(8) Let my people go! – Exodus 5:1

The first book of the Bible, Genesis concludes with the children of Israel settled in Egypt, away from the land promised to Abraham’s descendants. But as we turn over the page to the second book, Exodus, we are fast-forwarding four hundred years. The seventy members of Jacob’s family who moved to Egypt now number around two million and their situation is very different. In Joseph’s time they had a privileged life, living in the best land Egypt had to offer, but as they grew in numbers the Egyptians saw them as a threat to national security and so Pharaoh made them into a slave labour force, building cities. When that failed to stop their numbers increasing Pharaoh gave orders for all the newborn Israelite baby boys to be thrown into the river Nile.

The people of Israel cried out to God to rescue them and he raised up a leader, Moses, to fulfil his commitment to take them to the promised land. Moses should have been thrown in the Nile to die, but his mother placed him in a basket in the river close to where Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe. Her sympathy is aroused by the baby boy and she adopts him, employing his mother to be his nanny. As a result, Moses grows up as a prince in Egypt with access to the best learning the world could offer at the time.

At the age of forty Moses sees an Egyptian slave master kill an Israelite slave and, incensed by the crime against his own people, Moses retaliates by killing the Egyptian. Overnight he goes from being a prince in Egypt to a wanted murderer so he is forced to flee for his life. He goes into the desert where he lives as a shepherd for a further forty years.

Most people start their life’s main work at an early age but God had big plans for Moses and he needed him to learn to trust and know him fully. So, it was only when he was eighty that God appeared to Moses to commission him for what was to become his life’s main purpose. Moses went back to Egypt and into Pharaoh’s palace where he stood before the powerful king to tell him that the God of Israel says, “Let my people go!” (Exodus 5:1).

This turned into a clash of giants: Moses, the humble shepherd equipped with the power of God against the king of the most powerful nation on earth. Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go – why should he lose his workforce? – and made life even harder for them.

God responded with an awesome demonstration of his power through Moses by sending ‘plagues’ on Egypt. The Egyptians endured the Nile turning to blood, the land teeming with frogs, gnats and flies, boils on their cattle and then on them, hail and locusts which destroyed their crops and darkness over the land. Throughout this terrifying ordeal, the Egyptian king consistently hardened his heart against Moses until, in a chilling turn of events, God, seeing his mind was made up, took over and hardened it for him (compare Exodus 8:32 and 9:12).

The final, tenth ‘plague’ is the worst as God tells Pharaoh through Moses that “every firstborn son in Egypt will die” (Exodus 11:5) including his own. The Israelites are told that they can avoid this tragedy if they sacrifice a lamb and put some of its blood on the door-frames of their houses. When God goes through the land striking down the firstborn and sees the blood he will “pass over” (Exodus 12:13) that house and move to the next. This is the origin of the Passover feast that celebrates the Israelites rescue from Egypt as Pharaoh finally relents after the death of the firstborn sons and the Egyptians drive them out of the land.

Moses, now aged over eighty, starts his life’s work, to lead the two million Israelites to their promised land.

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