Israel’s Escape from Egyptian Slavery

Population growth of Israeli migrants in Egypt was seen as a threat by the indigenous Egyptian hierarchy, and policies of attempted containment by use of harsh slavery and male infanticide are described in Exodus 1:7-22.

The Hebrew midwives refused to cooperate with Pharaoh’s decree; that male children should be drowned in the River Nile, and harsh servitude in support of the Egyptian Kingdom’s building projects did not stop the population growth. Exodus 2:1-10 describes the birth of Moses the third child of a couple from the tribe of Levi, whilst living under these conditions. His mother seeking to save his life placed him in a pitch coated ark made of bulrushes at the river’s brink. Pharaoh’s daughter, finding Moses, decided to save him and bring him up as her son and she used his mother as his nurse.

Moses, aged 40, demonstrated that his sympathy lay with his countrymen rather than his adopted parentage, by intervening in support of a Hebrew in a dispute between them and an Egyptian.

Moses, discovering that the death of the Egyptian was common knowledge fled to Midian, where he acted as a shepherd for a Midianite whose daughter he married. This is detailed in Exodus 2:11-22.

In response to Israel’s cries under bondage (Exodus 2:23-25), Moses was instructed (Exodus 3) to return to Egypt and lead Israel out of their bondage to the promised inheritance. This instruction was delivered by God’s appearance to Moses in a burning bush that was not consumed by the fire. Exodus 4, details Moses’ argument that Israel would not accept his leadership, so he was given two miraculous signs to demonstrate the legitimacy of the message.

His rod when cast on the ground turned into a serpent, which was retrieved again as a rod when the serpent was taken by its tail. His hand when placed upon his chest within his outer garment and withdrawn became leprous and upon repeat of the process, it was restored without evidence of leprosy. Moses, also claimed lack of eloquence and was thus told that Aaron, his brother, would assist and be his spokesman.

Interactions between Moses and Pharaoh are detailed in Exodus 5-13. Upon Moses’ and Aaron’s request for Pharaoh’s release of the Hebrew slaves, Pharaoh refused to let them go and Egypt suffered ten plagues. These sequential plagues consisted of; water turned to blood, frogs, lice (gnats), flies, murrain on the cattle, blains and boils (an infection causing skin eruptions), hail with fire, locusts, darkness, death of the firstborn of all humans and beasts in all households.

From the murrain onwards these plagues fell only on the Egyptians, with Goshen where the Israelites dwelt being spared. Pharaoh, after each plague, was given opportunity to let Israel depart from Egypt but refused until after the death of the firstborn, after which Israel were ejected by the inhabitants who heaped their jewellery and treasures on them in desperation to hasten their departure.

The final plague on Egypt and Israel’s escape is still commemorated by the feast of the Passover by practicing Jews today. On the night of the original Passover in Egypt, the families of Israel were given detailed criteria by which they should eat a lamb per household with bitter herbs.

Exodus 12:2-14 This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you. Speak ye unto all the congregation of Israel, saying, In the tenth day of this month they shall take to them every man a lamb, according to the house of their fathers, a lamb for an house: And if the household be too little for the lamb, let him and his neighbour next unto his house take it according to the number of the souls; every man according to his eating shall make your count for the lamb. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats: And ye shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening. And they shall take of the blood, and strike it on the two side posts and on the upper door post of the houses, wherein they shall eat it. And they shall eat the flesh in that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof. And ye shall let nothing of it remain until the morning; and that which remaineth of it until the morning ye shall burn with fire. And thus shall ye eat it; with your loins girded, your shoes on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste: it is the LORD’s passover. For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD. And the blood shall be to you for a token upon the houses where ye are: and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you, when I smite the land of Egypt. And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever.

Based on the fact that the firstborn of each of the families of Israel were saved, they were instructed (Exodus 13) that human and domestic animal firstborn belonged to God. Humans were to be redeemed by sacrifice of a lamb and animals sacrificed. Later the Levites, as a tribe, were given to God, Aaron’s male lineage to act as priests and the males of the rest of the tribe to be involved in maintenance of the Tabernacle service.

Exodus 14 contains details of Pharaoh’s change of heart on letting Israel depart and how he sought to recover his lost slaves. Moses was instructed to hold out his rod over the Red Sea, which was divided to form a safe passage for Israel to walk through on the sea bed with ice walls on either side.

Separation of the pursuing Egyptians, was maintained by means of a cloud to hide Israel. On Israel reaching the far side, the sea returned to cover the Egyptian host. This event is celebrated with dance and song as detailed in Exodus 15.

The Passover as a feast of remembrance relating to the birth of Israel as a nation, and escape from Egyptian slavery, was established as a major commemoration in the Jewish calendar. Its celebration was utilised as a means of national cohesion under times of reformation in the days of both Hezekiah and Josiah (2 Chronicles 30, 2 Kings 23 21-23: and 2 Chronicles 35). Ezra also recorded the Passover celebration at the time of the return from Babylonian captivity (Ezra 6).

All four Gospel records state, that Christ’s crucifixion followed his keeping of this feast with his disciples. Paul illustrates the figurative teaching of the paschal lamb (the lamb eaten at the Passover feast), relating it to Christ’s sacrifice: 1 Corinthians 5:7 For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us. It should also be noted that it was at this feast that Christ partook of bread and wine for the last time with his disciples prior to his crucifixion and introduced the Christian act of partaking of these emblems:- Luke 22:19-20 he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you. Paul also, discussing this feast states 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

Paul draws a parallel between Israel’s passage through the Red Sea and baptism 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

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