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Lesson 6 – The Call of Moses and the Exodus With the call of Abraham, Yahweh began to make himself known to the people he had created. Abraham was called away from the worship of his father’s gods and from his native land to a land that Yahweh would give to him and his descendents. There they would worship Yahweh alone as their God and king and so be a light to the other nations of the world. Abraham settled in the land of Canaan at Hebron. His grandson, Jacob (whose name was changed by Yahweh to Israel), had 12 sons. Their descendents eventually formed the 12 tribes of the people of Israel. Since the 12 sons were the offspring of 4 different women, the two wives of Jacob and their two handmaidens, there was considerable jealousy and rivalry between them. Joseph, one of the 12, was the firstborn son of Jacob’s favored wife and therefore his favorite. His brothers despised him, so much so that they sold him as a slave into Egypt. They hid their crime by pretending he had been killed by a wild animal. What they meant for evil God turned into good. In Egypt Joseph rose to the rank of an advisor to the Pharaoh and oversaw the gathering and storing of a large amount of grain. Joseph, who had the gift of interpreting dreams, had interpreted a dream of the Pharaoh that there would be 7 years of abundance and then 7 years of famine. When the famine hit the Egyptians were prepared and had enough stored for their own use and enough to feed the nations around them as well. Eventually, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt to buy grain too and the family was reunited. Even Jacob, who was still alive, had his son restored to him. In gratitude for all that Joseph had done, the Pharaoh gave the people of Israel a portion of the land of Egypt in which to live near the mouth of the Nile River. The people of Israel lived on in Egypt for 400 some years and they grew into a large nation. Because of their numbers the Egyptians began to feel threatened by them and the Pharaohs began to oppress them. They enslaved them and used them as laborers to build their cities. And still they grew in number. Finally, a Pharaoh arose who decreed that all the male Israelite babies should be killed at birth. The females were allowed to live in expectation that they would marry Egyptian men and be assimilated into Egyptian society. This was the first recorded attempt of one nation to systematically wipe out another nation. Genocide, as it is called, still exists in our world today. The Jews experienced it again in Hitler’s Germany where he attempted to kill all of Europe’s Jews. He did not succeed but still he managed to murder 6 million Jews in what he called the Final Solution. Moses was one of those Jewish infants born under the Pharaoh’s decree of death. At his birth his mother tried to hide him but Pharaoh’s daughter discovered him. Rather than follow her father’s decree, she kept the child and raised Moses as her own. Thus, Moses had the advantage of a royal life and a royal education. As a young man, however, he killed an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite slave and Moses had to flee Egypt. He settled in the Wilderness of Sinai, married, and lived for many years the nomadic life of a shepherd. One day while Moses was watching his flocks he saw a strange site. He saw a bush burning but not being consumed by the flames. He turned aside to see this sight and it was then that Yahweh spoke to him. Yahweh revealed himself to Moses as the God of his ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and commissioned Moses to go down to Egypt to bring the people out from Egypt and to the nearby mountain so that they might worship him. It was then that Moses asked God to reveal his Name so that he might declare it to the people when they ask, “Who sent you?” Tell them, God replied, “I AM (Yahweh) sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:13f) Having received Yahweh’s permission to take his brother Aaron along as a spokesperson, they set off to Egypt to confront Pharaoh. Though the Bible does not name this Pharaoh, many believe it was Ramses II who ruled Egypt for over 60 years starting around 1300 B.C.E. Whether Ramses II, or another Pharaoh, understandably, he refused to let the Israelites go from Egypt. In order to convince him, Yahweh unleashed a series of 10 plagues upon the Egyptians. These plagues were aimed at showing the greater power of Yahweh compared to the gods of the Egyptians. The last plague was the most severe as it entailed the death of the firstborn males in each Egyptian household, both children and cattle. This plague was retribution for the killing of the male Israelite children. The suffering in Egypt was so sever that Pharaoh finally relented and let The Israelites go. This entire story is recounted in second book of the Hebrew Bible, Exodus, which means to go out. On the evening of the Exodus, Moses instructed the Israelites to eat a meal of roast lamb and unleavened bread. The blood of the butchered lamb was smeared on the lintels and doorposts and thresholds of their homes. This was to mark and protect them from the angel of death who passed through the land slaying all the firstborn males in the homes that were not protected. Yahweh also commanded Israel to observe this day as a memorial through all their generations. Thus, Jews have celebrated this event ever since by recounting the story and eating the meal, on the anniversary date, the evening of 15 Nisan, according to their calendar. Nisan is the first month in the Jewish calendar and falls in the spring of the year. Fifteen Nisan is also regarded as the first day of creation when God began to create the heavens and the earth, so Jews not only celebrate their deliverance from Egypt that day but also the creation of the world itself. The Exodus adds a new dimension to our knowledge of Yahweh. He is not just the Creator who gives life to all, he is also the deliverer, or redeemer, of those in the midst of life who have fallen prey to the power of evil and the power of death and restores them to life. Pharaoh’s enslavement of the Israelites and his attempt to wipe them out was a manifestation of the powers of evil and death. Yahweh who is Goodness and Life redeems and delivers them leading Israel out into life and freedom. In doing so he acts as a great servant King who rescues and defends his people against their enemies. Many years after the Exodus when Israel was settled in the land of Canaan and King Solomon had built the Temple in Jerusalem, the people were required to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover there. Even Jesus, being a devout Jew went up to Jerusalem for Passover starting in childhood. Luke in the second chapter of his gospel records the occasion when Jesus was twelve and went with his parents to Jerusalem for the Passover. And all of the gospels record Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem for the Passover, for it was at this festival that Jesus was arrested, tried, crucified and buried. The very evening of his arrest he was in Jerusalem eating the Passover meal with his disciples. At that meal he took the unleavened bread and broke it and said to his disciples, “This is my body.” And after the supper he took the cup of wine and said, “This is my blood of the New Covenant which is shed for you.” In doing so he was speaking of his own impending sacrifice upon the cross and giving new meaning to the bread and wine of the Passover meal. For his followers these foods would memorialize his sacrifice. Ever since when Christians have gathered for worship they have partaken in this memorial meal of the reinterpreted Passover. This meal we call the Eucharist, a Greek word meaning thanksgiving. Every Sunday Christians around the world gather for the thanksgiving meal that celebrates our freedom from the power of evil and the power of death and the power of sin, a freedom won by Christ’s sacrifice for us. At each Eucharist we are invited to the meal with these words, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast.” On the journey out of Egypt to Mount Sinai, the Israelites had to cross the Red Sea. By the time they reached the sea Pharaoh had changed his mind about letting the people go and sent his army in pursuit. It was then that God miraculously intervened and parted the waters of the Red Sea so that Israel could pass through. When the Egyptians tried to cross as well, the waters came together again and the army was drowned. Thus, the people of Israel arrived safely in the wilderness. This experience of going through the waters is related to the Jewish ritual bath called the mikvah. On various occasions Jews enter the mikvah. They walk down steps into the waist high water, immerse themselves three times, and then walk up the steps out of the bath. Or, if there is a natural body of water like a river or the sea, it too can serve as a mikvah. The purpose of entering the water is not to wash as one does in removing dirt from the body but to be reoriented. One goes down into the waters one way and comes up another. The Israelites went down into the Red Sea as slaves to the Egyptians and their gods; they came up out of the Red Sea as a free people under the rule of Yahweh. The mikvah is the precursor of Christian baptism. When Jesus was 30 years of age he went to immerse in the Jordan River. He was about to begin his public ministry and this immersion signaled the change in his orientation. He went down into the waters as Joseph the carpenter’s son and came up out of the waters as the Son of God. When we join the fellowship of the church we too undergo baptism. The early practice of the church was like the Jewish mikvah, a full immersion three times in water. While in the water one made his or her profession of faith, confessing belief in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Thus, the person went into the waters as an unbeliever and came out a believer. Having passed through these waters of baptism the person also became part of the church. The word church in the original Greek means, those who are called out – out from their former beliefs and life into a belief in Jesus as his disciples. Having joined the fellowship of the church through baptism, one can then fully participate in its life, including eating the memorial meal of the Eucharist. Both baptism and the Eucharist are rooted in the experience of Israel when it fled Egypt and was delivered through the Red Sea.