Exodus—From Tyranny to Theocratic Order
JEHOVAH heard their cries as “slaves under tyranny.” It was time to act, and he did so as their Almighty Deliverer. Soon thereafter, God established his chosen people as a well-organized theocracy.
This, in essence, is the thrilling account you will find in the Bible book of Exodus. Written by the Hebrew prophet Moses, it relates the experiences of the Israelites from 1657 to 1512 B.C.E. Astounding miracles and superb legislation are among the book’s absorbing features.
But does Exodus have real meaning in the 20th century? Indeed it does, as our brief consideration will show.
Epitome of Exodus
As residents in Egypt, Jacob’s descendants increase so rapidly that by royal mandate they are made to suffer as “slaves under tyranny.” Pharaoh even decrees death for all Israelite male infants. Escaping such an end is a baby whose mother sets him adrift on the Nile in a papyrus ark. Pharaoh’s daughter finds and adopts the child, giving it the name Moses, meaning “saved out of water.” Although he is reared in the royal household, at the age of 40 Moses sides with his own oppressed people, killing an Egyptian. Forced to flee, he goes to Midian, where he gets married and lives as a shepherd. In the meantime Pharaoh dies, but another Pharaoh tyrannizes over the Israelites. In time God hears their cry for help.—Exodus 1:1–2:25.
One day Moses notes a bush that is burning but, miraculously, is not consumed. Through an angel Jehovah there commissions him to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of despotic slavery. God appoints his brother Aaron to be his spokesman.—Exodus 3:1–4:31.
Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh, asking that the Israelites be permitted to celebrate a festival to Jehovah in the wilderness. The Egyptian ruler defiantly refuses, but then Jehovah acts to make a name for himself. Haughty Pharaoh and his magicians certainly are no match for Moses, whom Jehovah uses to bring about telling blows. Even after nine plagues, however, the Egyptian tyrant is obstinate!—Exodus 5:1–10:29.
In anticipation of the tenth blow, Jehovah commands that the Israelites celebrate a “passover.” On Nisan 10, they take a lamb or a kid for each household. The animal is killed on Nisan 14 and its blood is sprinkled on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. They roast and eat it after sundown, along with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. While all these families are indoors, about midnight Jehovah’s angel goes through the land but passes over every Israelite home. The tenth blow is struck. Death befalls all the firstborn of Egypt, including Pharaoh’s first son. At this he lets the Israelites go.—Exodus 11:1–12:36.
Soon, however, the Egyptian oppressor and his military forces are in hot pursuit. But Jehovah provides deliverance by opening an escape corridor through the Red Sea. Then, with the Israelites safely on the other side, God causes the sea to close in on pursuing Pharaoh and his army, drowning all of them. What a way to get to know Jehovah and his awesome power!—Exodus 12:37–15:21.
From there to Mount Sinai in Arabia the Israelites repeatedly learn more about Jehovah, as he makes bitter water sweet, furnishes an abundance of quails and provides a tasty food they call manna. In their third month after deliverance from Egyptian tyranny, they encamp at the foot of Mount Sinai. There they receive God’s laws, including the “Ten Words” (the Ten Commandments), and enter into a covenant with Jehovah, their Almighty Deliverer.—Exodus 15:22–24:18; Deuteronomy 4:13.
Moses spends 40 days in the mountain receiving instructions regarding true worship and the construction of Jehovah’s tabernacle, a portable temple. Meanwhile, the Israelites make and worship a golden calf. Descending from the mountain, Moses sees this and becomes so incensed that he smashes the two tablets on which the Ten Words have miraculously been inscribed. After due punishment is meted out to the idolatrous wrongdoers, he again ascends the mountain and there receives another set of the tablets. Moses is given a view of God’s glory and hears Jehovah declaring that He is merciful but does not give exemption from merited punishment.—Exodus 25:1–34:7.
Upon Moses’ return from the mountain this second time, tabernacle construction begins, following the pattern provided by Jehovah. By the end of Israel’s first year of freedom, this marvelous tent and all its furnishings have been completed. The tabernacle is set up and fully equipped, whereupon Jehovah fills it with his glory.—Exodus 34:8–40:38.
Likely, you have been deeply moved by this review of these thrilling events. But a personal reading of Exodus may give rise to certain questions, some of which may be answered as we now consider the three main features of the book in question-and-answer form.
“Slaves Under Tyranny”
•3:1—What kind of priest was Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses?
Jethro evidently was the patriarchal head of a tribe of Midianites and was responsible for teaching and leading them in matters secular and religious. Since the Midianites were Abraham’s descendants by Keturah, they had memories of Jehovah’s worship that Abraham always enjoined upon his household. We cannot be sure about how pure the tribe’s religion was in Moses’ day. But Jethro showed considerable appreciation for Jehovah although he was not specially appointed by God.—Exodus 18:1-24.
•4:11—Is Jehovah responsible for such defects as blindness?
No, Jehovah is not responsible for every case of such physical defects as blindness and deafness. These have come about mainly because God has allowed a sinful human race to come into existence, the sinners Adam and Eve having lost their own perfection and, hence, their ability to produce perfect children. (Job 14:4; Romans 5:12) As their descendants had offspring, more and more imperfections, including physical defects, have become manifest. By allowing this situation to develop, God could speak of himself as ‘appointing’ the speechless, deaf and blind. For specific purposes, but only on occasion, has Jehovah caused physical blindness and speechlessness. (Genesis 19:11; Luke 1:20-22, 62-64; Acts 13:8-11) If people choose to be deaf and blind spiritually, he permits them to persist in their unbelief and rejection of his message, thus ‘appointing’ the deaf and blind in a spiritual sense. (Isaiah 6:9, 10) But Jehovah has granted spiritual hearing and sight to those seeking to please him. Moreover, through his Kingdom by Jesus Christ, the loving God, Jehovah, will free humankind from physical blindness and all other handicaps.—Isaiah 61:1, 2; 1 John 4:8; Revelation 21:1-4.
•4:24-26—Whose life was in danger, and what happened?
Because this passage is obscure, we suggest: Moses’ son was threatened with death for not being in harmony with the earlier covenant of circumcision. (Genesis 17:9-14) After removing the child’s foreskin, Zipporah caused this evidence of compliance with the covenant to touch the materialized angel’s feet, thus showing that there no longer was a reason for her son to die. If she was addressing Jehovah through the angel as “a bridegroom of blood,” it was as though she had accepted a wifely position in the covenant of circumcision, with God as the husband.
•6:3—Since Abraham, Isaac and Jacob used the name Jehovah, in what sense had God not made it known to them?
The name Jehovah literally means “He Causes to Become,” that is, according to God’s purpose. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob used the divine name and received promises from Jehovah. Yet they did not know or experience Jehovah as the One who caused these promises to be completely fulfilled. (Genesis 12:1, 2; 15:7, 13-16; 26:24; 28:10-15) However, Jehovah’s name soon would take on greater meaning for their descendants, the Israelites. They would come to know its real meaning when Jehovah carried out his purpose toward Israel by delivering them from tyranny and then giving them the Promised Land in fulfillment of his covenant with their forefathers.
•7:22—Where did the Egyptian priests get water that had not yet been turned into blood?
They could have used some water that had been taken from the Nile River before this blow, or plague. However, unaffected water apparently could be collected by digging wells in the moist soil round about the Nile. (Exodus 7:24) Perhaps the priests used such water in order to perform their trickery.
•12:29—Were both males and females reckoned as the firstborn?
The firstborn included only males. This is evident from the fact that later, when an exchange was made by giving the Levites over to Jehovah, only the males were enumerated. (Numbers 3:40-51) Pharaoh himself was a firstborn, but he was not killed because he had his own household and it was not the head but the firstborn son of the household that died on that Passover night.—Exodus 12:12.
Delivered by Jehovah
•15:8—Since the Red Sea waters were “congealed,” were they frozen?
The Hebrew word here translated “congealed” means to shrink or thicken. At Job 10:10 the expression is used with regard to curdling cheese. So it does not necessarily mean that the walls of water were frozen solid. Since nothing visible was holding back the waters, they would have the appearance of being congealed, stiffened or thickened so as to remain standing. If the wind mentioned earlier had been cold enough to freeze the waters, doubtless some reference would have been made to the extreme cold.—Exodus 14:21.
Organized as a Theocracy
•20:5—Does this mean that faithful ones would be punished?
No, because each individual, after reaching an age of responsibility, is judged on the basis of his own conduct and attitude. (Compare Ezekiel 18:20.) However, when the nation of Israel later turned to idolatry, it suffered the evil consequences of this for generations thereafter. Faithful ones were not personally punished for the nation’s sin, although they did feel some effects of it. It was difficult for these integrity-keepers to swim against the tide of national religious delinquency, but in doing so they enjoyed Jehovah’s loving-kindness.
•23:20-23—Who was the angel mentioned here, and how was it that Jehovah’s name was “within him”?
Angels other than the prehuman Jesus Christ were used to transmit God’s law to Moses. (John 1:1-3, 14; Hebrews 2:2, 3) But it is reasonable to conclude that the angel of whom Jehovah said “my name is within him” was Jesus in his prehuman form. He was used to guide the Israelites on their way to the Promised Land. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4) Jesus, whose name means “Salvation of Jehovah,” is the principal one that upholds and vindicates his Father’s name.
•32:25—Why was Aaron not punished for making the golden calf?
Aaron did this at the behest of the people, not because he was in heartfelt sympathy with the idolatry. Later, he apparently joined fellow Levites in taking a stand for Jehovah and against those who withstood Moses on this occasion. About 3,000 persons (likely ringleaders) were slain, but more were guilty because after the 3,000 were gone Moses reminded the people that they had sinned greatly. So more persons than just Aaron received Jehovah’s mercy at that time.—Exodus 32:1-6, 26-35.
•34:26—What was the significance of this command not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk?
The seething or boiling of a kid, or young goat, in its mother’s milk reportedly was a pagan ritual for producing rain. So the Israelites may have been given this law to keep them clear of such practices. However, this command, along with others, seems to emphasize the fact that there is a proper and fitting order in all matters. Jehovah provided the mother’s milk to nourish her young. But boiling her offspring in it would result in harm and death, the very opposite of the milk’s intended purpose. This law also seems to have provided a lesson showing God’s covenant people that they should not act in a heartless way but should be compassionate.
Real Meaning for the Faithful
Exodus is a moving account of tyrannical bondage, divine deliverance and the organizing of a theocratic society. But what can 20th-century witnesses of Jehovah learn from this book?
Jehovah sustains his people. He did this by supporting and blessing the Israelites when they were “slaves under tyranny.” (Exodus 1:7, 14) Similarly, Jehovah sustains his modern-day witnesses, even in the face of intense persecution.
Jehovah is the incomparable Deliverer. How evident that was at the Red Sea! Accordingly, his present-day witnesses can be confident that they, as a group, will survive the coming “great tribulation” under the almighty hand of this Grand Deliverer.—Matthew 24:20-22; Revelation 7:9, 14.
Jehovah is the God of theocratic organization. His laws, when obeyed, enabled the Israelites to worship him in an orderly, secure, joyful manner that honored his name. Comparably, Jehovah has organized his witnesses of today as an orderly, secure and happy brotherhood. For our own security and happiness, then, we must faithfully serve God as part of this theocratic society that glorifies his holy name.—Psalm 100:1-5; 1 Peter 2:17.
These are among the many benefits to be drawn from the book of Exodus. May our faith be strengthened as we reflect on this thrilling account of divine deliverance from tyranny to theocratic order.
[Picture on page 28]
At Mount Sinai Jehovah organized the Israelites as a theocracy