Moses and the Law (Introduction to Western Civilization 2.6)

Abraham’s son, Isaac, married a woman named Rebekah. Isaac and Rebekah had two sons named Jacob and Esau. Jacob had a total of 12 sons. When a famine struck in the Middle East, Jacob and his large family moved to Egypt. There, they were welcomed by the Pharaoh of Egypt and given land to settle on. As time went on, however, their numbers continued to increase. Eventually there were thousands of Abraham’s descendants, called Hebrews, living in Egypt.

Although the Egyptians had welcomed them at first, they started to fear the Hebrews because there were so many of them. They thought the Hebrews might someday outnumber the Egyptians and take over their country. The Egyptians decided to make the Hebrews into slaves. Even as slaves, though, the Hebrews continued to increase in numbers. Finally, the Pharaoh of Egypt ordered that all Hebrew baby boys should be killed immediately after they were born. He thought that by doing this he could stop the growth of the Hebrews and prevent them from taking over Egypt.

It was at this time that, in about 1400 BC, that Moses was born. To save him from the command of the Pharaoh to kill all Hebrew baby boys, his mother wrapped him in a blanket, placed him in a basket, and floated him down the Nile River. It just so happened that a daughter of the Pharaoh was bathing in the river at that time and saw the basket. She grabbed up the basket and decided to adopt the baby boy she found in it.

Moses was raised as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He knew, however, that he was really a Hebrew and he loved his people. One day, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave. Moses was so angry at what he saw he attacked the Egyptian and killed him. Because he had killed an Egyptian, Moses ran away and went to live in the wilderness.

He lived there for a very long time, away from the cities of Egypt. He married a woman whom he met there and became a shepherd. While he was out in the field one day, however, he saw a very strange thing. There was a bush off in the distance that was on fire but was not burning up. He walked over to take a closer look. As he approached it, he heard a voice command him:  “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Moses obeyed and removed his sandals. The voice from the burning bush then told him “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses was surprised and afraid. The voice continued speaking. God told Moses that he was to go back to Egypt and tell the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go free.

Moses was scared, but he obeyed the voice anyway. He went to the Pharaoh and told the Pharaoh that God had ordered him to set the Hebrews free. The Pharaoh laughed at Moses and refused to allow the Hebrews to go. To convince the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go, God sent a series of ten plagues on the Egyptians. Each time, Moses was sent by God to warn the Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go, but each time the Pharaoh refused. The ten plagues were:

  1. The water of the Nile River turned into blood.
  2. There were many, many frogs all over Egypt.
  3. The Egyptians were plagued with lice.
  4. Flies were everywhere and getting into everything.
  5. The cattle of the Egyptians became sick and died.
  6. Egyptians caught a disease that caused boils, large pus-filled bubbles, to appear on their skin.
  7. A storm that rained down hail and fire struck the land of Egypt, destroying things it fell on.
  8. A huge swarm of locusts ate up the crops and trees of the Egyptians.
  9. The entire country was dark as night even in the middle of the day.
  10. Finally, each of the first born sons of the Egyptians died.

Before the final plague, Moses warned the Hebrews to mark the doors of their houses with the blood of a lamb so that death would know which houses belonged to Hebrews. In that way, only the firstborn sons of the Egyptians would die and not the sons of Hebrews. Jews still celebrate this event today. The holiday is called Passover because on that day death passed over their houses and struck the Egyptians instead.

After this final plague, Pharaoh finally agreed to let the Hebrews go. As the Hebrews began their journey out of Egypt, though, the Pharaoh changed his mind. He led his army to chase down the Hebrews. He wanted to take them back to slavery. As Pharaoh’s army approached them from behind, the Hebrews were approaching the Red Sea. Moses called on God and raised his arms. When he did this, the sea split in two and allowed the Hebrews to walk through. Once the Hebrews had gone through, Moses put his arms down and the sea closed. Pharaoh and his entire army drowned.

Safely out of Egypt, Moses led the Hebrews to Mount Sinai. There, he went up on the mountain to speak with God and find out what the Hebrews should do next. He was up there so long the people thought that he had died. When he came back down to give them the Ten Commandments, Moses found the people worshipping a golden calf instead of God. For this, the Hebrews were forced to wander in the desert for 40 years before they were allowed to go to the land that God had promised to Abraham.

Eventually, Moses was able to lead them to this Promised Land and Joshua, a faithful follower of Moses, led the Hebrew army to conquer it. At least, the Hebrews were allowed to settle in the land that had been promised by God to their ancestor Abraham. They built cities there and began to follow the law that Moses had given them from God.


Review Questions

 1. Shortly before the birth of Moses, the Pharaoh ordered all newborn Hebrew boys killed. How did Moses’s mother save him from this command?

2. What sea did Moses part so the Hebrews could cross over?


Vocabulary Words

 Famine – a time when food becomes very rare

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