Today I started the book of Exodus. At this point in the Biblical narrative, the children of Israel – which I always thought of as a poetical name, but they were literally his descendants – have been in Egypt for 430 years. Joseph is dead and gone and a new Pharoah, one who didn’t know of Joseph or all the good he did, arose.
He noticed there sure were a lot of Hebrew people. Thousands. He decided to make them slaves. The Bible says “they [the Egyptians] made their lives bitter” (v.14). And yet…verse 12 says that they more the Egyptians oppressed them, the more the Israelites multiplied and spread! It alarmed the Egyptians greatly. Granted, this was before birth control, but still! They were already outnumbered. Might as well get the benefit of slave labor from them. Pharoah even instituted a policy where every male Hebrew baby was to be killed, upon sight.
Set adrift in a waterproof basket, he was rescued by Pharoah’s daughter. Raised in Pharoah’s court, he never forgot who he really was: a Hebrew. When the time arose to defend a fellow Hebrew, he acted: murder. Misunderstood and fearful of being discovered and punished, he runs to the desert. There, God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush, a story we’re all familiar with. In Exodus 3, God appoints Moses as his mouthpiece to Pharoah. Moses, a man of checkered past, arises as the Israelites’ deliverer.
Pharoah, even with Aaron as interpreter, is not impressed. In fact, Moses’ plea to let the Hebrew slaves go intot he wilderness and sacrifice to God only arouses his ire. He’s not impressed with the god of a slave-people. To show he cares enough to send the very best, he tells the Egyptian slavedrivers and Israelite foremen that now the slaves must make bricks without being supplied the straw. They must gather it themselves (5:6) and still make their daily quotas. Nobody likes this.
Everyone complains. The Israelite foremen even go back to Pharoah and blame him (rightly so) for this ridiculous requirement. Pharoah tells them they’re lazy and that’s why they want a 3-day excursion – or vacation!- to offer sacrifices (v. 19). The Israelite foremen then complain to Moses: “May the Lord judge and punish you for making us stink before Pharoah and his officials. You have put a sword into their hands, an excuse to kill us!” (v. 21).
This causes Moses and Aaron to go back to the Lord and question the whole thing. Little did Moses know how much longer it would take to finally leave Egypt for good. Yahweh gives comfort, edification and identity: “Say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God…I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob'” (v.6-8).
What I really noticed for the first time this reading is that the Israelites could not receive that word. They had no intimate knowledge of this I Am. The Bible says “but they refused to listen anymore. They had become to discouraged by the brutality of their slavery” (v.9). Wow. I think the ever-worsening plagues were just as much for the benefit of Jacob’s offspring as they were to establish God’s sovereignty to the Egyptians. There was a revealing of who God really is, despite their awful circumstances up until this point. As the plagues unfolded like a bouquet of crusty black flowers, the faith of God’s chosen people grew.
If you read on in this chapter, verse 14 outlines all the genealogy of Moses and Aaron. Wait. There shouldn’t be *any* sons, right? Apparently, the Hebrew children found a way to keep their male babies from death. To me, that shows they already had some courage, some desire to be free and do what was right. They saw themselves as independent and part of another nation. They had the tools, perhaps still in a rough form, to follow after God and fully obey His commands. The seeds of their eventual freedom were already there.
So the questions become: What is freedom worth? How many times did Moses go to Pharoah, asking him to “let my people go”? Would you do that for yourself or those you love?