(This study is an expansion of the worship section in my book, “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality,” Fifth Estate Publishing, 2007)
The world knows little about the worship of Israel between Joseph’s death and Moses’ birth. The Bible does not go into much detail about those centuries, but what we do know is that after the death of the generation that moved with Jacob to Egypt a new pharaoh came to power who did not know Joseph. The new pharaoh was concerned about how large and powerful the tribes of Israel had become, so he established a system of taskmasters over the Israelites to control them. The pharaoh used Israel to build supply cities for him, but the more the Egyptians afflicted the Hebrews the more they multiplied and grew. The pharaoh responded by making the lives of the Israelites harder and more bitter. The next step pharaoh took was to demand of the Hebrew midwives that they kill every Hebrew baby boy. But the midwives feared God more than pharaoh, so they saved the boy babies and told pharaoh lies about how the Hebrew women gave birth before the midwives could arrive to help them. God blessed the midwives for their bravery. Pharaoh commanded the Egyptian people to kill the Hebrew baby boys, but as we know from the story of Moses that didn’t always happen.
“And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi. So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months. But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him. Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. And when she opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’ Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?’ And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him. And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, ‘Because I drew him out of the water.” Exodus 2:1-10
We learn from this story that the Hebrews continued to worship God in Egypt and knew their heritage. The Hebrew midwives feared God more than they feared pharaoh. That’s saying a lot when you read about the power of the Egyptian pharaohs. They were like gods to the Egyptian people, but not so to the Hebrew people. The people of Israel would have known a great deal about the religious beliefs of the Egyptians because of their involvement in building the supply cities for pharaoh, but that knowledge didn’t diminish their belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph.
You can read more details about Moses’ relationship with Israel and Egypt on pages 293 – 310 and 587 – 622 of “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality,” but one of the most amazing insights I discovered while writing the book was why God revealed Himself to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt through 10 plagues. I had studied the Books of Genesis and Exodus for many years, but it was during an indepth study of the history of Egypt and its religious beliefs that I saw why God revealed His power to Pharaoh and the Egyptian people through plagues. It was a phenomenal demonstration of Elohim’s superiority over every god of Egypt.
Moses had an intimate knowledge of Egyptian culture because he was raised by a daughter of Pharaoh. Moses lived among the royal elite until he was 40 years old and killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew man. Pharaoh learned about it and searched for Moses to kill him, but Moses fled to Midian for safety. Moses found refuge there with the Midianites. They were distant relatives of Moses from the lineage of Midian – one of Abraham’s sons with his wife Keturah. Moses lived in Midian until he was 80 years old. That’s when Elohim spoke to Moses from a burning bush. God had heard the “groanings” of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt.
“So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them. Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.’ So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’ Moreover He said, ‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. And the LORD said: ‘I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ So He said, ‘I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.’ Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Exodus 2:24 – 3:13)
Moses knew “about” the God of Israel, but now He was meeting God for the first time. God left a deep impression on Moses – a “holy” impression.” Moses knew about the gods of Egypt in great detail from observing how the people worshiped them through elaborate building projects, public displays of devotion and elaborate burials of royals. The God of Israel met Moses privately and intimately. The gods of Egypt did not speak. They were nothing more than stone and wooden images of men’s imagination. They could not speak or act on their own. They had no real power of their own – only that which the people gave them. So, when God revealed Himself to Moses the meeting was in an environment Moses knew well and could see that it was no trick of the magicians of the court of Pharaoh. The God of Israel was Real!
God had made a unbreakable covenant with Abraham centuries before and promised that He was going to rescue His people from those who would enslave them – “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” (Genesis 15:13-14) God chose Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt and into the land He had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Something important to remember when studying the history of Israel is that God’s promise of Land and Seed had the highest purpose of worship. God told Moses that at the beginning of their relationship – “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” The Hebrew word translated “serve” here is abad. It is translated as both “serve” and “worship” in different English translations. It is the idea of a person working as a servant. God called Israel out of Egypt to demonstrate their worship through works of service.
(Similar to what God has called Christians to do – “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10 Christians do not perform works of service in order to be saved since salvation is by grace through faith. However, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared for us to do.)
God sent Moses first to the people of Israel to show that He was going to deliver them out of slavery in Egypt. Notice how the people responded to God – “So the people believed; and when they heard that the LORD had visited the children of Israel and that He had looked on their affliction, then they bowed their heads and worshiped.” (Exodus 4:31) Worship (Hebrew hawah – “pay adoration”) is exactly what God intended to come from this demonstration of His power to deliver the Israelites. Worship is always God’s highest calling for His children.
Moses did as God said and told Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go into the wilderness so they could worship God. However, Pharaoh would not let them go and made life on the Israelites more and more difficult. It’s interesting to note that in our study that Moses did not fully understand God’s plan for delivering Israel out of Egyptian bondage. Moses could not comprehend why God was acting the way He was – “So Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘Lord, why have You brought trouble on this people? Why is it You have sent me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has done evil to this people; neither have You delivered Your people at all.” (Exodus 5:22-23) What Moses and Israel did not know at that moment, but would soon learn, was that their education about what it meant to be the people of the Almighty God was just starting.
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh. For with a strong hand he will let them go, and with a strong hand he will drive them out of his land.’ And God spoke to Moses and said to him: ‘I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them. I have also established My covenant with them, to give them the land of Canaan, the land of their pilgrimage, in which they were strangers. And I have also heard the groaning of the children of Israel whom the Egyptians keep in bondage, and I have remembered My covenant. Therefore say to the children of Israel: ‘I am the LORD; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, I will rescue you from their bondage, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God. Then you shall know that I am the LORD your God who brings you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD.” Exodus 6:1-8
God revealed something to Moses that He had not revealed to Abraham, Isaac or Jacob – “by My name LORD.” God told Moses that He had revealed Himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel) as “El Shaddai, God Almighty.” What God was doing for Moses and the people of Israel was securing His promise to them by His Most Holy Name JEHOVAH (LORD). Look at how emphatically God pronounces the absoluteness of His promise – “And I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and I will give it to you as a heritage: I am the LORD.”
The people desperately wanted to be free from the cruel slavery of the Egyptians. They had called on El Shaddai to deliver them. Notice the lessons God intended to teach them about what JEHOVAH would do.
- I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians
- I will rescue you from their bondage
- I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments
- I will take you as My people, and I will be your God
- I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
- I will give it to you as a heritage
- I am the LORD (JEHOVAH)
God knows how to teach lessons to His people. What He was going to do would become something they and all their descendants would remember forever. God was also going to teach Pharaoh and all of Egypt an important lesson – one they would learn, but not remember long. Even after suffering from 10 terrible plagues and finally letting Israel leave Egypt, Pharaoh still believed the gods of Egypt would prevail against JEHOVAH. He was wrong.
“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, that the waters may come back upon the Egyptians, on their chariots, and on their horsemen.’ And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained. But the children of Israel had walked on dry land in the midst of the sea, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. So the LORD saved Israel that day out of the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Thus Israel saw the great work which the LORD had done in Egypt; so the people feared the LORD, and believed the LORD and His servant Moses.” Exodus 14:26-31
Remember that land and Seed were always at the forefront of God’s dealings with Israel. As Israel’s time to leave Egypt approached, and just before God killed all the firstborn of Egypt, JEHOVAH revealed to Israel the redemptive nature of the Seed that would come from Judah. Notice how Israel responded to God’s redemption through the blood of the passover lamb.
“Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, ‘Pick out and take lambs for yourselves according to your families, and kill the Passover lamb. And you shall take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and strike the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. And none of you shall go out of the door of his house until morning. For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you. And you shall observe this thing as an ordinance for you and your sons forever. It will come to pass when you come to the land which the LORD will give you, just as He promised, that you shall keep this service. And it shall be, when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the LORD, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’ So the people bowed their heads and worshiped.” Exodus 12:21-27
The people bowed their heads and worshiped (Hebrew hawah – “pay adoration”). That is always the response God wants from His people – worship. To this day Christians bow their heads and worship God as they remember His great salvation through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
(You can read more about God’s redemption of Israel from Egypt on pages 587 – 595 of “A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality.”)
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”