The Exodus and Conquest

[Exodus - Joshua]


Moses’ birth, calling and return to Egypt

[Ex 1-4] The Israelites have grown greatly in numbers and prosperity when a new king reigns who knows nothing of Joseph. Through fear of their numbers and their might, he puts the Israelites into bondage and their persecution begins. The population continues to grow and attempts are made to limit their increase by preventing birth or survival of male children. When Moses is born, his mother hides him in a basket placed by the river bank where it is discovered by a daughter of Pharaoh. Moses’ mother is paid by Pharaoh’s daughter to nurse him and then return him to her to be brought up as her own. When Moses is grown he witnesses a Hebrew being attacked by an Egyptian. He intervenes and kills the Egyptian, but the next day it is apparent the killing is becoming common knowledge. Moses has to flee and takes refuge in Midian. There he marries Zipporah, a daughter of Jethro, the priest of Midian, and has two sons by her. Moses keeps a flock for Jethro, and in time leads them to Horeb where he sees a bush burning, but not being consumed. When he approaches to investigate, God speaks to him from the bush and tells him he is to return to Egypt, along with his brother Aaron, to deliver God’s children out of bondage and to bring them to this mountain.

Pharaoh’s opposition and the ten plagues

[Ex 5-12] When Moses first approaches Pharaoh with God’s message it is rejected; Pharaoh’s response is to put a greater burden on Israel in their slavery. There then follows a series of ten plagues intended to persuade Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. The first nine plagues are: water turned to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, against livestock, boils, hail, locusts and darkness. Pharaoh’s heart is hardened following each plague until the most severe, the tenth plague, death of the firstborn, is announced. Instructions are given by God to make preparations to protect the Israelite households from this last plague, involving sacrifice of a lamb and the daubing of its blood on door lintels and posts. God calls this the Lord’s Passover and declares it will become a memorial. When the plague comes, all the firstborn not protected by the lamb’s blood are slain. The loss of his son is too much for Pharaoh and he finally succumbs. Israel’s exodus begins.

To Mount Sinai

[Ex 13-18] The Israelites leave Egypt with great possessions given by the Egyptians. (These possessions later form the source of materials for constructing the tabernacle.) They go by way of the desert towards the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds), led by God in a pillar of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. Pharaoh’s heart is again hardened and he gathers his army to pursue the Israelites. God facilitates the Israelites’ escape by parting the Red Sea, enabling them to cross between the walls of water while a pillar of smoke and a cloud keep the Egyptians at a distance. When the cloud disperses and the Egyptians attempt to cross the sea, the waters return and they are all drowned. Following this deliverance, Moses composes a song to commemorate the occasion. Moses leads Israel from the Red Sea out into the Wilderness of Shur. After another three days’ travelling without water, they arrive at Marah, only to find the water there is bitter. Through Moses, God sweetens the water and they travel on and camp at Elim where there are twelve wells and seventy palm trees. They then travel through the Desert of Sin on their way to Sinai. The Israelites begin to complain about lack of food, suggesting they would rather have died in Egypt with full bellies. God then provides sustenance of quail and a daily supply of manna, the Sabbath’s ration being given along with the previous day’s. This manna is to be their food throughout the forty years they will be wandering in the desert. Travelling on, they arrive at Rephidim where they are again without water and complain bitterly to Moses. God instructs Moses to go ahead of the people with some of the elders and strike a rock at Horeb, from which water will be provided. The Amalekites move to attack the Israelites at Rephidim and Moses sends Joshua with some men to fight them. Victory is gained while Moses, standing on a hill overlooking the battle scene, holds his staff up high. Jethro later visits his son-in-law and witnesses the burden on Moses of ministering to all the people. He advises him to share this burden with trustworthy men, overseeing only more serious issues himself. The Israelites are now approaching the wilderness of Sinai.

The law is given at Mount Sinai

[Ex 19-31] During the third month of leaving Egypt, the Israelites arrive at Sinai and camp close to the mountain. Following three days’ sanctification, God descends on the mountain in a cloud of smoke. Moses and Aaron are then summoned to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments. Moses is again called to the mountain where God gives him the laws by which the Israelites are to live. These are laws concerning servants, homicide, bodily injuries, property damage, social responsibility, and justice and mercy. Laws are then given concerning the Sabbath and three annual festivals. Moses repeats the law to the people, then is again summoned to the mountain, this time to receive all the laws on stone tablets. On this occasion he is on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. While on the mountain, God gives Moses instructions for constructing the tabernacle and its furniture (from materials to be given by the people), for the design of priestly garments and for consecration of the priests.

The Golden Calf

[Ex 32] Because he has been on the mountain for so long, the people lose hope in Moses and persuade Aaron to make a golden calf and altar, which they then use for worship followed by partying. When Moses comes down from the mountain and sees their behaviour, he breaks the stone tablets in anger and administers punishment to them. Moses then returns to the mountain to make atonement for their sin.

The tabernacle is constructed

[Ex 33-40] Moses pitches a tent outside the camp, which he calls the tabernacle of the congregation. Whenever Moses goes into this tent, a cloudy pillar descends and he and God converse while the people watch and worship from their tents. Moses later returns to the mountain with two new stone tablets on which God inscribes the Ten Commandments. He is shown God’s glory, but only from God’s back, and returns with his face shining from His glory. The people are gathered together and Moses gives them the law concerning the Sabbath, after which the construction of the tabernacle, its furnishings and the making of priestly garments begins. (The tabernacle is to be the place where God will dwell amongst His people. At the heart of the tabernacle, in a section called the ‘holy of holies’, will stand the ‘Ark of the Covenant’, which will initially just contain the two stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments are engraved.) When all the work is completed a cloud descends and the tabernacle is filled with God’s glory. From this point, in all the Israelites’ travels through the desert, whenever the cloud is above the tabernacle they stay encamped, but when the cloud lifts they break camp. God’s presence remains visible to the people at all times by the cloud during the day and by a fire at night.
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