Paul has an enthusiasm for exploring the world of faith and spiritual well being, which he wishes to share through all that he writes.
It was the fear of God, we are told, that prevented the Hebrew midwives from obeying Pharaoh's order to kill all newborn Hebrew males. They were not afraid of the Lord their God; they revered Him and deferred to His wisdom. They trusted in His love. In this way they knew God and understood that they must ignore the King of Egypt's command at their peril. But they knew there was nothing to fear: it was at Pharaoh's own peril that he commanded them.
The population of the Israelites, or to the Egyptians, the Hebrews, had increased greatly in Egypt since Joseph had arrived there from the land of Canaan, finding favor in the eyes of Pharaoh through his unique ability to interpret his dreams, and to provide worthy advice. Joseph's brothers, with their families and their father Jacob, went there also and were held in high esteem. Jacob, who God called Israel, was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham. It was to Abraham, that God had made the promise that his heirs would be many. But this new Pharaoh did not know Joseph, and feared the growing Hebrew population, so he decided to oppress them, abusing them with forced labor, and he told the midwives to kill the male infants. He also turned to his own people, telling them to throw into the river all Hebrew baby boys.
Many must have obeyed, sharing Pharaoh's fears, but some may have ignored his order, for they were a good people, and it was the very daughter of Pharaoh, who rescued a child from among the reeds in the river. He had been placed there in a basket in the fear that he would be discovered if he remained with his family. This child became a son to Pharaoh's daughter, and she named him Moses.
Years later, Moses, now an adult, had to flee the land of Egypt after a misdeed he committed against an Egyptian had become known. He feared for his life and fled to the land of Midian, where he married, had children and became a shepherd, working for his father-in-law. It was during this time that the Israelites became weary of their oppression, crying out for relief from their bondage, crying out to God.
God had never forgotten His people, keeping his promise, allowing them to increase their numbers. It was now time for the people to remember, time to turn to God, giving Him their attention, for they were living in a foreign land, which over the years may have become less foreign; it was time now for them to look to God to relieve them from their hardships, time for them to turn their heads towards the Lord their God, as God always had his love turned to them.
It was during this time that the man Moses had an unusual encounter, a fire in a bush, the bush not being burnt. As he turned to look, he heard a voice; he was asked to come no closer, and remove his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground. The voice introduced itself as the God of his fathers, the God of Abraham. Moses turned away, hiding his face, because he was afraid to look upon God. While Moses was asked to keep his distance, he was never asked to turn away.
God told Moses that He had seen the abuse of His people and heard their cry. God told him that He would rescue them from their oppression, to bring them out of that land, into a new one. He told Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him that he, Moses, would bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses was to go to the elders of the people and tell them that God had heard their cries, and that He would deliver them from Egypt and into the land that He had spoken of. Moses was afraid, but he was told they would listen to him, and together they would ask Pharaoh to allow them to make a short journey into the desert to worship God. Moses was also told that Pharaoh would refuse their request.
These were the times when the Israelites acknowledged the gods of the lands they traveled to, and being a long time in Egypt, they had probably become familiar with them and some of the customs of the land. This is why the elders needed to go into the desert to worship the God of their fathers. They needed to remove themselves from the presence of the gods of the Egyptians.
God told Moses that it would take a mighty hand to convince Pharaoh to let him and the elders to go out and worship, and to let the people leave so they could journey to the now promised land, but it was also a mighty hand that would be needed to convince the people to turn away from their familiar surroundings, to divert them from their fears of the wilderness, seas, and hostile lands. And unlike the midwives and the elders, many of them may not have known God well enough to trust and to follow. Being released from bondage, the people would rejoice. Being asked to follow a leader they did not know, to begin a many years' trek into parts unknown, maybe not.
And so, Pharaoh and his people witnessed God's mighty hand, through which they experienced severe hardships. They were not able to drink or otherwise use the waters of their mighty river; they were invaded by swarms of frogs, gnats and flies; their livestock were stricken with disease, and the people, too, suffered mysterious illness. There were times when Pharaoh relented, deciding to let the people go, but his heart was toughened by God, and he changed his mind. God continued to show His hand, His strong arm. It was important for the Egyptians to see the power of God, and for the Israelites to continue to see. And the time came when Pharaoh let the people go, banishing them, ensuring that they leave as a whole people.
Into the Wilderness
And so, the time came when Pharaoh sent the people out of his land.
God was with the people, appearing as clouds by day, and fire by night. Many were afraid. Again, Pharaoh changed his mind, sending an army in pursuit, and when the people learned of this, they feared more so, lamenting to Moses, that they would have preferred to perish in Egypt, than in the desert with their backs against a sea, facing an advancing army, with their much-feared chariots. God told Moses that He was with him, and Moses stretched out his own hand over the waters, and a wind arose, and throughout the night, the people began to turn toward the sea, the pillar of clouds now at their backs. And the winds pushed aside the waters, exposing dry ground, and the people crossed. The ground did not remain dry, however, and the pursuing, now retreating army became bogged down. And the waters returned.
With the sea and the pharaoh behind them, the people sang praises to God for their deliverance, but it was not long before they faced more difficulties - they began to thirst, and when they came upon a bit of water, unsuitable for drinking, Moses threw into it a tree that God had shown him, and the water became sweet. Many of the people began to see and trust, and to listen, hearing God describe Himself, through Moses as a healer. They would see and hear more good things as they became less fearful, and they soon came upon a place with springs to drink from, and fruit bearing trees to eat from; then back into the wilderness they went.
It was hunger next. The people told Moses that if God wished to kill them, He should have done so while they were in Egypt, where they had access to meat and bread. Moses told them to come closer to God, to see his glory, and they discovered an abundance of fowl to hunt that evening, and in the evenings that followed. In the morning, they discovered an unusual, flaked bread-like substance covering the desert floor, which was very fine to eat. The people continued to see and hear, and they became closer, thankful for the gifts. And Moses was their leader.
Once again, the people thirsted. Moses struck a certain rock, pointed out by God, with his staff, and water flowed. During these days, Moses was spending a good deal of time in the presence of God, going up the mountain into the cloud with the fire in it, the cloud and fire that many of the people were still afraid to look at. There he received from God, commandments and laws, instructions to live by, which he brought to the people. Then he returned to the mountain, getting to know God even more, receiving more laws and teachings. Once he was absent from the people long enough for some of them to doubt his return, so they built for themselves an idol of metal as a god to worship and lead them. God knew of this, and He put Moses to the test, telling him that He was going to bring an end to the people for their transgressions. Moses asked God, sternly, that He not to do such a thing. Moses had come a long way since he had looked away from the fire in the bush.
The people were also becoming closer to God, getting to know Him better. They were building a tent in which He would dwell amongst them, working with enthusiasm and gusto, and they, with Moses, were hearing more words like goodness and compassion, seeing more of God's glory. At one point, Moses returned from the mountain, with his face glowing, illuminated. He passed on to the people, more of God's teachings, then put on a veil, because the people were afraid to look at his face. He wore the veil in the presence of the people and removed it in the presence of the Lord his God.
The journey continued, along with the difficulties, but also along with the gifts. Through Moses, the people heard more good words come from God, like kindness and grace. They were beginning to find that their difficulties were not always as bad as their fear of them.
And there were those who dared to remove the veil of fear, walking into the shadow of the mighty hand, and through the cloud, to be in the presence of the fire. And when they turned, they saw the fire that warms the night, the cloud that provides the cooling rain, and the mighty hand, the hand that gives.
The story of exodus is a long one, and this is a short article, so there is much in the story that is not covered, like the plagues and the commandments, the role of Aaron, and the building of the tabernacle. These are stories unto themselves and are worthy of study. This article expresses my own views, which may not completely coincide with the intent of the original authors, and I do not challenge any traditional views or any one's beliefs based on them.
© 2015 Paul K Francis