see also Class Notes

Adam Kissel


       The sons of Israel (Jacob's sons) have died, along with the Pharaoh who knew Joseph. A new king of Egypt treats the Israelites harshly; they have to make bricks. Worse, since there are too many of them, the king tells the midwives to kill the male babies as they are born. The midwives don't do it, and say in their defense that the Hebrew women give birth too quickly for them to get there. So the new law is, all male newborns are to be thrown in the Nile. (1)

       Moses is born, gets put carefully in an ark near the riverbank, and is found by Pharaoh's daughter, who wants to keep him. Moses' sister, watching, offers Moses' mother as a nurse, so the mother gets to raise Moses anyway. When Moses is grown, Pharaoh's daughter gets him. One day Moses sees an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, and Moses intervenes and kills the Egyptian. The next day he sees two Hebrews struggling, and tries to intervene, but he discovers that his murder of yesterday is known. So Moses flees to Midian. In Midian he befriends and then marries a daughter of the priest of Midian; they have Gershom, a son. (2)

Burning Bush

       God hears the complaints of Israel and tells Moses to intervene, via the burning bush on Horeb. God tells Moses that God will bring Israel to the area of Canaan out of Egypt; God will do it through Moses. Moses doubts his ability, but God reassures him that He will be with him. God names Himself "I AM." Moses is to gather the elders and tell them of God's plan: they are to get Pharaoh's permission to leave "temporarily" to sacrifice to God, three days away. (3) Moses doubts his ability, but God gives him some miraculous signs to perform: a rod that becomes a snake, a leprous and then cleansed hand, and turning the river to blood. Moses still doubts, so God, angry, appoints his brother Aaron to be the main speaker. Moses finally agrees and returns from Midian. God gives Moses a message for Pharaoh: if Pharaoh does not let Israel, God's firstborn, out of Egypt, then God will kill Pharaoh's firstborn son. On the way, Moses meets Aaron and tells him the plan. In Egypt, they tell their people, who believe after seeing the signs. (4)

       Moses and Aaron give Pharaoh the message. But Pharaoh doesn't believe them or care about God, and instead thinks the Hebrews are trying to slack off from making bricks. So Pharaoh makes it even harder; the Hebrews have to find their own straw for bricks, but their quotas remain as high as ever. The Israelites get mad at Moses for this, and Moses complains to God. (5) God tells Moses to reassure the Israelites, giving him the words to say, but when Moses says them, the people are too discouraged to believe him. Moses takes this as proof of his bad oratorical skills. Then there is a genealogy leading up to Moses, and a reminder that Moses had complained of his bad oratorical skills from the start. (6)

       God reassures Moses again, and says that He will let Pharaoh's heart remain obstinate in failing to let the Israelites go. God has Moses and Aaron do the rod/snake sign, which doesn't mean much to Pharaoh, because his magicians can do it as a trick. Ditto the river/blood sign. The river becomes putrid for a week. (7)


       The plagues, which mostly affect only the Egyptians, and Pharaoh promises to let the people go, giving more ground each time, and then reneges once the plague is over: frogs; gnats; flies; livestock plague; boils; deadly hail; locusts; death of the firstborn son. The Hebrews are to perform a special Passover ritual regarding the final plague. Pharaoh comes to know the power of God, though he seems not to accept the implications. Finally, once Pharaoh's son is killed, he drives Israel away, and lets the whole people go, flocks and all. God also says that the Hebrews are to perform a special commemoration of the escape, particularly regarding the unleavened bread which they had to take with them hurriedly. (8-12)


       God institutes some practices: Israel must sanctify to God every male firstborn of both man and beast; Israel is to celebrate an annual festival of unfermented cakes, once they get to where they're going, to commemorate the exodus. Israel leaves Egypt, and Moses brings Joseph's bones along, according to the ancient promise. God leads Israel with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. (13)

       God tells Moses to make sure the Israelites seem like they are wandering aimlessly, and that He will let Pharaoh become obstinate against them again. Pharaoh hears of the wandering, and so he and a lot of Egyptians go out to retrieve the Israelites. Israel sees the Egyptians and fears death, but Moses reminds them that God will fight for them. God tells the Israelites (via Moses) to pick up and go through the sea, and that He will bring glory to Himself by means of the bad deeds of Pharaoh and Egypt. Moses lifts his hand and the sea divides; Israel proceeds through and Egypt follows, but God makes Egypt confused and breaks their chariots. Moses lifts his hand again and the sea returns, killing the Egyptians and Pharaoh. Israel puts its faith in God and in Moses. (14)


       Israel sings a song of exaltation to God. Israel then marches for three days without water. Finally they come to bitter water at Marah, and God directs Moses to make the water sweet and drinkable by throwing a certain tree in the water. God tells Israel that it must keep all God's commandments, and if so, Israel will escape the plagues that had beset Egypt. God says He is healing Israel. They come to Elim. (15)

       They leave Elim and come to the wilderness of Sin. The people complain of hunger. God rains down manna for the people to eat. They at first don't know they're supposed to eat it, so Moses must tell them to eat it. They each eat their share. They are to pick and eat only a day's worth, except to pick double on the sixth day, so as not to pick on the seventh day. The people don't follow the rule, which angers God. God repeats that they are to observe strict gathering practices, and then the people start to observe the sabbath. Moses and Aaron take one day's worth of manna and put it in a jar as a permanent commemoration. The manna is provided for forty years until Israel gets to Canaan. (16)

       The people come to Rephidim, and complain of thirst. God directs Moses to use his magic rod to strike a rock so that water will come forth. The Amalekites come to fight Israel, presumably because Israel had complained and put God to the test. But Moses is able secure victory by keeping his hands raised, on the hill. When he puts his hands down, Israel starts to lose, so Aaron and Hur help him to keep his hands raised all day. The only memory of the Amalekites will be the recording of the battle in the book; God will perpetually war with Amalek. (17)

       Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, hears that Moses is nearby. He visits Moses and Moses tells the whole story about what has happened since he left Jethro. Jethro learns that God is the greatest. The next day, Moses spends the whole day as a judge for Israel. Jethro teaches him to delegate, and so Moses sets up judges of groups and subgroups. These judges presumably will represent their groups to Moses, and Moses will remain the representative of all Israel before God. Moses will have to judge only the big cases. (18)

       Israel goes, in the third month, to the wilderness of Sinai. God speaks to Moses out of the mountain there. God tells Moses to tell Israel that it must strictly obey God. Moses tells Israel through the representatives, and all Israel agrees to obey God. God has Moses tell the people to sanctify themselves and not touch the mountain, while God will give more instruction to Moses on the third day. On that day, the people watch as Moses goes up the mountain to speak with God. God says that Moses should repeat to the people not to touch the mountain, and when Moses complains that they already have been told, God tells him to go anyway, and again to bring Aaron with him on his ascent. (19)


       God gives the commandments: do not have or make false gods; do not take up the name of God in vain; remember the sabbath and keep it holy; honor your parents; do not murder, commit adultery, or steal; do not bear false witness; and do not lust after anything belonging to your neighbor. The people are afraid of God and glad to have Moses as mediator. God calls for a burnt offering and gives directions about how to build a stone altar. (20)

       God gives specific laws regarding: the period of slavery and what should happen if a slave marries and has children; what happens when a daughter is sold as a slave; what happens when someone hits someone else, and if the person dies or does not die; kidnapping; calling down evil on one's parents or God; quarreling and injury and compensation; what happens when someone's property (a bull, e.g.) causes damage or death; falling into a pit; stealing; overgrazing; fires; loans of money and property; unnatural acts of magic and sex; sacrificing to false gods; treating strangers; treating widows and orphans; giving of one's abundance and of one's firstborn son; standing by truth and justice even against the crowd; lying; bribery; dealing with the poor; eating practices; and celebration of festivals. God promises good things to Israel if they will follow God and His laws and His angel; he will protect Israel as they come into the land. They will gradually take over the land, while God gradually drives away the other tribes. Israel is not to consort with the other peoples so as to remain free of temptation regarding the false gods. (21-23)

       The people agree to follow the laws, and Moses writes them down. Israel makes some sacrifices to give a sign of the agreement. Moses and Aaron and seventy elders get to see God. God calls Moses back up the mountain, and so he takes Joshua his minister with him, and leaves the seventy behind, with Aaron and Hur as judges. On the seventh day on the mountain, God begins to speak to Moses; he remains there forty days. (24)

       God gives very specific instructions about building the Ark for the law and the table which will hold the commemorative manna. God continues to give very specific instructions regarding other sacred objects, particularly the tabernacle, and also vestments for the priests (beginning with Aaron). Also directions are given for the sanctifying of Aaron and his sons as priests. All this is to be kept up throughout the generations. God says He will continue to present Himself to Israel at the altar of the tabernacle. All Israel will continue to know that God brought them out of Egypt. (25-29)

       God continues with more instructions. There is to be an altar, and Aaron will use it; he will make a yearly atonement on it. Also, upon every census, each person must pay an equal census tax, whether rich or poor; this money will go to the service of the tent of meeting. Also there is to be a basin for washing of hands and feet before entering the tent. Also there are to be special perfumes for use as anointing oil and as incense. (30)

       God tells Moses that He will fill Bezalel with the spirit of God in wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and all kinds of craftsmanship, so that all these things can be built. Ditto Oholiab. God repeats that the sabbaths are to be kept; any profaner of it is to be put to death. God then gives Moses two tablets of the Testimony, written on by God. (31)

       The people get impatient while Moses is on Mt. Sinai, so they get Aaron to form the golden calf to be a substitute god, as though the calf was the one who brought Israel out of Egypt. God becomes angry, but Moses reminds God that Israel is God's chosen people, so God chooses not to exterminate the nation. But then Moses goes down the mountain and sees and hears for himself, and so Moses gets very angry. He destroys the tablets. He grinds up the calf and makes the people eat it. He then determines that the house of Levi is on God's side still, and enjoins the Levites to go killing about three thousand men of Israel in retribution. (Thus Moses does concur with God's justice.) Moses, now knowing the extent to which justice is deserved, entreats God for mercy. God replies that he will wipe sinners out of His book. (32)

       God tells Moses that the people should get on their way, and that the promised land is still to be gained, if God doesn't exterminate them on the way. But the people are afraid, so Moses goes back up Mt. Sinai. Moses speaks face to face with God as friends (though he evidently doesn't actually see God's face). Moses entreats God to help him lead his people in God's way. God says OK. Moses wants to see God's glory, but God says that Moses could not do that and live. But God will let Moses see His back; God puts Moses in a cleft in the rock while His glory is passing by. (33)

       God gives Moses two more tablets to replace the first two. God declares his own great attributes to Moses, and speaks about truth, justice and mercy, and other things. God promises to do great things for Israel. God reminds Moses that Israel is to have nothing to do with the six peoples being driven out of Canaan. God also repeats several of the commands and makes sure Moses writes them down. Moses remains in conversation with God for forty days. When he comes down this time, the people see that Moses does not know that his face shines. Moses then covers his face in public and only lifts the veil when he speaks with God. (34)

Following the Law

       Moses repeats the command about the sabbath, to the people. He also takes up a contribution for the tabernacle and other stuff. Everybody voluntarily gives all kinds of stuff, more than what is needed, and Bezalel and Oholiab get to work. They make all the stuff to the exact specifications which God had commanded Moses. (35-39)

       God tells Moses to set up and use the tabernacle and stuff on the first day of the new year. When the time comes, Moses does exactly as God had told him. God comes and fills the tabernacle with His glory. The people pay close attention, because they are following the cloud of glory. When the cloud is in the tabernacle, they stay put; when it lifts and moves, they break camp and go on to the next stage of their journey. (40)

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