Old Testament 13 – Bondage, Passover, and Exodus

This lesson is all about birth and growth. Israel is being claimed as God’s firstborn and given birth as His chosen people. But as in any new family relationship, they needed to learn to trust God, like any newly adopted child needs to learn to trust their new parents. Moses was no different. He was raised by idol-worshiping people in the lap of wealth, but now he has been called upon to deliver the Lord’s people from bondage from the very family that raised him. Moses has as many trust issues with God as do the people of Israel.

Birth is new life, and the Lord is offering Moses and Israel new life under his care and keeping, as well as new life as a covenant people. No one in the group has any background that adequately prepares them for these roles. The Lord is basically starting from scratch with everyone. The Israelites had the verbal record of God’s promises, but they had lived as slaves in a land of idols for hundreds of years. They really didn’t know anything of substance about the God of their ancestors.

Our image of Moses

As Latter-day Saints, we are raised with a degree of reverence and respect for Moses and his faith and power as a prophet. All through the scriptures he is revered and reverenced as the lawgiver sent from God. But if you look at the scriptures at this point in his story, it is plain that he is struggling to get his feet under him in this new calling as a prophet. He wasn’t raised worshiping Jehovah. His only real exposure to the God of the Hebrews came from his father-in-law, Jethro, who was a high priest (according to Joseph Smith).

We can’t really blame Moses for the difficulty he had learning how to be a prophet. He had never even seen a prophet. Most of us have at least laid eyes on one or more in our lifetime. No doubt Jethro taught Moses of his forefathers and the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but until we have personal experience with the Lord, we are bound to treat much of the spiritual realm as an intellectual exercise.

Once the Lord called Moses out of the burning bush, Moses was set on a path that opened a whole new world of experiences to him. For all his intellectual knowledge, he still needed to learn to trust God on a personal level, and that can only be learned from experience.

Israel as the firstborn

When the Lord sent Moses to Pharaoh, God claimed the children of Israel as His firstborn (Exodus 4:22–23).

22 And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:

23 And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn.

This relationship with God is an important one to consider. The firstborn traditionally is entitled to the birthright. The priesthood is passed to the holder of the physical birthright. In effect, all that the father has has been promised to his son. In this case it is all that the Father has has been promised to His Son. And as sons and daughters of Christ or children of Christ, He has promised that all that he receives of his Father he will give to us. If we are faithful children of Christ then the riches and wonders of eternity have been promised to us for our birthright. This is what God is telling Moses when Israel is announced as his firstborn.

The children of Israel are the children of Abraham. We are the children of Abraham. The promises made to one group are the same as those made to the other group. We are all from the same family.

When Moses first goes in to talk to Pharaoh the Lord promises that if he doesn’t let Israel go and worship Him he will kill Pharaoh’s firstborn. Pharaoh can never say he was surprised by the Lord when his son died. Even though this was put on the table at the beginning of the discussion of Israel’s freedom, it wasn’t exercised as an option until it showed up as the last of the plagues of Egypt. Then it was the final straw. Pharaoh finally relented and told them to get out of his country.

A rocky start

When Moses was first called to deliver Israel from Egypt he was unsure of himself, and wasn’t all that sure about the God who was calling him into service. The first argument Moses gave was that the people wouldn’t believe he had actually talked with God (Exodus 4:1).

And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.

To help him, the Lord showed him how he could give them signs and wonders with his rod and his hand. His rod could turn into a snake, and he could make his hand leprous and cleanse it at will. He could also take water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground and it would turn to blood when it hit the ground.

Next Moses complained that he could not speak well. So the Lord promised to tell him what he needed to say, but that wasn’t good enough for Moses, he didn’t want to have to speak to the people at all. The Lord became angry at this point, but appointed the brother of Moses, Aaron to be his mouthpiece (Exodus 4:14–16).

14 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses, and he said, Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, behold, he cometh forth to meet thee: and when he seeth thee, he will be glad in his heart.

15 And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do.

16 And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.

So Aaron did all the speaking, but Moses performed all the signs and wonders, and he told Aaron what he was to say to the people and to Pharaoh. Can you see the level of insecurity in Moses? He was terrified of man and what man could do to him or what people would think of him. The Lord was patiently working with him to build up his confidence in their relationship so Moses would become more concerned about what God thought than he was about what men might think.

First visit to Pharaoh

When Moses first went to Pharaoh, having already been warned by God that Pharaoh would harden his heart, Moses was not surprised when Pharaoh did, in fact, harden his heart and refuse to let the people go. What Moses was not prepared for was Pharaoh’s next move. Pharaoh decided that if the people were so bored that they thought they had time to march three day’s journey out into the wilderness to worship their God then they needed more to do. So he withdrew his supply of straw for the bricks they were required to make each day and told them they had to find their own straw, but not reduce the tally of bricks each day or they would be punished.

Of course the people of Israel complained bitterly to Moses because of this extra burden and punishment. And Moses, blindsided by this move went and complained to God (Exodus 5:22–23).

22 And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me?

23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in thy name, he hath done evil to this people; neither hast thou delivered thy people at all.

We know that this process of deliverance had only just begun, but Moses didn’t know that. He thought the whole plan had been frustrated, and that God had been blindsided. Moses did not yet understand that it is impossible to surprise the Lord or stop what He sets out to do. Moses would learn this lesson through personal experience.

Becoming confident in his relationship with God

When Moses started out he was pretty timid, but as time went on he became more and more confident in what he was about when he spoke for the Lord. Take for example, his plague of frogs. The land was overrun with frogs and Pharaoh was asking they be removed (Exodus 8:9–13).

And Moses said unto Pharaoh, Glory over me: when shall I entreat for thee, and for thy servants, and for thy people, to destroy the frogs from thee and thy houses, that they may remain in the river only?

10 And he said, To morrow. And he said, Be it according to thy word: that thou mayest know that there is none like unto the Lord our God.

11 And the frogs shall depart from thee, and from thy houses, and from thy servants, and from thy people; they shall remain in the river only.

12 And Moses and Aaron went out from Pharaoh: and Moses cried unto the Lord because of the frogs which he had brought against Pharaoh.

13 And the Lord did according to the word of Moses; and the frogs died out of the houses, out of the villages, and out of the fields.

Moses asked Pharaoh to name the day and time he would like the frogs removed. Pharaoh chose the next day, so Moses promised him that not only would they be removed, but they would only remain in the Nile River. He went and spoke with the Lord, and the next day all the frogs of Egypt died, except those in the River, as promised.

From this point on the magicians of Pharaoh could no longer reproduce with their magics the plagues of the Lord. And from this point on the Lord separated out the land of Goshen, where Israel lived, from the rest of Egypt. All of Egypt suffered, but the Israelites were left untouched. Now His covenant people were beginning to see that their covenant status with God afforded them privileges others did not get.

The purpose of the miracles

The plagues of Egypt were as much for the benefit and welfare of the children of Israel as they were for Pharaoh. The people needed to see that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was more powerful than anything that existed in the land of Egypt. These demonstrations of power gave the prophet something to point to when they began to doubt the Lord. For many, many generations to come these signs of God’s favor toward Israel were used to bolster their faith in their God.

By the time the last plague was about to be administered in the form of death to all the firstborn in the land, the people of Israel were ready to listen to the Lord’s prophet. The wonders performed by Moses had gotten their attention. So when Moses gave them the instructions from the Lord on how to prepare for the exodus from Egypt, which included the Passover meal, they listened, and they obeyed.

Through repetition Moses was more comfortable in his role as the Lord’s mouthpiece to the people, even though it was Aaron who technically did the speaking. Like Joseph Smith, Moses had the gift of spiritual sensitivity. He regularly had visions and visitations. He was now far more comfortable speaking with the Lord and taking instructions from Him.

The Red Sea

The greatest of all the miracles the Lord performed for the benefit of His people came in the form of their escape from the pursuing Egyptian. Everyone had seen locusts, frogs, blood, and darkness. Everyone loses a loved one at some point, but no one had ever seen the waters of an ocean stack upon themselves becoming massive walls, allowing hundreds of thousands of people to walk through the sea upon dry ground. This was far beyond the jurisdiction of fantasy. This was something no man had ever thought of before. This was something only a God of great power could come up with.

When the Israelites saw they were pinned between the sea and the approaching chariot armies of Pharaoh, they panicked. They complained to Moses and Moses performed the miracle of miracles for them. He proved to them that their God was greater than anything Egypt had to offer.

Gone are the signs that Moses doubted himself or the Lord. Gone are the bouts of whining and complaining. Now when he sought the Lord it was with real intent for instruction and direction. His faith in God was far more solid than it had been a few months before. Now when he spoke to the people and gave them the words of the Lord, it was with power and conviction.

Bringing it home

The way Moses learned to trust the Lord is no different in practical terms than the way we learn to trust the Lord. True, we aren’t learning our lessons by sending plagues of flies and lice upon our neighbors, but we have spiritual manifestations that things we read in the scriptures are true. We are told that what the prophet has taught us is correct. We have confirmations of the Spirit all the time. But are we listening to them?

Are we being like Pharaoh who received witness after witness of truth, but hardened his heart, for whatever reason? Or are we learning, like Moses, to trust in the Lord when He speaks to us, through whatever means He can?

When we are surprised that an obstacle has been thrown in our path, like the Israelites who were told they had to gather their own straw, and were beaten when their count of bricks suffered from the lack of materials, do we immediately turn our back on the Lord for abandoning us, or do we learn patience? What does it take for us to learn that when the Lord decrees something that nothing can stand long in His way to prevent his words from coming to pass?

Do we look back on our previous dealings with the Lord and remind ourselves that there are almost always setbacks in our progress, but in the end there is no such thing as failure when we are on the Lord’s errand?

Final Thoughts

Moses and the children of Israel serve as good examples to us in our personal journey towards greater spiritual mastery. The Israelites, unfortunately, serve as bad examples we should not follow. But Moses serves as a good example of a humble man who was willing to learn, sacrifice, and prove his obedience in all things.

Sure, Moses made some mistakes, one which cost him his ability to enter the promised land, but he was valiant in his calling, no matter what his calling required of him. Are we that valiant in our own callings? Are we willing to be humble and submissive to the voice of the Spirit and do all that is demanded of us by the Lord? Remember that the blessings of Moses are no different than the blessings being offered to each and every one of us. We are children of Abraham. We are all covenant makers. We are all the firstborn of Christ, if we will but live up to our covenants.

 

Contributions to the Kingdom details the unique contributions each prophet of the last dispensation has made to the development of God’s kingdom. No two prophets have made the same contributions. Can you identify the three prophets in the book cover?

About the Author:

Kelly is retired and living in Rexburg, Idaho, USA. He currently writes for mormonbasics.com. You can find articles by Kelly on ldsblogs.com, ldsliving.com, and moronichannel.org as well. He has also published multiple works, including Premortal Promises, and Contributions to the Kingdom, both available on Amazon.com.

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