Exodus—When Jehovah God Made Himself Known
WHAT a wealth of information the book of Exodus contains! It records the birth of one of the oldest nations on earth and relates how Israel was chosen, delivered from Egyptian bondage and brought into a covenant with Jehovah God. It contains the finest legislation ever given a people and tells of a great many amazing miracles taking place. Most important of all, it reveals how the true God Jehovah, the Creator, made himself known as never before. Moreover, it is filled with prophetic types and shadows of better things to come.
All very well, some of our readers may say, but how can we be certain that Exodus is truly historical and that it was Moses who wrote it? For one thing, there are many, many references in the rest of the Bible that treat the events of Exodus as historical and that attribute the record of these things to Moses.* Further testifying to the authenticity of Exodus is its candor, for Moses spares neither himself nor his people. And there is also the testimony of ancient Jewish tradition, which treats the Pentateuch, of which Exodus is a part, as authentic and as having been written by Moses.
Chronologically, Exodus, which covers about 145 years of Israel’s history, may be viewed in three parts: the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt (1:1–12:36); their march from Rameses in Egypt to Mount Sinai in Arabia (12:37–18:27); and their stay in the wilderness at Mount Sinai (19:1–40:38). During each of these three periods Jehovah truly makes himself known—his name, his purposes, his qualities—both by words and by deeds. All of this Moses appears to have put down in writing by about 1512 B.C.E.
THE ISRAELITES IN EGYPT
The first two chapters Ex 1, 2 tell of the experiences of Jacob’s descendants in Egypt. There they increase so rapidly that the Pharaohs make them slaves, but still they keep increasing. So Pharaoh decrees death for all male babies. Escaping such a fate is an infant whose mother places it in a chest and sets it afloat on the Nile. The princess of Egypt discovers the babe, adopts it and names it Moses, meaning “saved out of water.” Moses is reared in Pharaoh’s house. At the age of forty he takes the side of his oppressed people by killing an Egyptian, and he is forced to flee to Midian. There he marries and lives as a shepherd for forty more years.
Then one day Moses notes a bush burning but not being consumed, and out of the bush he hears Jehovah’s angel calling to him. He is told that where he is standing is holy ground, and he is apprised of his commission to return to Egypt and deliver his people from oppression. When Moses asks who he should say sent him, God replies by his angel: “Say to the sons of Israel, ‘I SHALL PROVE TO BE has sent me to you.’”—Ex. 3:14.
Moses asks for credentials to show that Jehovah actually appeared to him. So Jehovah empowers him to perform three miracles on the spot. The first of these is that of causing his staff to become a serpent and then revert to a staff, and the second is that of causing his hand to become leprous and then to be healed. These two miracles, together with that of changing water into blood, Jehovah commands Moses to perform in front of the elders of his people. But Moses is extremely diffident, and so Jehovah commissions his brother Aaron to be his spokesman.
Chapters five and six tell of Moses and Aaron appearing before Pharaoh and asking permission for the Israelites to sacrifice to Jehovah in the wilderness. But Pharaoh contemptuously and defiantly asks: “Who is Jehovah, so that I should obey his voice to send Israel away?” Adding injury to insult, Pharaoh increases the burdens of the Israelite slaves. So Jehovah assures Moses that by means of His power He will bring Pharaoh around to let the Israelites go, and states further: “I used to appear to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God Almighty, but as respects my name Jehovah I did not make myself known to them.” True, they had heard the name Jehovah itself, but now Jehovah was going to make a name for himself in a way that he had never done before: “You will certainly know that I am Jehovah.”*—Ex. 5:2; 6:3, 7.
Continuing, the record tells of Moses performing several miracles before Pharaoh, some of which his magicians appear to imitate. To make Pharaoh know Jehovah, Moses is empowered to perform further miracles that serve as plagues upon Egypt—plagues of turning water into blood, of frogs, of gnats, of flies, of disease upon their livestock and a plague of boils on man and beast. After the sixth plague Pharaoh is told: “For this cause I [Jehovah] have kept you in existence, for the sake of showing you my power and in order to have my name declared in all the earth.” (Ex. 9:16) In line with that statement, Jehovah makes himself known further by sending a hailstorm accompanied with fire, by a devastating plague of locusts and by three days of a darkness so dense that it could be felt. Underscoring that Jehovah sent these plagues is Israel’s being untouched by them from the fourth plague onward. All of this and more is covered in chapters 7 through 10.
Then in anticipation of the tenth plague Jehovah commands a “passover” celebration. The Israelites must take a lamb or a kid for each household on Nisan 10, kill it on Nisan 14, sprinkle its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, roast it and eat it after sundown with bitter herbs and unleavened bread, while all the families remain within their houses. About midnight Jehovah’s angel goes through the land slaying all the firstborn of Egypt, from Pharaoh’s firstborn to that of the lowliest beast of burden.—Ex. 11:1–12:36.
FROM RAMESES TO MOUNT SINAI
Jehovah’s making himself known in this way makes Pharaoh let the Israelites go. First they rendezvous at Rameses. But Pharaoh soon regrets his action and with his military might goes in hot pursuit to bring the Israelites back. To provide escape for the Israelites, who appear to be hemmed in, Jehovah makes himself known to them by opening a wide corridor in the Red Sea. Pharaoh and his army pursue the Israelites into the opened corridor. But after the Israelites are safely on the other side, Jehovah causes the sea to close in on Pharaoh and his army, drowning them all. What great rejoicing for the Israelites, but, for the Egyptians, what a way to get to know Jehovah!—Ex. 12:37–15:21.
From there on to Mount Sinai in Arabia the Israelites repeatedly get to know Jehovah better. He changes bitter water to sweet, provides meat in the form of a flock of quails and sends from the sky a tasty cereal-like substance that they call “manna.”—Ex. 15:22–18:27.
AT THE FOOT OF MOUNT SINAI
In the third month after leaving Egypt the Israelites encamp at the foot of Mount Sinai. The remaining chapters of Exodus deal with events taking place during the next nine months. There, both by spoken word and by supernatural phenomena, they learn to know still more about their God Jehovah, particularly about his majesty, his awesomeness, his wisdom, justice, love and power.
There they enter into a covenant with Jehovah and he gives to them his laws, chief of which are the “Ten Words,” or the Decalogue. These have proved to be the basis for the laws of many civilized nations in modern times. The Israelites were to have no rival gods before Jehovah; they were not to worship any image or likeness; they were not to take Jehovah’s name in vain; they were to keep the seventh day of the week, the sabbath, sacred; they were to honor their parents; and they were commanded not to murder, commit adultery, steal, nor bear false witness, and they were not to covet anything belonging to their fellowman.—Ex. 19:1–24:18.
For forty days Moses is up in the mountain receiving instructions as to Jehovah’s way of worship and regarding the construction of a portable temple or tabernacle. (Ex. 25:1–31:18) The Israelites, wearying of his failure to return, make and worship a golden calf. Upon coming down from the mountain and seeing this, Moses becomes so incensed that he smashes the two tablets containing the Ten Words. After due punishment has been meted out upon the idolaters, Moses again ascends into the mountain and receives another set of two tablets.
At this time Moses is given a view of God’s glory and he hears a voice declaring: “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, . . . pardoning error and transgression and sin, but by no means will he give exemption from punishment.” With this pronouncement Jehovah was again helping Moses and his people to know their God better.—Ex. 34:6, 7.
Upon Moses’ returning to the Israelites again, the work of building the tabernacle or tent of worship gets under way. By the end of the first year of their exodus from Egypt the Israelites have completed this tent and all the furnishings prescribed for it. After it is set up and fully equipped, Jehovah God again magnifies his name, by filling and covering the tabernacle with his glory.
Truly, the book of Exodus reports on the time when the Israelites, as well as their enemies, got to know Jehovah better than they had ever known him before, even as he promised. By our learning about these things, taking them to heart and acting upon them, we too can get to know better the true God Jehovah, and that to our everlasting benefit.
For details see Aid to Bible Understanding, pages 547, 548.
This expression occurs nine times in the book of Exodus alone.