Slaves to sinai
Week 6 - Read Exodus 1-11
Key Concepts: The key concept is that God hears the cries of and works for the liberation of the oppressed, which in this case are the children of Abraham to whom God is bound by the covenant.
Stories: The stories in this section begin with Pharaoh making all of the Hebrews into slaves and are followed by Pharaoh trying to make the midwives kill all of the male babies, the midwives refusing, Moses being born, hidden, placed in a basket in the Nile, being found by Pharaoh’s daughter, nursed by his own mother, growing up with privilege, and then killing an Egyptian. The stories continue with his flight into the wilderness where he meets the priest Jethro’s daughter, who is a Hebrew, marries her, becomes a shepherd, sees the burning bush, encounters God, receives and resists his call to free God’s people, finally goes with Aaron, confronts Pharaoh, announces God’s plagues and then in the end is told of the coming of the worst of the plagues, the death of the first-born.
Brief Summary: What is fascinating about these stories is that when they are told in a more secular setting (the movies: The Ten Commandments or The Prince of Egypt) the focus in on Moses. While this makes for great on-screen hero worship, the reality of these stories is that they are about God. Let’s take a look and see why. It is God who hears the cries of God’s people. It is God who encourages and blesses the mid-wives. It is God, one assumes, who causes the princess to find Moses and have pity on him. It is God, again assumed, who directs Moses steps to meet the right people in the wilderness. It is God who confronts Moses. It is God who gives Moses all that Moses needs to liberate the people. It is God who tells Moses what to do. It is God who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. It is God who brings the plagues. It is God who tells Moses what is ahead. God is the mover and shaker in these stories.
There are several fascinating concepts in these stories. The first is the role of women. The mid-wives are the only Hebrews who stand up to Pharaoh. They have been commanded to kill all of the male babies but they fear God and so refuse to do so. They come up with elaborate explanations as to the reason they cannot do so. The daughter of Pharaoh also refuses to comply with her father’s decision to kill all of the male Hebrew babies. She has pity and saves Moses even though it is against the law. There is an irony in her act in that it will be this same Moses who will bring word of the death of the first born…which will affect every Egyptian family. Though the princess is not named, the two midwives are, which is unusual in such an ancient story.
Second, we have a long conversation between Moses and God in which Moses resists doing what he was born to do…liberate God’s people. The story makes it clear that Moses was a liberator at heart. Not only did he kill an Egyptian who was oppressing God’s people, he also liberates the daughters of the priest of Midian from oppressive shepherds. This would make sense considering that he himself had been liberated from the waters of the Nile.
Finally this story can be seen a as contest between God and Pharaoh, who considered himself to be a god. As you read the stories note the sense of Pharaoh constantly challenging the power of Moses’ God. The question in the story is, will the God of Moses be powerful enough to keep the promise and the covenant alive? As we leave our story the answer still has not been answered.
1. How do you respond to my contention that this story is about God more than about Moses?
2. Where have you seen women act as liberators similar to those in our story?
3. How would you feel saying no to God?
4. How do you understand the issue of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart?
Week 7 - Read Exodus 12-19
Key Concepts: The key concept is remembering. The idea of remembering is central to the Passover event, the renewal of the covenant at Sinai and even the giving of the Ten Commandments. The people are to always remember that it is God who has freed them, fed them and protected them.
Stories: The stories in this section include Passover, the Hebrews leaving Egypt, consecrating the first-born, God leading the people to the edge of the sea, Pharaoh changing his mind and pursuing the people, God protecting the people, God/Moses leading the people across the sea, the Egyptians being drowned, the people celebrating their victory, water being made clean, the people murmuring, God giving manna and quail, the declaration of the 7th day as the Sabbath, water from the rock at Horeb, Joshua leading the people to defeat the Amalakites, Moses meeting his family again, Jethro encouraging Moses to appoint elders (which he does), the people being prepared to encounter God at Sinai, Moses and Aaron going up to receive the Ten Commandments (which they do) and then a few miscellaneous rules about altars.
Brief Summary: We pick up our story with the blessing being under threat because God has declared that every first born (human and animal) will die in the coming plague. This includes the Hebrews. However God gives the people an escape route…which is the basis for Passover. God instructs the people to smear lambs blood over the door posts and lintels of their doors. Once they do so the angel of death will pass over them and their first born will be safe. This is why it is called Passover. The death of the first born in Egypt becomes the event which causes Pharaoh to let God’s people go. As they go, they are given parting gifts by the Egyptians, which is one more time when God’s people are blessed.
As the Hebrews depart they are reminded to remember “this day” and to dedicate their first-born to God. Before they are cleanly away though, the Egyptians change their minds and come after them. Pharaoh leads his army in pursuit of the escaping former slaves. With their backs to the sea, the Hebrews appear trapped. God however has other plans. God protects them until the time is right for Moses to lift up his staff and part the waters of the sea. The people of God go through it as on dry land while the Egyptians get trapped in it and drown. Once the Hebrews see that they are safe they celebrate.
What follows this saving event is a series of murmurings by the people against Moses in which they complain about a lack of water and food. Each time they murmur, God provides for them by making bitter water fresh, giving them manna (bread) and quail (meat) to eat and finally water from the rock at Horeb. At the same time the Hebrews encounter the people of Amalek who threaten the people as did the Egyptians. Under the leadership of Joshua the Hebrews prevail.
The final set of stories has to do with the people being prepared to encounter God at Sinai. Once they are ready, Moses and Aaron go to the Sinai to receive the Law, including the Ten Commandments. This Law, on which we will focus for several weeks, will give order and structure to the lives of the people as they wander in the wilderness as well as their settled lives in the land of promise.
1. How do you practice remembering what God has done for you?
2. How does the death of the first-born affect your perception of God?
3. Where do you see people murmuring today?
4. What role do you see for the Ten Commandments today?