River.  The baby's older sister, Miriam, watched from a distance to see what would happen.

What happened shows that not only the mother, but God himself, had a special reason for wanting this baby to live.  The Pharaoh's daughter came along and discovered the basket.  She was delighted to find a tiny baby inside and decided to adopt him as her own.  Miriam saw all this and decided to act.  She knew that wealthy women always had slaves to nurse their babies.  Miriam came out of hiding, and offered to find a Hebrew woman for this job.  Naturally, she brought the baby's mother.  Pharaoh's daughter named the child Moses, which means "drawn from the water".

Moses grew up in the palace of Pharaoh.  As he grew older, he was disturbed at the way his people were treated.  One day Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave.  Unable to stand such injustice any longer, Moses rushed forward and killed the Egyptian.  Soon word of what Moses had done got around, and he began to fear for his life.  He fled from Egypt and settled in the land of Midian.  Here he married and became a herdsman.

Perhaps Moses thought he was through with Egypt.  But God was not through with Moses.  One day, as Moses tended his flock, he saw a flaming bush that was not consumed by the fire.  From the bush came the voice of God calling out to him and saying:

I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.... I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians...  Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people...(Ex 3:6-10).

The cry of the people of Israel has come to me and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.  Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt. (Ex 3:9-10).

At first, Moses answered God, not with faith, but excuses: Who am I to do such a great thing?  What shall I tell people when they ask your Name?  No one will believe me when I say that you sent me.  I am not a good public speaker, Lord; you had better send someone else.  But God answered all these questions.  He gave Moses the power to perform miracles that would prove his claim.  He told Moses his Name: "I AM".  God told Moses to have his brother Aaron speak for him.

So Moses returned to Egypt with Aaron and they went before Pharaoh demanding that Pharaoh let the Israelites go.  Of course, Pharaoh would not hear of releasing the Israelites.  Because of Pharaoh's disbelief and refusal, God brought through Moses ten punishments or plagues upon Egypt as a sign of his power and dominion.  First, Moses struck the waters of the Nile with his staff, and all the water of Egypt turned to blood.  But Pharaoh did not change his mind.  Plagues that followed included invasions of frogs and gnats, a disease that killed many cattle, painful boils, hail, locusts that devoured crops, and darkness over the land.  Pharaoh's heart remained hardened, as Scripture tells us, so God had to send the worst plague of all.  Moses warned Pharaoh that if he did not let God's chosen people go, every firstborn in Egypt, of man and animal alike, would die that night.  Pharaoh still did not listen.

Meanwhile, God had given Moses special instructions, both to save the Israelites from the plague which would kill the firstborn, and to get the people ready to leave Egypt.  Each family was to slaughter a lamb, then mark its door with the lamb's blood.  Seeing the bloodstain, the angel of death would pass by that house.  The family was to roast the lamb and eat it with bitter herbs and bread.  The women were told to make the bread without yeast (unleavened), because they would not have time to let it rise.  The Israelites were to eat this dinner standing and dressed for travel.  This night is remembered every year even in our time, as Jews the world over celebrate the feast of Passover.

The plague came, and all the firstborn of the Egyptians died, including Pharaoh's son.  At last Pharaoh told Moses to take the Hebrews and leave Egypt.  However, they had only gone a day's journey when Pharaoh changed mind.  He sent his armies out to recapture the Hebrews.  Moses and his people had just reached the shores of the Red Sea.  It seemed as if they were trapped.

But instead, God gave his chosen people a great sign of his power and love.  In answer to the prayers of Moses, he caused the waters to separate.  The Israelites passed through on dry ground.  When Pharaoh's armies entered the Red Sea, the waters rushed back, destroying them all.  Moses and the people sang in praise of God"  "I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea". (Ex 15:1).

God led his people on through the desert.  It was a difficult journey.  But God was with them, caring for all their needs and protecting them from dangers, and willing to forgive them whenever they complained or sinned against him.

Used with the permission of The Ignatius Press 800-799-5534

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