Long before Jacob came with his family to Egypt, he met God in a time of desperate prayer, during which, God changed his name from Jacob, to Israel, meaning “he who wrestles with God.” So as Jacob’s family, now living under the protection of Egypt, began to grow in number and strength, they became known as the people of Israel.
Nearly four hundred years passed and Jacob’s family of 70 souls had grown to two million strong. Because they were shepherds and had religious practices that were detestable to the Egyptian people, they remained a distinct people, living within Egypt, but in their own district called Goshen.
As time passed and Israel grew strong, the Egyptian people’s love and reverence for Joseph and his family turned to fear and distrust of this growing nation. Leaders in the government advised the Pharaoh, “If we don’t take preemptive measures, Israel will join with our enemies and make life difficult for us, if not overthrow us altogether.” For this reason, a number of severe restrictions were placed on Israel. Despite this, God continued to bless Israel, they grew stronger. More and more harsh measures were taken, to the point that the Israelite people were stripped of all rights and made slaves in Egypt. Still God blessed Israel and they grew stronger. Finally, to lessen Israel’s strength, Egypt legislated legal infanticide against Israel, mandating that any boy-child born to the Israelites must be put to death at birth.
Many boys died, but one family hid their new baby boy in a tiny boat fashioned from a basket. As the baby lie hidden in the reeds at the edge of the river, a princess of Egypt, the Pharaoh’s own daughter, came to bathe in the river and spotted the little vessel. Inside she found the baby boy and realized immediately this must be a Hebrew child whose parents were trying to protect their son. She had mercy on the baby. She took him back with her to the palace and determined to raise the child herself. She gave him the name Moses, referring to his being rescued from the water.
Moses grew up as Pharaoh’s grandson. He grew in wisdom and strength and became very wise in the ways of Egypt and some historians believe he became a national war hero. As he reached 40 years old, Moses had everything an Egyptian man of his day could desire but he was not an Egyptian. He grew discontent as he watched his fellow Hebrews labor under oppression. He felt he could no longer stand by in his cloistered position among the royal family while his own people suffered in slavery. He made a dramatic choice. He gave up his rights as an Egyptian choosing instead to suffer alongside his own people. He looked for ways to lead the Hebrews.
Moses thought his people would recognize he was called to rescue them, but they didn’t. In fact, when it became known that Moses had killed an Egyptian to protect a Hebrew slave, his own people turned on him. As one fellow Hebrew put it, “Who made you to rule over us? Do you plan to kill me the way you killed the Egyptian?” As the news of Moses’ misplaced aggression reached the Pharaoh, Moses was forced to flee into the desert. As he crossed the desert alone, he left behind him all he was and all he had hoped to be. Moses arrived in Midian on the edge of the wilderness and hired himself out as a shepherd to a local man named Jethro.
Moses lived in the relative calm of Midian for 40 years. He married Jethro’s daughter and had two children. He cared for the flocks of his father-in-law and was content. Back at the age of 40, Moses had been an arrogant, brash man of war, a dominating leader with poise, personality and presence; the product of his royal Egyptian culture. After 40 years of farm and family life at the edge of nowhere, Moses had become a humble man. Self-effacing and modest, Moses was convinced he had no future in leadership and was content to live out his life as a shepherd. But God had other plans.
While Moses lived peacefully in Midian, his people continued to suffer as slaves in Egypt. They cried out to God and he heard them. As Moses tended his father-in-law’s flocks in the mountains, he saw a bush that was ablaze with fire but was not consumed. He went to investigate.
As Moses approached, out of the burning bush came the voice of God. He told Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I have seen the misery of my people as they suffer in Egypt. I have heard their cry for help. So, I have come down to rescue them, to bring them out of Egypt and to the land I promised to their fathers. So now, go! I am sending you to confront Pharaoh and bring my people out of Egypt.”
Moses said, “What? Who am I that I should confront Pharaoh and bring the people out?” God responded, “I will go with you!” “And what should I tell the people? Won’t they ask, ‘Who has sent you to rescue us?’”
“‘I AM THAT I AM!’ Tell the people, ‘YHWH has sent me to you!’ This is my name forever, the name you should call me from generation to generation.” (pronounce yah-weh)
Moses argued all the more with YHWH, but in the end, he was convinced this was the calling God had placed on his life. YHWH said to Moses, “I know that when you go to Pharaoh he will not listen to you and will not let my people go, so I will lay my hand heavily on Egypt, smiting them. In the end, they will bless you and your people, and will send you away willingly.”
So it was that a humble, aging shepherd, Moses and his brother Aaron approached the mighty Pharaoh saying, “YHWH, the God of the Israelites, has commanded that you let his people go.”
Pharaoh was stunned and said, “I don’t know you or your God and I will not let the people go!”
The Egyptians worshipped many gods. In most cases these gods were believed to rule over certain aspects of nature. Over the next months, each time Pharaoh refused to let the people go, YHWH brought a plague against the Egyptians Each plague demonstrated the powerlessness of their so called gods and each plague delivered the Egyptians fresh horror, suffering and loss.
Useless god after useless god fell before the might of YHWH as the people of Egypt suffered through nine horrific plagues. Pharaoh’s stubbornness persisted. After all, he was the mighty Pharaoh, a god in his own right. He would dictate what would happen in Egypt. No man or god would tell him what to do. He ordered Moses to leave his presence and never return.
“You are right,” Moses agreed. “I will not return, for tonight you and your people will suffer one last plague. Then you will let us go.” Pharaoh had been warned.
The final plague YHWH brought was a plague of death. The Israelites were told to sacrifice a perfect lamb and mark their doorposts with its blood. “The angel of death will pass over every house covered in the blood of the lamb,” Moses said, “but every house that is not covered by the blood, will lose their firstborn son, from the poorest to the richest, even to Pharaoh’s own house. No family will be spared who has not sought shelter under the blood of the lamb.”
That night, as the Hebrews slept, a great cry of anguish arose from the people of Egypt.
This Story is a paraphrase. Details & references found in Exodus 1-12; Act 7:18-35; Hebrews 11:23-28