FROM THE BIRTH OF MOSES THROUGH THE FIRST PASSOVER
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Moses is a key figure in the Evolution of Conscience. He’s the only person to actually see Yahweh’s presence and led the Israelites out of their bondage in Egypt.
In the Old Testament, Exodus, we learn the Israelites had become numerous and powerful in Egypt while under the protection of Jacob’s son Joseph who during a famine acquired all the land in Egypt for the Pharaoh. Then a new Pharaoh came into power who didn’t know Joseph and seeing so many Israelites, took precautions to stop them from dominating the country.
To weaken the Israelites advantage, the Pharaoh assigns them to forced labor under taskmasters instructed to wear them down. But the harder their lives, the more prolific they are. The Egyptians respond by increasing the pressure, requiring the men to fill greater quotas.
During this time, Moses is born to parents captive in the Israelite compound directly across the river from the Pharaoh’s palace, separated by a narrow strip of the Sea of Reeds. In spite of living a hard life, the Israelite women continue delivering healthy babies and the Pharaoh instructs the midwives to kill all the male infants at birth. The midwives ignore the command and tell the Pharaoh the hardy Hebrew women give birth before the midwives can get to them. Soon after, Pharaoh commands all his people to throw every new-born boy into the river, but lets the girls live.
For the first months of Moses life, he is hidden and subdued while his mother and sister Miriam devise a plan to save him. They often watch as the Pharaoh’s daughter and her handmaidens walk on the promenade across the river from the Israelite community. When a few months old, they water-proof Moses’ basket, tucking the infant inside and placing it among the reeds at the edge of the sea where the infant’s cries can be heard on the promenade. Their plan succeeds and Moses is rescued by the Israeli handmaiden accompanying Pharaoh’s daughter. A kind and gentle girl, she feels sorry for the babe and the handmaiden quickly offers to find a nurse to feed the infant. As planned she brings Mose’s mother, who is hired as his nursemaid.
When Moses outgrows babyhood, she brings him to Pharaoh’s daughter who treats him like a son and names him Moses “because I drew him out of the water.” Moses and his mother remain in the palace until he matures. There are many contradictions in Moses early life. He’s exposed to the Israeli ways of his mother and the belief in one true God–as well as the Egyptian way of honoring many false idols. Although Pharaoh’s daughter delights in the child, she and Moses’ mother fear reprisals from Pharaoh, limiting Moses freedom and discouraging him from making noise. This manifests as a speech impediment Moses never overcomes, even with Yahweh’s guidance.
One day when seeing a worker beaten for not producing enough bricks for Pharaoh’s many building projects, Moses intercedes but instead of making conditions better they worsened. On the following day he returns to the work site and kills the Egyptian, hiding him in the sand. A day later two Israeli’s are fighting and Moses asks the one in the wrong, “What do you mean by hitting your kinsman?” “Who appointed you,” the man replied, “to be prince over us and judge. Do you not intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Pharaoh hears of this matter and tries putting Moses to death, but Moses flees into Midianite territory.
While sitting on a well he meets the daughters of a Midianite priest being driven from the well by other shepherds. Moses rushes to their aid and waters their flock. When the girls return home and tell their father how they finished their chore so quickly, he asks why they didn’t bring Moses home for a meal. They go back to the well and invite Moses to dinner. Their father, Ruel, asks Moses to stay on and some time later gives him Zipporah, his daughter, in marriage. They have a son named Gershom meaning “I am an alien in a foreign land.” This marriage later becomes an impediment preventing Moses and his family from entering The Promised Land, a place where a pure Jewish bloodline is essential.
Yahweh Calls Upon Moses
As Moses looks after his father-in-laws flocks he leads them to the far side of the desert, coming to Horeb, the mountain of God. The angel of Yahweh appears to him in a flame from the middle of a bush, but the bush appears not to be burning up. Curious, Moses heads there. When Yahweh sees him moving near he calls “Moses, Moses.” “Here I am,” Moses replies. “Come no nearer,” Yahweh says. “Take off your sandals for the place where you’re standing is holy ground. I’m the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” At this, Moses covers his face, afraid to look at God.
Yahweh explains how he sees the misery of his people in Egypt and hears them crying out for help. “I have come down to rescue them from the clutches of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that country to a country rich and broad, a country flowing with milk and honey. So now I am sending you to Pharaoh, to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt.”
“Look, if I go to the Israelites and tell them the God of their ancestors has sent me they’ll ask your name.” God replies, “I am he who is. And this is what you are to say to the Israelites.” This was shocking to Moses. It’s unclear if Moses is simply shy or if he has a speech impediment caused by being subdued in his childhood to save his life. For Moses it’s a handicap in the assignment Yahweh envisions for him. “I am has sent me to you. Yahweh the God of your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob has sent me to you. This is my name for all time and thus I am to be invoked for all generations to come.”
But Moses continues to resist and Yahweh instructs him to throw the staff he holds on the ground: as Moses does so the staff turns into a snake and Moses recoils. “Reach out your hand and catch it by the tail.” Moses catches it, and in his hand it turns into a staff.
Yahweh continues to show Moses what he can accomplish with the staff, and Moses continues to resist telling Yahweh he has never been eloquent, even since Yahweh has spoken to him, believing himself to be slow and hesitant of speech. Yahweh suggests Moses brother Aaron is a good speaker. “Here he comes to meet you. When he sees you his heart will be full of joy. You will speak to him and tell him what message to give. I shall help you speak and him too and instruct you what to do. You will be as the god inspiring him. Take this staff in your hand; with this you will perform the signs.
Moses Returns to Egypt
Yahweh lets Moses know when it’s safe to return to Egypt for those who wanted to kill him are dead. So Moses takes Zipporah and their son Gershom and heads back carrying the staff of God in his hand. “Think of the wonders I have given you the power to perform once you are back in Egypt. You are to perform them before Pharaoh but I myself shall make him obstinate and he will not let the people go. You will them tell Pharaoh “This is what Yahweh says, ‘Israel is my first-born son. Let my son go and worship me, but since you refuse, I shall put your first-born son to death.” On the journey when they had stopped for the night, Zipporah takes a flint, cuts off her son’s foreskin and touches it at his feet saying, “You are my blood-bridegroom” referencing the circumcision.
Yahweh then tells Moses how he will force Pharaoh to let the Israeli’s go with this covenant. “A mighty hand will force him to let them go, a mighty hand will expel them from his country.” God then passes on to Moses and the Israelites the covenant he had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
“I am Yahweh. I shall free you from the forced labor of the Egyptians, rescue you from their slavery and redeem you with outstretched arm and mighty acts of judgement. I shall take you as my people and I shall be your God. And you will know I am Yahweh your God, who freed you from the forced labor of the Egyptians. Then I shall lead you to the country I gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and give it to you as your heritage.”
Moses repeats this to the Israelites, but they still don’t listen to him.
Moses Meets Aaron In The Desert
Yahweh sends Aaron into the desert to meet Moses and is told all Yahweh said and all the signs he ordered him to perform. “Aaron then went and gathered the Israelite elders, repeated everything and performed the signs. The people rejoiced for Yahweh had seen their misery and they bowed to the ground in worship.”
Aaron and Moses go to Pharaoh giving him Yahweh’s demands. “Let my people go so they can hold a feast in my honor in the desert.” Pharaoh, knowing nothing of Yahweh, refuses but Aaron persists until they are dismissed for distracting the men from their work. But Yahweh continues to pressure Pharaoh with signs and Pharaoh responds by sending for the sages and sorcerers who do the same, each throwing their staff down and turning it into serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallows theirs. Pharaoh remains obstinate and as Yahweh has foretold refuses to listen.
The First Passover
There are ten plagues before Pharaoh hears Yahweh’s intentions. Before the last, Yahweh tells Moses and Aaron to gather the people so he can prepare them to leave giving them detailed instructions on the preparation of animals and instructing them to eat a special meal hurriedly as it is a Passover in Yahweh’s honor. In particular he instructs them to take the blood of the animal they’ ll be eating and put it on both door posts and the lintel of the houses where it is eaten with unleavened bread so they will be passed over and escape the destructive plague as Yahweh strikes Egypt.
Yahweh then declares this day as a feast day for all generations, a decree for all time: Passover.
After this tenth plague, Pharaoh summons Moses and Aaron and instructs them to take the Israelites and leave taking their flocks and herds with them. The Israelites do as Moses instructs asking the Egyptians for their silver and gold jewelry and clothing without any idea why they would be needed. Nevertheless, they asked and the Egyptians, seeing them with new respect, readily handed over all they had.