THE CHOSEN PEOPLE – THE LIBERATION (FROM THE BOOK OF EXODUS)
“God Himself had foretold the sojourn of the Chosen People in the land of Egypt. On one occasion when He was testing the faith of Abraham, God said to him: ‘Know thou beforehand that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land not their own, and they shall bring them under bondage, and afflict them, four hundred years. But I will judge the nation they shall serve, and after this they shall come out with great substance’ (Genesis 15: 13-14).
THEIR LONG STAY IN EGYPT WAS BENEFICIAL
The stay in Egypt began well. Jacob, his sons and their families entered Egypt under favourable circumstances. Joseph, the son of Jacob, was ruling the empire for Pharaoh. Through his kindness the land of Gessen was given to them. There they prospered. Through the years they increased in numbers until they ‘filled the land’ (Exodus 1:7). No doubt… their long dwelling in Egypt was of great benefit to them. They learned the art of farming as practised by the Egyptians. They became aware of the value of a strong systematic government. They became acquainted with the arts and the artistic techniques of the Egyptians.
MEANWHILE, ABRAHAM’S DESCENDANTS HAD GROWN INTO A TRUE NATION
In the providence of God they were able to preserve their religious beliefs. This was made possible by the fact that they dwelled in a land of their own and were thus preserved from the contagion of the idolatrous and polytheistic beliefs and practices of the Egyptians. Some of them seem to have gone into the cities of the empire. Moses, their great leader, was probably born in or near the capital of Egypt. But the descendants of Abraham who dwelt in the cities would have been assisted in maintaining their religious beliefs by the example of their relatives who dwelt in Gessen.
For several hundred years, then, the Chosen People dwelt in Egypt, increasing in numbers until they formed a true nation, benefiting from the civilising factors of the Egyptian culture, and yet keeping alive and strong their faith in the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
THE SHEER SIZE OF A ‘NATION WITHIN A NATION’ POSED A SECURITY RISK
They became so numerous that a Pharaoh ‘who knew not Joseph’ began to fear them. As is usual in such cases his fear led him to oppress them. ‘Behold,’ he said, ‘the people of the children of Israel are numerous and stronger than we. Come, let us wisely oppress them, lest they multiply; and if any war shall rise against us, join with our enemies, and having overcome us, depart out of the land’ (Exodus 1:9-10).
The Israelites were impressed into forced labour. With their forced labour the Pharaoh built the storehouse cities of Pithom and Amesses. When even this severe oppression did not reduce their numbers the Pharaoh decreed that all male children of the Israelites should be killed at birth by the midwives. When the midwives failed to carry out this order, he ruled that all male infants should be cast into the river.
THE BIRTH OF MOSES
It was while this decree was in force that he was born whom God was to send to liberate the people from bondage in Egypt. The wife of a man of the tribe of Levi gave birth to a son. Desiring to save his life she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer she placed him in a basket of bulrushes and laid the basket by the edge of the river. She placed his sister near by to watch what would happen.
The daughter of the Pharaoh came to the river to bathe. When she saw the basket she sent one of her maids to fetch it to her. When she saw the infant she took compassion on it and decided to save it. The child’s sister came up and offered the services of a Hebrew woman to nurse the child. When Pharaoh’s daughter assented, the girl brought the child’s own mother to nurse it. When the child was grown Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and called him Moses.
MOSES IS ADOPTED INTO THE EGYPTIAN ROYAL HOUSEHOLD
Because he was nursed and brought up by his own mother Moses retained his allegiance to his own people. But, as the adopted child of an Egyptian princess, he learned the ways of the Pharaoh’s court. This surely fitted him for the role of leader to his people to which God later called him.
MOSES KILLS AN EGYPTIAN OVERSEER
One day Moses saw one of the Egyptian overseers striking one of the Hebrew workmen. In his anger at this harsh treatment of one of his fellow-countrymen he slew the Egyptian. Some of his own brethren spread the story abroad, and when it came to the ears of the Pharaoh he determined to kill Moses, but Moses fled to the land of Midian. Here he married one of the daughters of Jethro, the priest of the Midianites.
THE ROLE OF MAN’S FREE WILL IN THE SALVATION HISTORY:
MOSES IS CHOSEN AS A LEADER
Meanwhile the oppression of the Israelites became so burdensome to them that they cried out to God to save them. God took pity upon them and set about their deliverance. He appeared to Moses near the Mountain Horeb. He appeared as a burning flame in the burning bush.
GOD APPEARS TO MOSES IN THE BURNING BUSH
He said to Moses: ‘I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob… I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt and I have heard their cry: because of the rigour of them that are over the works. And knowing their sorrow I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians; and to bring them out of the land into a good and spacious land, into a land that floweth with milk and honey, to the places of the Chanaanite, and Hethite, and Amorrhite, and Pherezite, and Hevite and Jebusite. For the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have seen their affliction, wherewith they are oppressed by the Egyptians. But come, and I will send thee to Pharaoh, that thou mayst bring forth my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt’ (Exodus 3:6-10).
The encounter of God with Moses at the mountain Horeb reveals very clearly the role that free will plays in the history of man. In response to the pleas of His Chosen People God freely choses Moses to be the deliverer of the Jews. Nor does God destroy the free will of Moses by this choice.
Moses is very reluctant to accept the role to which God calls him. ‘Who am I,’ he protests, ‘that I should go to Pharaoh, and should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ (Exodus 3:11). When God insists that he will be the deliverer of the Israelites, Moses objects that ‘they will not believe me, nor hear my voice. But they will say: The Lord hath not appeared to thee’ (Exodus 4:1). God promises him that miracles will confirm his appointment. Moses still seeks to be relieved of the onerous task.
He pleads that he is not eloquent, and besides he has an impediment of speech. Then the Lord said to him: ‘Who made man’s mouth? Or who made the dumb and the deaf, the seeing and the blind? Did not I? Go therefore, and I will be in thy mouth; and I will teach thee what thou shalt speak. But he said: I beseech thee, Lord, send whom thou wilt send’ (Exodus 4:11-13).
Even though God is not pleased with this final protest of Moses, He still insists that He wants Moses to lead the people and He appoints Aaron, the brother of Moses, to act as the mouthpiece of Moses. Even at this critical point in the history of mankind God will not run roughshod over the free will of man. He accedes to all the requests of Moses. His plan for the salvation of mankind will be fulfilled, but only with man’s full cooperation. His almighty power will rescue man from the consequences of sin, but His power will be exercised with patience and even with the divine condescension of miracles.
‘I AM WHO I AM; I AM HE WHO CAUSES THINGS TO EXIST’
It is on this same occasion that God reveals to Moses the Name of God. ‘Moses said to God: Lo, I shall go to the children of Israel, and say to them: The God of your fathers has sent me to you. If they should say to me: What is his name? What shall I say to them? God said to Moses: I AM WHO I AM. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: HE WHO IS hath sent me to you’ (Exodus 3:13-14).
By this name – I AM WHO I AM – God revealed that His nature is existence; He is Himself the reason and the explanation of His own existence. Or it may be, in another meaning of the name, that He wished to call attention to the fact that He is the creator of the world, for the name can also mean ‘He Who causes existence,’ that is, He Who causes things to exist.
• [“PASSPORT REFUSED BY THE EGYPTIAN AUTHORITIES, NO VISA FOR THE ISRAELITES TO EMIGRATE”] •
WHEN THE EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT IMPOSED EVEN MORE RESTRICTIONS ON THEM: MIRACLES OF THE TEN PLAGUES: FROGS, HAILSTONES, LOCUSTS ETC.
In response to God’s command Moses returns to Egypt to bring about the liberation of his people. But Pharaoh was not of a mind to let the Israelites go. In fact, his answer to Moses’ first request was to inflict even greater hardship upon the people. Moses appealed again to God and God promised to make Pharaoh let the Israelites depart.
To achieve this, God performed the miracle of the ten plagues. He turned the waters of the Nile to blood; He filled the land with frogs which eveninvaded houses; then He sent a plague of cinifs, followed by one of flies; after this the cattle were afflicted with disease; then boils afflicted both men nd beasts; then came a great hail, with stones sobig that they killed whatever men and beasts were out in the fields and destroyed the trees; the eighth plague was of locusts and the ninth, three days of darkness. But Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let the Israelites go. Then the Lord said to Moses: ‘Yet one plague more will I bring upon Pharaoh and Egypt; and after that he shall let you go, and thrust you out…
THE FIRST CELEBRATION OF THE PASSOVER
‘At midnight I will enter into Egypt. And every first-born in the land of the Egyptians shall die, from the first-born of Pharaoh, who sitteth on his throne, even to the first-born of the handmaid, that is at the mill, and all the first-born of beasts’ (Exodus 11:4-5).
THE SAVING BLOOD OF THE LAMB [CHRIST WILL BE THE LAMB FOR ALL MANKIND]
That the children of the Israelites might be spared from this plague, Moses, under the command of God, instituted the first celebration of the feast of the Pasch or Passover. The Israelites were to take lambs, sacrifice them, and spread the blood of the lambs on the two doorposts and the lintel of their houses. The lambs were then to be eaten with unleavened bread.
At midnight the hand of God struck the land of Egypt and the first-born of every Egyptian home died and the first-born of their cattle. This great punishment inflicted by God on the people of Egypt moved Pharaoh to relent and let the Israelites depart from his land. He sent for Moses and Aaron in the night and said, ‘Arise and go forth from among my people, you and the children of Israel’ (Exodus 12:31).
THE ISRAELITES CROSS THE RED SEA WITH MOSES
THE PARTING OF THE RED SEA
Under divine guidance Moses led his people out of Egypt into the desert and to the Red Sea. Pharaoh repented of his decision to let them go and sent his troops to bring them back to Egypt. When the Israelites perceived the Egyptians pursuing them they lost heart and reproached Moses for leading them to destruction in the wilderness.
But Moses assured them that God would save them.
During the night God sent a strong and burning wind which drove the waters of the Red Sea off a fording place. In the morning the Israelites crossed over the clear portion of the lake. When the Egyptians followed, the wind ceased and the waters returned to their usual place. The Egyptians perished in the returning flood. ‘And the people feared the Lord and Moses, his servant’ (Exodus 14:31).”
– Martin J. Healy S.T.D., 1959