Under the Pharaoh (probably Amenophis IV) Joseph had risen to a
position of wealth and power and the Hebrews had prospered. However his
successor was not so tolerant and after Joseph's death the situation
rapidly became worse. It was feared that the Hebrews would take over
Egypt, due to their high
birth rate. In an attempt to prevent this they were oppressed and
forced into slavery to build the Egyptian cities of Pittom and Ramses.
However, the birth rate remained high, so the Egyptian midwives were
ordered to kill the first born boys of the Hebrew slaves. This did not
have the desired effect and eventually it was decreed that every Jewish
male infant should be drowned in the River Nile.
One baby boy was placed by his mother, Jochebed (Yochebed), in a basket
daubed with pitch, which she then set to float down the Nile. She told
her daughter Miriam to follow closely and watch to see what would
happen. Pharoah's daughter, Batsheva, went to the river to bathe and
found the basket with the babe inside. Miriam approached her and
offered to find a nursemaid for the baby - who was, of course, his own
mother Jochebed. Batsheva named the baby Moses.
Moses was brought up as a prince in the palace of the Pharaoh, received
a good education and at some time learned of his Hebrew ancestry. One
day, when he was a young man, something happened that changed his life
Moses was walking among the Hebrew slaves and saw one of the Egyptian
taskmasters cruelly beating a Hebrew. Moses told the Egyptian to stop
and when he continued, Moses hit out and killed him. Next day, thinking
himself to have been unobserved, he returned to the same place and
found two men fighting, but when he tried to mediate between them one
revealed that he had witnessed the events of the previous day and
threatened Moses with betrayal.
Moses fled in fear of his life and, after a long and dangerous journey,
reached the land of Midian. He was resting near a well when the seven
daughters of a Midianite priest named Jethro came to water their
flocks. Soon some other shepherds arrived and drove the girls away in
order to water their own flocks, but Moses managed to rout them and
then was given refuge in Jethro's house. He eventually married the
eldest daughter, Zipporah (Tziporah).
While tending his sheep in the desert Moses noticed a bush which
appeared to be burning, but was not consumed. When he approached to
investigate this strange phenomenon, he heard a voice warning him to
come no closer. He was told to remove his shoes for he was standing on
holy ground and was in the presence of God - the God of Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob. The Lord commanded Moses to return to Egypt to free his
people from bondage. Moses pleaded that he was a simple shepherd, slow
of speech, and unworthy for such a task. The Lord told him to take his
elder brother Aaron - a gifted speaker - and together they should go to
Moses left his family in Midian and joined Aaron in Egypt. They went to
the Pharaoh's palace and asked that their people should be freed.
Pharaoh - who considered himself to be a god in human form, and was
unaccustomed to taking orders from "lesser gods" - refused. Greatly
angered by this, Pharaoh increased the oppression of the Hebrews by
dint of taking away the straw they used to make bricks while increasing
the quota demanded of them.
Moses and Aaron returned to the palace, again asked for freedom for the
Hebrews and again were refused. Moses stretched his staff across the
River Nile and the water in the river slowly turned to blood - every
drop of water, whether in the river or in storage vessels, turned to
blood. But in Goshen, where the Hebrews lived, the water was clear.
This was the first of the plagues that were to be visited upon Egypt.
Following the turning of the water to blood came plagues of frogs,
gnats, mosquitoes, cattle murrain, boils, hail, locusts, and thick
darkness. After each plague the Pharaoh's advisors begged him to send
the Hebrews away, but each time he refused.
Then the Lord commanded Moses to tell the Jews to chose a healthy lamb,
sheep or goat on the 10th of the month, to keep it and to slaughter it
at sunset on the fourth day. Then they should smear its blood on their
doorposts and their thresholds, and roast the animal. They should eat
the meal quickly, and prepare for instant flight. While they were
eating their meal, every first born male, human and animal, perished.
Only the Jewish homes were passed over.
This was the final blow for the Pharaoh. He called Moses and Aaron to
attend him in the middle of the night and, with his own eldest son
lying dead, told them to take their families, their belongings, their
cattle and their sheep, and to leave Egypt immediately.
After more than two centuries of slavery the Jews left Egypt. In their
haste there was no time to bake bread, so they packed the raw dough to
take with them on their journey. During their flight across the desert
they baked the unleavened dough in the hot sun. They marched for three
days and eventually reached the Red Sea.
However, Pharaoh had undergone a change of heart and was leading his
army in hot pursuit. The Jews were trapped with the Red Sea on one side
and Pharaoh's forces on the other. They were terrified and pleaded to
turn back, saying they did not want to die there in the wilderness.
But Moses and Aaron stood firm. Then a miracle happened - the waves of
the Red Sea parted and they were able to cross in safety. As the last
Jew reached the far side the waters closed and, before Pharaoh's
horrified eyes, the entire Egyptian army perished. The Israelites were