Sunday, March 28, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #13 Bondage, Passover, and Exodus

(Exodus 1-3; 5-6; 11-14)

(Study Tip:  Joseph Smith made many small but very significant changes to the story of the Exodus. Be sure to read and mark all the JST changes in the footnotes.)

READING QUIZ GAME

(Use this interactive quiz game to overview the story of Moses and the Exodus in any of the following ways: 1) If your class members read the assignment ahead of time, read the questions and see if they remember the answers from their reading; 2) Copy out the questions with the scripture references (but not the answers) and hand them out as class members come into the room so they can each look up an answer and give it to the class; 3) Read the questions and references, and have the first class member to find the scripture answer the question.)
  1. God dealt well with the Hebrew midwives and multiplied their posterity because they did what? (Refused to follow Pharoah’s mandate to kill the male Hebrew babies they delivered. Exo. 1:16-21)
  2. How old was Baby Moses when he was set adrift on the Nile by his mother? (3 months. Ex. 2:2)
  3. Pharaoh’s daughter named the baby Moses. What did the name Moses mean? (In Hebrew: To draw out of the water; in Egyptian: To bear a child. Footnote to Ex. 2:10)
  4. Who was Moses’ nursemaid? (His own biological mother. Ex. 2:7-10)
  5. When Moses fled Egypt he traveled a great distance and ended up at the household of Jethro, a Midianite. Who did the Midianites descend from? (Abraham, through his third wife Keturah’s son, Midian. Gen. 25:2)
  6. Jethro, the Midianite, had seven daughters. Which daughter did Moses marry? (Zipporah. Ex. 2:16,21)
  7. Where did Aaron meet Moses upon his return journey to Egypt? (In the Mount of the Lord—the temple place. Ex. 4:27)
  8. How old was Moses when he brought the children of Israel out of Egypt? (80. Ex. 7:7)
  9. Aaron was actually Moses’ biological brother. Was Aaron older or younger than Moses? (Older by 3 years. Ex. 7:7. Miriam was probably about 15 years older. The word used to describe her at the time she set Moses afloat in the water refers to someone who has been through puberty.)
  10. Each time Moses and Aaron petitioned Pharoah to let the Israelites go, what was the reason they said the Lord wanted them freed? (To have the religious freedom to serve the Lord. Ex. 4:23; 5:1; 7:16; 8:1; 8:20; 9:1; 9:13; 10:3)
  11. How many signs or miracles were shown to Pharoah to try to convince him to let the Israelites go? (Twelve. Ex. 5-14)
  12. Who turned the Nile to blood? (Aaron. Ex. 7:17)
  13. Did the Lord harden Pharoah’s heart? (No, the JST changes all of those verses to say that Pharoah hardened his own heart.)
  14. How many Israelites were there at the time of the Exodus? (600,000 men over age 20. Adding in women and children, likely near 2 million people. Ex. 12:37)
  15. How many years had the Israelites been in bondage? (430. Ex. 12:40)
  16. In one instance in these chapters, the Lord became angry with Moses. What was the reason? (Moses was afraid to take the assignment to lead the children of Israel out of bondage. Ex. 4:10-14)

This last question leads us to the next topic of our lesson.

HERE AM I…OR WHO AM I?

As Moses kept the flocks of Jethro, he came to Mt. Sinai (Institute Manual, p. 105), and he saw the burning bush and went towards it. The voice of the Lord called his name, and Moses answered, “Here am I” (Ex. 3:4). This phrase, “Here am I,” is a Hebrew idiom that indicates readiness or willingness (Amy Blake Hardison in Covenants, Prophecies, and Hymns of the Old Testament: The 30th Annual Sydney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 27). The Lord then issued the command to Moses to lead the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt.

When Moses heard what the Lord’s requirement was, he retracted his ready and willing state. “Who am I,” he said, “that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11) The Lord answered, “Certainly I will be with thee.” The Lord said “I AM THAT I AM,” which identified himself as the God Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and is the first person singular form of the verb to be, signifying that this is the God who is self-existent, who does not need to be made (like an idol does), who lives eternally.

Moses pointed out his own inadequacies. “I am not eloquent…I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue” (Ex. 4:10) Moses had been away from the Egyptian language and culture probably 40 years while he dwelt in Midian as a simple shepherd. He was 80 years old by now. The Lord taught him the role of a prophet in the next two verses. “Who hath made man’s mouth?...Have not I the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (Ex. 4:11-12). But Moses gave his answer in verse 13, the equivalent of saying, “O my Lord, send someone else” (Harper-Collins Study Bible).

Moses may have been correct in his assessment of his inadequacies; he may have had good reasons for a poor self-confidence, especially considering the situation. But those reasons were irrelevant! And that’s why the Lord was angry (Ex. 4:14). Moses’ self-esteem was unimportant; it was his faith in the Lord that mattered, and this was shown to be severely lacking. Despite the many promises the Lord had just made to help him every step of the way, Moses did not believe Him.

The Lord offered Moses a spokesman, a counselor, his own brother Aaron, who had been with the Hebrews and Egyptians all these years. “I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do” (Ex. 4:15). Finally, Moses accepted the call. It is interesting to note that when he asked leave of his father-in-law patriarch, Jethro, Jethro did not argue or point out Moses’ shortcomings, or the impossibility of the task.  And remember:  Moses was taking Jethro's daughter and grandsons, too (Ex. 4:20)!  Jethro had faith in the Lord. All he said was, “Go in peace” (Ex. 4:18). The Lord then sent Aaron into the wilderness to meet Moses at the temple mountain, and Aaron simply went (Ex. 4:27), showing his great faith as well.  (How did he sneak away from the Egyptians?  That would be an interesting story!)

Sometime after this first appearance of the Lord to Moses through the burning bush, but before the Exodus, Moses received the great vision recorded in the Pearl of Great Price.  (See Moses 1:17 in which the burning bush is in the past tense, and Moses 1:26 in which the Exodus is prophecied.)  In this vision he was told by God, “…Behold, thou art my son…And I have a work for thee, Moses, my son; and thou art in the similitude of mine Only Begotten…” (Moses 1:4,6). After this vision, did Moses have a better self-esteem? No! Look at verse 10: “And it came to pass that it was for the space of many hours before Moses did again receive his natural strength like unto man; and he said unto himself: Now, for this cause I know that man is nothing, which thing I never had supposed. But now mine own eyes have beheld God…his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face…” (Moses 1:10-11). Moses’ opinion of himself was even lower than it had been before. But his opinion of God, his faith in God, was greatly increased. He learned for himself that God was great, powerful, loving, and personally helpful!  It was not his self-esteem that mattered, but his knowledge of God, and his understanding of his relationship to God. This is why “the first lesson taught to every child in the world attending Primary is ‘I am a child of God’” (Gayle M. Clegg, Counselor, Primary General Presidency, Ensign, May 2002).

DEALING WITH THE DEVIL

Pharoah exemplifies Satan and his followers in this story. He hardens his heart. He thinks only of himself and his pride and his glory. He is not loyal to his own people. He makes ridiculously impossible assignments and is angry when they are not accomplished.  He does not offer aid.  He shows no mercy.  He does not keep his promises.  He is powerful, but not nearly as powerful as God, yet he seems to keep forgetting that.

Moses and Aaron tackled the long and arduous task of freeing the Children of Israel. Despite knowing that Pharoah would not let them go (Ex. 3:19), they gave him a chance by simply asking him to release the Hebrews from bondage so that they could serve the Lord (Ex. 5:1).  The Lord always warns, he always offers repentance as an option. Pharoah’s answer? “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? (Ex. 5:2). To emphasize that he was greater than Jehovah, he added cruel tasks to the Hebrews as a punishment. Often when we are committing to do as the Lord commands, or when we are trying to free ourselves from the bondage of sin, Satan tightens his reigns and things get temporarily worse. Sometimes the reason the Lord allows this to happen is so that we can see more clearly that it is His hand that redeems us from such a hopeless state, as the Lord reassured the people through the prophet, Moses: “Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh, for with a strong hand shall he let them go, and with a strong hand shall he drive them out of his land” (Ex. 6:1), meaning not only will he let them go, he will throw them out!  Unimaginable! “I have remembered my covenant. Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments: And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you in unto the land, concerning the which I did swear to give it to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob; and I will give it you for an heritage: I am the Lord” (Ex. 6:5-8).

The next four times Moses and Aaron approached Pharoah, they brought proofs of God’s power.  First Aaron (not Moses) turned the staff to a serpent (Ex. 7:10), the river water to blood (Ex. 7:20), caused a frog infestation (Ex. 8:6), and brought dust to life as lice (8:17). Pharoah’s magicians copied the tricks. Whether they performed small replicas of Aaron’s, or whether they used the power of the devil to perform full-blown spectacles, the scripture doesn’t say.

Simply showing great power did not impress Pharoah, so the Lord moved on to plagues that would clearly indicate he favored people who believed in Him. The Lord sent swarms of flies upon the Egyptian, but no flies in the land of Goshen, where the Hebrews lived (Ex. 8:22-24). Pharoah recognized the trouble to be caused by the Lord, and made a deal with Moses: If the Lord took the flies away, he would allow the Children of Israel to go on a three-day leave into the wilderness and sacrifice to their God. The flies disappeared, but Pharoah, like Satan, reneged on his promise.  So the Lord killed all the Egyptians’ cattle while preserving the Hebrews’ (Ex. 9:6).

Now the miracles were performed by Moses, not Aaron. Had Moses watched Aaron’s excellent example until he gained confidence to use the power of God himself?  Or had the Lord saved the more powerful leader for the more challenging works?  In any case, Moses and Aaron made a pretty awesome presidency.  With the power of God, Moses sent ashes into the wind, which alighted on the people and animals and broke out into boils (Ex. 9:8-11). Even the magicians had to retreat and tend to their wounds. Moses brought hail upon the land of Egypt, with lightning, thunder, and fire, while calm weather prevailed in the land of Goshen (Ex. 9:22-26), followed by locusts which tormented the Egyptians (Ex. 10:13).  Moses caused three days of darkness upon the land, so thick the Egyptians were completely immobilized, but the Hebrews had light inside their homes (Ex. 10:21-23), as do all people who trust in the Lord.

After each plague, Pharoah, in his terror, acknowledged his sins, begged forgiveness, and promised freedom to the Hebrews.  Every time, as soon as the trouble was over, he changed his mind and hardened his heart again, refusing to acknowledge the answers to his heavenward pleadings as miracles.  Just like Satan, Pharoah continually promised freedom, and just like Satan, he never delivered it.

The miracles and plagues had a two-fold purpose: 1) to demonstrate the power of the Lord to Pharaoh and give him a chance to repent, and 2) to build the faith of the Israelites so they would know they could trust in their God (Ex. 10:1-2).  After 430 years of bondage, they might have thought that God had forgotten them, or that He had no power to help them, but Moses and Aaron clearly showed His power and care.

THE ORIGIN OF THE PASSOVER

The miracle that finally convinced Pharoah to let the people go was the death of his own son and all the firstborn sons of Egypt, man and animal (Ex. 11-12), while the Hebrew children sat safe in their homes. The Hebrews were not protected just because they were the Children of Israel, however. They were protected because they exercised their faith in Jehovah (Jesus Christ) by placing the blood of a firstborn lamb around their doors, and by preparing bread without leaven, to show their certainty that they would be so quickly freed, they would not have time to wait for the dough to rise. This feast of unleavened bread, or the Feast of the Passover, would be an annual commemoration ever after.  We, likewise, must exercise our faith in the blood of the Lamb throughout our lives, and that Atonement will protect us from spiritual death. 

As the Lord had foretold, at the death of his son, Pharoah threw the Hebrews out of Egypt with great force, not even waiting for morning, and their flight was indeed faster than bread could rise (Ex. 12:29-34). This flatbread dough became their emergency evacuation food, the 72-hour kits of the day.  They had all followed the counsel of their prophet and were ready to leave, even in the middle of the night, so that they were all the way to the Red Sea before Pharoah changed his mind this time.  As the Lord had promised, they were not only allowed to take their own possessions, but to also take spoils of the Egyptians as they desired, for a payment for their years of servitude (Ex. 12:36-38).

CROSSING THE RED SEA

"[In D&C 8:2-3], the Lord has said, ‘I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart...Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation; behold, this is the spirit by which Moses brought the children of Israel through the Red Sea on dry ground.’  Why would the Lord use the example of crossing the Red Sea as the classic example of ‘the spirit of revelation’? Why didn’t He use the First Vision? ...Or the vision of the brother of Jared?

“First of all, revelation almost always comes in response to a question, usually an urgent question...Moses’ challenge was how to get himself and the children of Israel out of this horrible predicament they were in. There were chariots behind them, sand dunes on every side, and a lot of water immediately ahead. He needed information to know what to do, but it wasn’t a casual thing he was asking. In this case it was literally a matter of life and death...

"The Red Sea will open to the honest seeker of revelation. The adversary has power to hedge up the way, to marshal Pharaoh’s forces and dog our escape right to the water’s edge, but...he cannot conquer if we will it otherwise. Exerting all our powers, the light will again come, the darkness will again retreat, the safety will be sure. That is lesson number one about crossing the Red Sea by the spirit of revelation.

“Lesson number two is closely related. It is that in the process of revelation and making important decisions, fear plays a destructive, sometimes paralyzing role...That is exactly the problem that beset the children of Israel at the edge of the Red Sea, and it has everything to do with holding fast to your earlier illumination. The record says, ‘And when Pharaoh drew nigh, the children of Israel lifted up their eyes, and, behold, the Egyptians marched after them; and they were sore afraid.’ Some...said words to this effect: ‘Let’s go back. This isn’t worth it. We must have been wrong. That probably wasn’t the right spirit telling us to leave Egypt' (Ex. 14:10-12). And I have to say, ‘What about that which has already happened? What about the miracles that got you here? What about the frogs and the lice? What about the rod and the serpent, the river and the blood? What about the hail, the locusts, the fire, the firstborn sons?’ How soon we forget. It would not have been better to stay and serve the Egyptians, and it is not better to remain outside the Church, nor to put off marriage, nor to reject a mission call or other Church service, and so on and so on forever. Of course our faith will be tested as we fight through these self-doubts and second thoughts. Some days we will be miraculously led out of Egypt—seemingly free, seemingly on our way—only to come to yet another confrontation, like all that water lying before us. At those times we must resist the temptation to panic and give up. At those times fear will be the strongest of the adversary’s weapons against us.

“And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord. … The Lord shall fight for you.” In confirmation the great Jehovah said to Moses, “Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward” (Ex. 14:13-15). That is the second lesson of the spirit of revelation. After you have gotten the message, after you have paid the price to feel His love and hear the word of the Lord, go forward... Nobody had ever crossed the Red Sea this way, but so what? There’s always a first time. With the spirit of revelation, dismiss your fears and wade in with both feet. In the words of Joseph Smith, ‘Brethren [and sisters], shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory!’

“The third lesson from the Lord’s spirit of revelation in the miracle of crossing the Red Sea is that along with the illuminating revelation that points us toward a righteous purpose or duty, God will also provide the means and power to achieve that purpose. Trust in that eternal truth. If God has told you something is right, if something is indeed true for you, He will provide the way for you to accomplish it. That is true of joining the Church or raising a family, of going on a mission, or any one of a hundred other worthy tasks in life” (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Ensign, March 2000).

The Lord always turns a trial into a victory for those who trust in Him.  The confrontation at the Red Sea appeared to be a disaster to the Hebrews, but because Pharoah's army followed them to the Red Sea, and through the Red Sea, where the Lord could bring the waters down upon them, "there remained not so much as one of [the Egyptian soldiers]" (Ex. 14:28).  The Egyptian civilization was crushed with the loss of their leader and their men, and the Children of Israel were left to sojourn in the wilderness for 40 years, never fearing their captors again.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I enjoy your blog but wish you were a week ahead for those of us who are on lesson 14 this week.

Nancy W. Jensen said...

Lesson 14 is now on. I am going to try to get a week ahead, now that I have some time.

jared ullrich said...

Thanks again for your great insights!

Patrick Lynch said...

Truly enjoy your insight. Been teaching Gospel Doctrine for a lot of years and appreciate your fresh perspective... Thanks!

Anonymous said...

At zionvision.com documentary section there is an amzing documentary called "Exodus decoded", that I think you may enjoy.

Thanks for the insights on this blog.