Bondage, Passover, and Exodus
Exodus 1-3, 5-6, 11-14
by Philip Allred
Exodus-Deliverance through the Lord’s Great Hand
It may be said that the scriptures are a record of God’s saving acts in history-those things that He has done to deliver his people down through the ages. These deliverances have been from various ills, both intimate (as in the case of Abraham and Sarah’s childlessness) and communal (as in the case of Israel’s exit from Egypt).
In fact, the deliverance from Egyptian bondage stands as the salvation act that God will be known by until the days of the Millennium. “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers” (Jeremiah 16:14-15). The Book of Mormon prophet Nephi exhorted his brothers to faithfulness, when they needed God’s deliverance from Laban, by calling on the example of God’s help to Moses (see 1 Nephi 4:1-3). So great was the power of God to rescue Israel out of Egypt that Nephi employed it as the grand illustration of the Savior’s ability to save all mankind from the grasp of sin (2 Nephi 25:20).
Of similar interest, the Lord prefaced the Ten Commandments with this divine introduction: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:2). For each member of Israel present the message was clear. This was no abstract, imaginative or fictional character-they were being communicated with the God who had loosed them from Pharaoh’s terribly real grip of slavery. Israel had witnessed the Red Sea parting for them and closing in on their pursuers (Exodus 14:29-31). They knew this God by what He had done for them. And so it is with each of us. God has performed his marvelous powers in each of our lives and in the lives of our loved ones. We were not present to see His delivering arm burst open Egypt, but, we have been witness to His works in our day and in our behalf. In this way we can imagine what kind of individualized introduction the Lord could preface a communication to us: “I am the Lord thy God who_______” (here we could insert our own instance[s] of being delivered by the Lord’s power of deliverance).
Remember the Lord’s instruction to Oliver Cowdery in our dispensation. “Cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:22-23). If we will reflect (greatly aided by journals and personal histories) we can each see the loving hands of our Lord and Savior reaching into our histories to deliver us from the ignorance, pain, loneliness, sickness, and adversaries of mortality. Our God is a God of deliverance who is revealing Himself to each of us if we will but notice!
In the words of one Jewish scholar, “ancient Israel knows what God is from what he has done in history. And if this is so, then memory has become crucial to its faith and, ultimately, to its very existence.. Not only is Israel under no obligation whatever to remember the entire past, but its principle of selection is unique unto itself. It is above all God’s acts of intervention in history, and man’s responses to them, be they positive or negative, that must be recalled.. For the real danger is not so much what happened in the past will be forgotten, as the more crucial aspect of how it happened” (Yerushalmi, Zakhor, 9, 11.)
Three Lives of Moses
The noted LDS scholar, Sidney B. Sperry has observed that “Moses’ career may be logically divided into three periods of forty years each. The first forty years may be called the Egyptian period and is summed up in the first fifteen verses of the second chapter of Exodus. As the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, Moses must have been familiar with the inner circle of court life. We can presume that he was also familiar with the best in Egyptian education and diplomatic procedure of his day. His sympathies and heart, however, seemed to have gone out to his brethren, the despised Hebrews, who were in bondage. As the story in Exodus points out, this first period in the great lawgiver’s life came to an end when he slew an Egyptian task-master who was abusing one of his people. He fled and came to the land of Midian.”
“The second period of his life could well be called the Desert Era or the Period of Preparation. During the time he was in Midian he herded sheep, meditated, became well acquainted with the desert wherein he afterwards led his people and finally received his call to the ministry. All of this is summed up in the third chapter of Exodus.”
“The third period of forty years deals with Moses’ career as leader and lawgiver of his nation. It may not seem too presumptuous to say that the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are scarcely sufficient to give a complete outline of this last part of his life” (The Spirit of the Old Testament, 37.)
A New King Who Knew Not Joseph
The first chapter of Exodus chronicles, albeit with incredibly sparse detail, the transition from Jacob’s twelve sons and their family’s protected and prospered circumstances in Goshen to their descendant’s decline into Egyptian slavery (Exodus 1:7-14). “Now there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). “Scholars are generally agreed that Joseph was in Egypt during what has become known as the dynasties of the Hyksos or shepherd kings. While the origins of these people are uncertain, it appears that by about 1700 B.C. or a little earlier, they had installed themselves at first in the region of the Nile Delta, later being able to control the whole, or at least much of Egypt. It is believed that in composition, they were largely Semitic” (Millet and McConkie, Our Destiny, The Call and Election of the House of Israel, 45).
Another scholar has indicated the same. “It is commonly believed that Joseph came to Egypt during the reign of the non-Egyptians called Hyksos. These were Semitic-speaking invaders who conquered Egypt and ruled it for many years. They adopted the Egyptian culture, ruled as pharaohs, and their few remaining monuments and scarabs are scattered from lower Egypt up into Nubia. When Joseph was elevated to authority, most likely it was under one of these pharaohs, otherwise his non-Egyptian connection would never have been countenanced.. The Hyksos pharaohs, who were non-Egyptians who conquered and ruled Egypt for almost two centuries, would have been much more likely to accept a foreigner like Joseph into power than would have the native Egyptians. A relationship to the Hyksos would provide a persuasive reason why there is no trace of Joseph or his descendants in Egyptian history. The Egyptians hated these foreign overlords, which resulted in battles between these invaders and the Egyptian princes of the South (Thebes). After chaffing under the rule of the ‘intruders,’ they threw off their yoke under the leadership of Kamose and Ahmose, founders of the eighteenth dynasty” (George A. Horton, Studies in Scripture, Vol. 3: Genesis to 2 Samuel, 84.)
It is interesting to note that “the more [the Egyptians] afflicted [the Israelites], the more they multiplied and grew” (Exodus 1:12). As is often the case, when the Lord’s people are burdened they receive great blessings through their afflictions until the time they can be delivered (see especially the example of Alma’s people when they were in bondage to Amulon recorded in Mosiah 23-24).
Pharaoh’s Call for Infanticide
Not only did Pharaoh make the Israelites “serve with rigour,” (Exodus 1: but he also instituted an extermination order for all newborn male infants of the Israelites (Exodus 1:15-16). It is somewhat obvious what the Egyptians are doing by limiting the number of children born to Israel, they would be both keeping an effective military revolt at bay and also forcing Israelite women to marry Egyptians and thereby accomplishing assimilation. But there is also another possibility. If Abraham (Genesis 15:13-16), Jacob (Genesis 46:3-4) and Joseph (2 Nephi 3:9-10, 16-17) all knew that Israel would be delivered by a mighty Israelite prophet, is it possible that knowledge of this may have come to the Egyptians?
The records of two ancient sources would indicate that the Egyptians were aware of an Israelite deliverer. “While the affairs of the Hebrews were in this condition [i.e., during the time of bitter bondage], there was this occasion offered itself to the Egyptians, which made them more solicitous for the extinction of our nation. One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events truly, told the king, that about this time there would be a child born to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through all ages. Which thing was so feared by the king, that, according to this man’s opinion, he commanded that they should cast every male child, which was born to the Israelites, into the river, and destroy it. . . . He enjoined also, that if any parents should disobey him, and venture to save their male children alive, they and their families should be destroyed” (Flavius Josephus, “Antiquities of the Jews,” 2.9, in Josephus: Complete Works, 1974, 55-56).
Also, Ginzberg’s collection contains the following: “A son will be born unto Israel, who will destroy the whole of our land and all its inhabitants, and he will bring forth the Israelites from Egypt with a mighty hand” Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, 7 Vols. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1980), 2:254; both Josephus and Ginzberg cited in Studies in Scripture, Vol. 3: Genesis to 2 Samuel, 95-96.)
As Moses, and all of the Lord’s prophets in some form or another, pre-figured the Savior’s mortal ministry, so might have the adversary sought to thwart that wonderful work by similar men and methods. We recall Herod’s employment of the same terrible tool-infanticide, to protect his own tenuous hold on political power (see Matthew 2:1-15). Yet, we see again the Lord’s ultimate power over the efforts of all His enemies in the deliverance of both promised babies, both into Egypt ironically.
Moses Prefigures Christ
Note also the following similarities between Moses and Christ:
- Exodus 3:7-10 and 2 Nephi 6:17. Both Moses and Christ would deliver the captives and protect the covenant people.
- Moses 1:1, 8, 11 and JST Matthew 4:8. Both Moses and Christ were taken by the Spirit into revelatory realms.
- Moses 1:12-22 and Matthew 4:3-11. Both Moses and Christ were tempted by Satan personally and both withstood him and caused him to depart (note how Moses was only successful in casting Satan out when he invoked the name of the Lord; see Moses 1:21-22)
- Exodus 4:19 and Matthew 2:19-20. Both Moses and Christ’s initial enemies died, opening their way to return.
- Exodus 14:21 and Mark 4:37-39. Both Moses and Christ had power over the waters-the Red Sea and the Sea of Galilee, respectively; which delivered their followers.
- (the following are not in this lesson’s scope, but are included for reference purposes; Exodus 16:15-18 and John 6:35. Exodus 17:5-6 and John 4:10-14; JST John 1:17 and 3 Nephi 15:5-10. Deuteronomy 9:16-20, 23-26 and 1 Timothy 2:5).
When God introduced Himself to Moses in Exodus 3:14, He used the interesting title “I AM.” This was the title that Moses could use with the Israelite elders in Egypt whereby they could recognize him as a true servant of the Lord (that this name was known by Israel prior to Moses is indicated in the JST note for Exodus 6:3). Many biblical studies have shown the significance of a name for setting forth the nature of its bearer (see most recently Elder Dallin H. Oaks, His Holy Name, 52ff.). How does the name I AM reflect the nature of the Lord?
The Hebrew language offers some clues. “The Revised Standard Version translates the name “I AM WHO I AM,” making the whole more personal, as doubtless intended. Moreover, “I am, because I am,” pointing to God’s self-existence. It must also be noted that the tense of the verbs which lie behind this name stand in the Hebrew imperfect, the tense which is timeless in its meaning (Gesenius, Hebrew Grammar, 125, note 1; Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, 100). Thus one could translate “I shall be who I shall be” or “I have been who I have been” or the like. When seen in this light, it becomes apparent that this title points to God’s existence and life in the past, present and future, thus underlining his eternal character” (S. Kent Brown, The Pearl of Great Price: Revelations from God, 67).
This is also significant as the Lord’s statement to the Jews (remnants of Israel in Jerusalem during the time of Jesus) that “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58) indicates that he, Jesus, was the same who spoke to Moses (see footnote b of John 8:58). Only a small minority of the larger Christian world recognizes that Jesus is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Modern revelation confirms the same when the Lord invites, “Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Redeemer, the Great I AM, who arm of mercy hath atoned for your sins” (D&C 29:1; see also D&C 39:1 when He introduces Himself to James Coville a Baptist minister of about forty years).
Moses and Aaron were called to go through a great deal of affliction in their ministry to Israel. Due to the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart (note the JST changes at Exodus 4:21; 7:3, 13; 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4, 8, 17) it took all ten terrible plagues to free the Lord’s people from Egyptian bondage. The final affliction entailed a reversal of fortune for the Egyptians-the death of their male firstborn children (and beasts, Exodus 11:5), but this time not by some politician’s hand, but by the omnipotent arm of the Lord. “For I will pass through the land of Egypt this night, and will smite all the firstborn of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment” (Exodus 12:12)
Exodus 12 details the Lord’s very specific instructions to Moses for Israel to observe in order to be saved from the destroying angel’s deadly work. The elements listed below are some of the symbolic meanings beyond their historical use in Egypt; note how they point to larger realities within the Lord’s redemptive work throughout all time.
- Exodus 12:1-their life in Egypt represents bondage to sin.
- Exodus 12:2-the “Passover” becomes the marking of their new calendar and as such points to the newness of life that we should live in Christ (see Romans 6:1-6 and the later symbolism of Israel’s passing through the waters of the Red Sea and the Lord’s fiery revelation at Sinai).
- Exodus 12:3-the use of a lamb, the quintessential representation of Christ himself (see also Revelation 5:6)
- Exodus 12:5-properties of the lamb point to Jesus’ perfect life and priesthood power (note that goats could be used as well; the Day of Atonement held at the end of the Israelite harvest and festival season featured two goats described in Leviticus 16).
- Exodus 12:6-the slain lamb represents the “infinite and eternal” sacrifice of Jesus Christ (cf. Alma 34:10-11).
- Exodus 12:7-the blood of the lamb marking the door of each house signified who should be spared (atone means to ‘cover’); so shall each individual be spared the fulness of punishment owed for their sins due to the blood of him who did no sin; see D&C 45:4-5.
- Exodus 12:7-the doorposts representing the daily acts of our lives affected by this marvelous offer in Christ’s atonement.
- Exodus 12:8-roasting the meat with fire symbolizes the purifying work of the Holy Ghost and the baptism of fire (see also 2 Nephi 31:13-17).
- Exodus 12:8-the unleavened bread typified the coming Lord as the bread of life without any impurity (leaven, or yeast, is a corrupting agent).
- Exodus 12:10-the bitter herbs represent the suffering of sin and the bitterness of soul that results from willful rebellion against God.
- Exodus 12:11-loins girded, shoes on, and staffs in hand symbolize the journey out of sin and also the preparedness for the Lord’s call when deliverance will be announced.
- Exodus 12:13-the angel of death passing over represents the saving work of the Atonement providing deliverance from spiritual death.
- Exodus 12:30-32-Israel’s actual freedom typifies the final release from mortal corruption in the resurrection and rewards granted in the Judgment.
- Exodus 12:42-the injunction to hold this (and other feasts) points to the Lord’s wise program of remembrance through mnemonic tools such as our latter-day Sacrament meeting where we partake of similar emblems of Christ’s wondrous work of salvation.
- Exodus 12:46-the lamb was not to have a broken bone stands as one of the more fascinatingly unusual details of an otherwise normal crucifixion when Jesus was brutally hung on the cross at Golgotha (see John 19:31-36).
Many of the above notes can be found in Elder McConkie’s The Promised Messiah (pp. 431-32).
At this Easter season I pause to acknowledge my inarticulatable gratitude I feel for Jesus Christ. I know He rescued Israel’s rebellious souls those many centuries ago in Egypt, and through that testimony of their deliverance, I gain a measure of hope for my own salvation. Truly He is my Savior and Stay, without Him there is neither life nor meaning of life, but with Him there is not only life, but an abundance of it! (John 10:10) As a fellow stranger and pilgrim I lend my voice to the growing choir of testimonies-“He lives” and “while He lives I’ll sing! He lives, my Prophet, Priest and King” (Hymns, 136).
The following is a lightly annotated list of scriptural reading about Moses and the Exodus given to me by Dr. D. Kelly Ogden (Brigham Young University-Provo).
- Psalm 105-A poetic highlighting of this part of Israel’s history.
- Genesis 15:13-16 and 1 Nephi 17:33-35-Explanation of why Israel had not been given the Promised Land before this [i.e., why hadn’t the Lord delivered Israel out of Egypt previous to this].
- Acts 7:17-38-Stephen’s review of some of Moses’ experiences, containing some new scriptural information about the great prophet of the Exodus.
- Hebrews 11:23-27-Moses’ faith is characterized as the moving force behind his courage and accomplishments.
- Deuteronomy 4:10-13, 33, 36; and 5:22-26-Moses’ own evaluation of Israel’s experiences, successes, and failures (including that fact that the Israelites did hear the Lord’s voice).
- D&C 84:18-24; Psalm 95:11; and Hebrews 3:11-How Israel “hardened their hearts and could not endure His presence.”
- Galatians 3:24-29; 1 Peter 2:5-9-Transmission of Israel’s mission and duty to us, latter-day Israel.
2002 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.