(Note we will film the first part of this story of Moses being found by the Pharaoh's daughter at the river Nile at the Nile in Luxor--ancient Thebes, one of the capitals of ancient Egypt.)
Does God care about our suffering? Will he rescue us when we fall? When people are out to destroy us? When jobs are taken from us? When abuse and injustice haunts us? When we suffer incredible loss?
One prayer in the Bible, in what is called the book of Psalms, says,
14Rescue me . . . ,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me . . .
15Do not let the floodwaters engulf me . . .
or the pit close its mouth over me.
16Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love . . .
17Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
18Come near and rescue me;
redeem me because of my foes" (Psalm 69:13-18)
If you have not been there, then you likely will. And the fundamental question is, does God care when we are suffering and in trouble, and can he do something about it? In answering this question, we come now to the story of the Exodus—the greatest rescue and redemption story of the entire Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament.
For years the Hebrews lived under Joseph’s protection in Egypt, and they multiplied over centuries, becoming a large “nation.” But a king of Egypt (a Pharaoh) arose “who knew not Joseph,” and they were enslaved (Exodus 1:8f).
Feeling threatened by the Israelites' numbers, the king ordered the deaths of all baby Hebrew boys. There are different types of enemies and different types of trouble, but soldiers coming to rip your children out of your hands at their birth and watching them kill them is on a scale beyond what most of us will ever know. And knowing that this would happen if your child happened to be a boy—must have haunted every single mother every day of her pregnancy. One mother, the mother of Moses, sought to protect and rescue her child from this fate.
2 Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, 2 and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. 3 But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. 4 His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.
5 Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. 6 She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said.
7 Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?”
8 “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother.9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you.” So the woman took the baby and nursed him.10 When the child grew older, she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. She named him Moses, saying, “I drew him out of the water.”
Moses’ mother put her child in a basket and let him float down the river in order to try to save him from death. And when did this, she must have prayed that somehow, someway, her child that she bore for nine months in her womb would be saved. And God was indeed at work, for in the most unlikeliest of scenarios, the daughter of the Pharaoh himself—the daughter of the king who ordered the deaths of all of these children—saw the child, and rather than carrying out her father’s murderous orders, rescued him, and took him home as her own child--defying her father’s will—and he was raised as an Egyptian.
This child who was rescued was named Moses, who, though he was raised in the places of the Egyptians, was destined to become the “ruler and redeemer” of Israel (Acts 7:35). God, who very much cared about his people, would use Moses to free Israel, who had become slaves of Pharaoh, forced to make bricks for building programs, from cruel slavery--after his own story of redemption.
Moses grew up in the home of the Pharaoh – the most powerful and absolute ruler in all the land. Moses likely grew up in Thebes, which is modern day Luxor, which was one of the capital cities of ancient Egypt during the time of the New Kingdom. Chronologies of ancient Egypt are difficult to piece together, and so the exact Pharaoh or Pharaohs of Moses’ time is difficult to be entirely certain. The text in Exodus says that the Israelites at that time were building the store city of Ramses (Exodus 1:11). And indeed, Ramses II was a powerful pharaoh who had many great building programs.
Still, some say that there was no evidence of Moses or a Semitic people like the Hebrews who worshiped Yahweh, the one Hebrew God, being in Egypt at that time. Of course, the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence. There are very few records at all along the East Delta area of Pi-Ramses (Goshen area) where the Israelites were thought to have worked due to the wet conditions along the Nile. And the Egyptians had a habit of destroying and defacing records and monuments of previous rulers and times – let alone embarrassing history. Certainly, the types of things that are recorded in the biblical account of the Exodus are not inconsistent from what we know of Egyptian history and culture, and in fact, these documents show are very much in line with them.
But there are other possible timelines. For instance, the book of Genesis says that Joseph lived in the city of Rameses as well—which was 400 years earlier than the Exodus time, and obviously would not have been named Ramses in Joseph’s time, as Ramses had not yet been born (Gen. 47:11). So obviously biblical writers often provided anachronistic names to ancient places, meaning that the time of the Exodus could have been much earlier than Ramses. Other timelines have been proposed for the time of the Exodus, what we know from these times does not conflict with the biblical account of Egyptian history and culture. For instance, during the time of Pharaoh Thutmosis III – from which the name “Moses” is obviously derived– there is a tomb of the highest ranking official of the pharaoh, a man named Rekhmire, there is a famous depiction of foreign slaves (of war) who are engaged in building projects.
“The tomb of vizier Rekhmire, ca. 1450 BCE, famously shows foreign slaves “making bricks for the workshop-storeplace of the Temple of Amun at Karnak in Thebes” and for a building ramp. They are labeled "captures brought-off by His Majesty for work at the Temple of Amun". Semites and Nubians are shown fetching and mixing mud and water, striking out bricks from molds, leaving them to dry and measuring their amount, under the watchful eyes of Egyptian overseers, each with a rod. The images bear out descriptions in Ex. 1:11-14; 5:1-21. (“They made their life bitter with hard labor, as they worked with clay mortar and bricks and in very form of slavery in the field” - Exodus 1:14a)” http://www.haaretz.com/misc/haaretzcomsmartphoneapp/1.713849
The ancient temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor. We will film at this location for this part of the story.
The ruler before Thutmosis III was Hatshepsut, a rare female pharaoh, who took power, and whom some think was the “daughter of Pharaoh” found in the biblical account – a woman strong enough to defy her father’s decree (Tutmoses I). While most of her images and monuments were torn down after her—some say because of the hatred that he would have had for Hatshepsut raising Moses, who would free the Egyptian slaves—there is still a major temple to her that stands today in Luxor.
Under that chronology different Tutmoses or Amenhotep pharaohs have been proposed as the Pharaoh during the time of the Exodus. And after this ruled Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV), who, during his reign, sought to unite Egypt with monotheism for the first ever, seeking to unite Egypt in worship to only the sun god. Could he have been influenced by the monotheism of the Hebrews, and the power God would display in the Exodus? We do not know. But this was certainly unprecedented, and something caused this unusual turn.
After this, Akenaten' son was the famous “King Tut”—mysteriously struck down at age 18. But regardless of which Pharaoh and chronology, the range of dates indicates that Luxor is likely where Moses would have grown up, raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter, with all of the riches, power, and wisdom of the Egypt, being raised as a “prince of Egypt.” But God had different plans for him.
One day Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave, and he killed him (2:11f). The Pharaoh found this out, and sought to have Moses killed. The reason for this is not because the Pharaoh cared so much about life. It was because by killing this Egyptian, Moses was going against the established order. The Pharaoh was viewed as the incarnation of the Egyptian god Horus - a representative of all the gods--and his role was to keep the ma'at, the order, and by his reign, to stave off chaos, by performing religious rituals and by building temples and monuments that would last. The very girth of the pyramids--which indeed have lasted thousands of years--and temples and monuments is reflective of the mindset of the Egyptians, that permanence and upholding the order of the system was imperative. And Moses, by killing a taskmaster, was disturbing that order and that permanence.
And so Moses' is forced to flee for his life to Midian, where he finds a wife, Zipporah, and lives as a shepherd for forty years. Eventually, that king of Egypt dies. But another arises, and still they are suffering.
God appears to Moses on Mount Horeb, also called, Mount Sinai, the mountain of God (YAHWEH) in a “burning bush” (3:1f), saying,
7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey . . . 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you’” (3:7f).
Mt. Sinai in Egypt. We will film at this location for this part of the story.
God tells Moses that he has seen his people’s misery, that he has heard them cry out, and that he cares about their suffering. He says that he will rescue them and take them to “the promised land.” And he tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell them to “let his people go.” Let them go to the mountain to worship God.
And Moses, says, um, God, who shall I tell the Pharaoh—the most powerful ruler on earth who was believed to also be a god incarnate—and the Israelites, who have been suffering for years—is sending me and making this demand? When they ask, what is the name of this God, what should I say? Now God had revealed his name before to the patriarchs of Israel. And yes he had given Abraham and Sarah a child in their old age. There were some cool stories of Jacob and angels going up and down a ladder.
But the Hebrews were simple people. Shepherds. Farmers. The God of their fathers must have seemed small and insignificant compared to the Egyptian Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods. Nothing in their recent history indicated that God either cared enough about their situation or was powerful enough to stand up against all of the might and power of Egypt and the Pharaoh.
And in response, God reveals himself to Moses on Mount Sinai as YAHWEH--“great I AM” - the one and only true God, who has always been, is today, and always will be – a powerful, always existing God, who was not created like the Egyptian gods, who was the true god of order and destroyer of chaos, who cares about the suffering of his people.
And so God sends Moses, with his brother Aaron to help him, to confront the Pharaoh with God’s demand that he “let my people go.” God would lift up Moses--who was set adrift by his parents due to being born in a country where kings ordered babies killed, who himself killed a man, was being hunted down by his adopted family, and had seemingly fallen from grace--to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and become their leader and redeemer. God often redeems us first so that we can help redeem others. And so he shows himself to be a God who cares – the God of rescue.
What does this story teach us about God? What does Moses’ story of redemption teach us about our own story?